Monday, March 31, 2014

La La La La La La La La La

Yes, this is really happening:

Global warming dials up our risks, UN report says

YOKOHAMA, Japan — If the world doesn’t cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral “out of control,” the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.
And, yes, Jim Inhofe, is really going to be the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works if the Republicans gain a majority in this year's elections.

I can't even.

Here Comes the Judge. Or Not.

There have been a lot of things in the news lately - legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, civil rights for LBGT people, to name a few - that have had  me thinking about the importance of the federal judiciary in our everyday lives. And then today, I read this op-ed in the New York Times:

The Senate’s Discourtesy to Judges

The job of federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for more than eight years, one of the longest vacancies of 83 on the federal bench around the country. Last June, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, a federal prosecutor, for the position, but she hasn’t even received a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Richard Burr, the state’s Republican senator, is blocking her.
The strange part is that Mr. Burr himself recommended her for the seat in 2009. But now he’s changed his mind and won’t say why, exploiting an archaic Senate tradition to make sure Mr. Obama can’t fill that vacancy. 
Republicans know that their policies are not popular with a majority of the citizenry.  They know that the changing demographics in our country are not favorable to them. So the only hope they have of enacting their ideology is by cheating and by controlling the judiciary, in order to obstruct or undermine  progressive laws.

Appointment of federal judges is one of the most important and long-lasting powers granted the President in the Constitution. An obstructionist Republican minority in the U.S. Senate has done everything in its power to ensure that President Obama's nominees won't be appointed to the federal bench. It is time for Senator Leahy to prioritize the functioning of the judiciary, and the popular will of the citizenry and the Senate over the "gentleman's agreements" that are nowhere in our Constitution or even in our statutory codes.

And it is vitally important that we do not lose more Senate seats to reactionary Republicans in the mid-term elections.

For any North Carolinians inclined to call Senator Burr to ask him why he is blocking a vote on a judge he, himself, recommended, contact numbers are here.

Lest We Forget

Just in case any fellow North Carolinians need a little reminder of what's at stake in 2014 (and beyond), here's some reporting from inside the belly of the beast:
For the 450 people attending the Conservative Leadership Conference in Raleigh this weekend, the belief is that [the conservative movement] is still on the rise. The Republican Party now controls all three branches of state government and the congressional delegation. It hopes in November to pick up the seats of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and state Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson to consolidate its power.
. . .
To help make sure Hagan is defeated, Americans for Prosperity, another conservative advocacy group, has already spent $8 million in TV ads in North Carolina attacking Hagan’s support for the health care law. The gossip is that AFP is prepared to spend $20 million to knock Hagan out. Tim Phillips, the group’s president, wouldn’t confirm that, but he said the AFP would continue to make substantial TV buys against Hagan.
AFP (a Koch brothers front-group) is prepared to spend whatever it takes to further consolidate the Republicans' grip on power in the state (and beyond).  And between the flow of corporate cash, the gerrymandering by the GOP controlled General Assembly, and their efforts to suppress the votes of traditionally Democratic voters, we have an uphill battle on our hands.

But I m not going to feel defeated. Moral Mondays showed me that there are surprising numbers of us, from many different backgrounds, and from all over the state, who detest what these reactionaries are doing to North Carolina.  I am heartened by all of the great Get Out the Vote work already underway. And I really do believe that a majority of the citizens of our state do not share in the vision promoted by the likes of our Lt. Governor, Dan Forest:
Forest praised what he called the building blocks of the conservative changes happening in North Carolina.
He also praised what he called “the most aggressive tax reform plan in the United States”; the state’s decision not to set up a health care exchange or expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act; and the laws that cut unemployment insurance benefits and state regulations. 
. . .  
In addition, he mentioned the passage of the voter identification bill and said the state was spending $320 million more on public schools than ever before. (Actually, the state is spending $7.8 billion on the public schools this year, compared to $7.9 billion in 2008-2009.)
“It is time for conservatives to be unapologetic about what we believe in,” Forest said.
They may not be apologetic, but I sure as hell am going to work my hardest to make them sorry they ever enacted their laundry list of misery on the place I call home.

N.C. Democratic Party County Organizations

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here: . .

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Native Plants I Love

Mertensia virginica (Common name: Virginia Bluebells)

Another spring ephemeral that makes an appearance early in the season, wows us with its spectacular color, and disappears completely when the weather turns hot.

Bluebells thrive in deciduous shade and average-to-moist soil. They grow 1-2 ft. tall and will self-sow to create a lovely colony of nodding blue flowers that are (woo hoo!) deer resistant. 

I planted a few of these under some trees in our backyard, interspersed with some ferns that give cover when the bluebells go dormant. After the first few weeks of watering them in, I haven’t touched them, and each year, a few more plants make an appearance.

Our cold, rainy spring has delayed their emergence this year, but I took these two photos this morning:

Mertensia foliage just peeking through leaves in foreground

Flower spike and buds starting to emerge on this plant

If You Can't Win, Cheat!

Just another reminder of what we're up against . . .
Pivotal swing states under Republican control are embracing significant new electoral restrictions on registering and voting that go beyond the voter identification requirements that have caused fierce partisan brawls.
The bills, laws and administrative rules — some of them tried before — shake up fundamental components of state election systems, including the days and times polls are open and the locations where people vote.
 As soon as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act ("Hey, the fact it works proves there's no need for it anymore"), GOP-controlled states rushed to restrict voting access. Some of the most restrictive changes have occurred here in North Carolina. Fortunately, there is a strong effort to block these measures  in the courts, and an equally large effort to Get Out the Vote.

"Republicans know you won't vote for them, so they're trying to stop you from voting at all" is a pretty powerful motivator. All the more because, sadly, it happens to be true.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Culture Wars

Via Digby's Blog:

Right-wing Cadillac ad answered by satirical Ford ad:

Yes, mega-corporation Ford Motor Co. is co-opting left-wing themes and adopting a young, hip, satirical stance. But just the fact they are going this route indicates to me that this point of view has cultural salience.  Tell me we would have seen anything like this 10 years ago, much less as an advertising pitch from an iconic American brand. Seems to me it's a victory anytime libertarian, I did it all on my own, America-hell yeah! ideology gets mocked in such a public way.

Unknown Unknowns

Chilling. Absolutely chilling.

The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld

By Errol Morris
 When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?
Many people associate the phrases the known known, the known unknown and the unknown unknown with Rumsfeld, but few people are aware of how he first presented these ideas to the public. It was at a Pentagon news conference on Feb. 12, 2002. Reporters filed in to the Pentagon Briefing Room — five months after 9/11 and a year before the invasion of Iraq. The verbal exchanges that followed provide an excursion into a world no less irrational, no less absurd, than the worlds Lewis Carroll created in Alice in Wonderland.
Scroll down at the link for parts 1-3.

Errol Morris's documentary on Robert McNamara, The Fog of War, was amazingly good. In part, this was so because we see McNamara struggling with the mistakes he made, agonizing over his decisions, which, after all, caused the loss of thousands of lives and the physical destruction of a nation.

It looks like Morris's new documentary on Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, will be worth watching for the opposite reason: a complete and utter unwillingness or incapacity on the part of Donald Rumsfeld to engage in any self-reflection about the way he helped lead us into war in Iraq and the ensuing catastrophe.

I suspect he is not alone in that:


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Better Off Budget

You know how every time Paul Ryan farts out another austerity budget, all the Very Serious People in Washington and the media fall all over themselves to tell us how it's the best thing since sliced cake? Even though the conservative budgeting model Ryan follows has led to skyrocketing inequality, higher unemployment, a shredding of the social safety net, and an expansion of the national debt?

And when the Congressional Progressive Caucus puts out their budget each year (budgets that focus on job creation, environmental stewardship, reducing income inequality, shoring up the social safety net, and shrinking the deficit), what do we hear? . . . . . . crickets.

On March 12th the Congressional Progressive Caucus released its budget plan for FY 2015, The Better Off Budget. The Executive Summary gives a quick overview of the budget's components at the top, followed by a more in-depth look at the numbers.   

Unfortunately, as has been the case the previous three years the Caucus has released a budget plan, there is almost no discussion of this budget amid the halls of power in D.C. This, despite the fact that the budget provisions are exceedingly popular with the majority of American citizens.

Danny Vinik at The New Republic ponders this question, and interviews Rep. Keith Ellison, Co-Chair of the CPC:
Danny Vinik: What reception has the Better Off Budget received? Have you heard anything from Republicans or other Democrats?
Keith Ellison: The biggest response I’ve heard is from ordinary Americans and they’ve been very happy that we’re making public investments in things that Americans know are important. People have said thank you for lifting the sequester, thank you for standing against the austerity budget—the kind of thing Paul Ryan is known to propose. The Better Off Budget is a budget that includes some conservative ideas like [House Ways and Means Chairman] Dave Camp’s Wall Street excise tax. A full bipartisan bill to reveal the topline budget numbers for intelligence activities is something we’ve had support on too. We’ve gotten good reaction from people who are privacy-minded for that. Americans know what we need. I’ve been in the district this week and they’re talking to me about job training, public investment in rail lines and roads, renewing unemployment insurance, fully funding SNAP nutrition assistance.

How about we all call our Congressional Representatives and Senators and ask if they've taken a look at the Better Off Budget and what they think of it? The more our elected officials hear that a lot of us out here support progressive ideas, the more likely they are to be pushed to vote for them.

Relatively Recently Read

I loved reading the Grimm's fairy tales as a kid, and went back to them over and over again. They are deeply weird little stories, nothing at all like the Disney versions.  Plus, when you read them to an eight-year-old, you get great questions like, "Why do the parents want to kill all the kids?"  Why indeed, little man, why indeed.


Earlier this week I linked to a column by Paul Krugman discussing the work of French economist Thomas Piketty. His most recent book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, details rising income inequality in capitalist states and offers both theories for this accelerated inequality and suggestions to help ameliorate it.

Piketty's book has been getting a lot of attention, both in the economics community, and, somewhat surprisingly, in the more mainstream press. Part of this attention seems to stem from the fact that Piketty's data is extensive, and part from his compelling argument that economics and politics are inextricably linked (seems obvious, I know, but the "natural laws of the market" crowd seems to have had an awfully long run). It also seems that Piketty has created a bunch of really easy-to-understand charts that cast our rising economic inequality into high relief.

Over at the New Yorker, John Cassidy distills down Piketty's book for those of us without an economics background using six charts from Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cassidy's longer piece in this week's issue is also worth a read, but I really think the charts are a great way to illustrate the issues Piketty is bringing to the fore.

Piketty's Inequality Story in Six Charts

The first chart is a simple one, and it concerns the United States alone. It tracks the share of over-all income taken by the top ten per cent of households from 1910 to 2010. Broadly speaking, it’s centered on a U shape. Inequality climbed steeply in the Roaring Twenties, and then fell sharply in the decade and a half following the Great Crash of October, 1929. From the mid-forties to the mid-seventies, it stayed pretty stable, and then it took off, eventually topping the 1928 level in 2007. (The chart shows the share of the top decile falling back a bit after the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008. New figures for 2012 from Saez, which came out too late to be included in Piketty’s book, show the line hitting another new high, of more than fifty per cent.)
The more we can get away from the notion that immutable laws of markets control our economic destiny (and, gosh, those laws just happen to privilege the already wealthy and powerful), the better off the majority of us will be. It seems like this new book is forcing a broader conversation on just this topic. Plus, how fun is it to say "Piketty"?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NCAA and the "Student-Athlete"

This is big news for college athletics:

Northwestern ruling could 'rattle the universe of universities'

Northwestern University football players on scholarship are employees of the school and therefore entitled to hold an election to decide whether to unionize, an official of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday.
The stunning decision, coming after a push by former quarterback Kain Colter, backed by organized labor, has the potential to shake up the world of big-time college sports.

Seems to me the world of big-time college sports could use some shaking up.  I went to UNC-Chapel Hill back when basketball was king and football was a mere afterthought. Now football is king everywhere, and it doesn't seem to have done much for most of the schools or many of the "student-athletes."

The NCAA is a cartel that enriches a few elite schools at the expense of everyone else and siphons labor from the players who risk their bodies and futures to enrich coaches and athletic departments.  The ensuing corruption seems endemic to the system, and hit particularly close to home in the past few years:
Tuesday night’s episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” includes a look at NCAA academic requirements for student athletes – and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the schools they spotlight.
The segment, reported by Bernard Goldberg and produced by Josh Fine, looks at how lower admission standards, coupled with higher graduation requirements, have required many top schools to commit to learning specialists to ensure student athletes can keep up. Goldberg interviews Mary Willingham, a UNC whistle-blower who formerly worked with athletes. Willingham has claimed to have data showing that 60 percent of 183 athletes at UNC, specially tested over an eight-year period, could not read at the high school level and that another 10 percent could not read above the third-grade level. Goldberg also interviews two football players from the university – Michael McAdoo and Bryan Bishop.
If schools that have traditionally prided themselves on their academic reputations can succumb to the corruption of big-money sports, nobody is immune.

It'll be interesting to see the effect unionization will have on college football and basketball programs. Will it signal the end of universities serving as the "minor leagues" for those sports? And if so, is that a bad thing? In the short-term, at least players will have some protections if they get injured "on the job."  

One final note. It is amazing, reading the Chicago Tribune article, how the same arguments being used by Northwestern to fight unionization efforts of the student-athletes are nearly identical to the arguments used by the University of Iowa to fight unionization by graduate teaching and research assistants back in the mid 1990s.

Read more here:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Good Man

With so much horrible stuff going on in our country (not to mention the wider world), it's easy to forget about the bright lights, the forces for good, the people who seem to embody our common humanity and who just don't give up working to make our world a better place. I can't think of anyone who fits that description better than Jimmy Carter. I caught a bit of his interview today with Diane Rehm, and thought the whole thing would be worth sharing:
President Jimmy Carter: "A Call to Action" 
President Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, has set a high bar for post-presidential accomplishments: He’s written more than 24 books, been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to work to solve problems around the world. In recent years, he says he’s "become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls." It's a problem that he says is connected to the misinterpretation of selected religious texts and a general acceptance of violence and warfare. Join Diane for a conversation with President Jimmy Carter on his call to action for women and girls.
Imagine how much better a world we would be living in had Carter's vision prevailed rather than Reagan's.

Ohmmmmm, Duuuude

The other day I was meditating on the subject of, well, meditation, and the ways it changes your mental state while you're sitting (and hopefully beyond), which led me to think about the fact that there seems to be a basic human impulse to alter our consciousness now and again.

Beer is estimated to be nearly as old as the development of cereal grain cultivation (approx 10,000 B.C.E.), with the first recorded evidence of brewing found in the Epic of Gilgamesh (2,500-3,500 B.C.E.) . The history of wine is believed to date back to the Neolithic period (8,500-4,00 B.C.E.). The oldest written record of cannabis use dates from the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2727 B.C.E.).

Basically, people have been looking to get a buzz on for thousands of years and across cultures. And this impulse starts early. Watch any group of little kids, and you'll see them spinning around to make themselves dizzy or swinging on the swings with their eyes closed to put themselves in a completely different head-space.

I don't really have any insights on this phenomenon. I just think it is interesting that we all seem to have an urge to get ourselves out of our everyday realities now and then - whether through religious ecstasy, exercise-induced endorphin rush, or chemical experimentation.  Party-on!

Bonus video: The astrophysicist and public intellectual Neil deGrasse Tyson having a laugh at himself with this slow-mo video. High-larious!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Plus Ca Change

Yesterday's post about the Hobby Lobby case has had me thinking about the "woman question" and how gains in human rights don't simply flow in one direction. These are power relationships, after all, and getting dominant groups to release their grip on power is rarely easy.  I think this is especially so when those power relationships exist in both public and private spheres, touching on all the most fundamental aspects of life - family, work, leisure time, sex, you name it.

Before the 2012 election, one of the get-out-the-vote activities I participated in involved groups of women getting together and hand-writing post cards to other Democratic women in the state who had voted in the last presidential election, but had sat out the mid-terms. The idea was to try to re-engage these voters and get them back to the polls.  At one of these meetings, I was the only woman under the age of 60, and it was fascinating (and horrifying) to listen to these women talk about what their lives were like and the extra burdens they carried as women in America.

They couldn't get credit cards or loans without a man co-signing for them; classifieds were divided into women's jobs and men's jobs (guess which paid more); sexual harassment in the workplace was something expected, and you just did your best to deflect it however you could; sex was an often terrifying experience because of the risk of an unwanted pregnancy; and on, and on, and on. I knew about these things on an intellectual level, but hearing these women share their stories, and hearing how angry these grandmothers were that they were having to re-fight these battles they thought were already won really struck me.

Sure, we've come a long way since the days women weren't allowed to wear pants on college campuses, but it is depressing how far we still have to go.  You would think equal pay for equal work would be a no-brainer at this point. But it is not.  You would think access to birth control would be settled; You'd be wrong. You would think the notion that women are some lesser order of being should be long gone. Think again.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Isn't it Ironic?

Tomorrow is Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday.  Because the Universe has a sense of humor, it is also the day that oral arguments are being made before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the challenge to the Affordable Care Act wherein Hobby Lobby argues its religious freedom is being violated because it has to include birth control in the insurance plans offered to its employees. 

Laying aside the rather bizarre idea that a corporation can practice a religion, and the idea that the religious freedom of the two Hobby Lobby owners should outweigh the religious freedom and physical health of hundreds of their employees, here’s the problem I have with their argument:

They can avoid this entire problem by simply not offering insurance to their employees at all. If the owners of Hobby Lobby have such an issue with the ladies getting their “abortion pills” that they cannot in all good conscience obey the law (which requires all insurance plans to cover contraception), they can simply choose to compensate their employees solely through wages, rather than wages and insurance together. The ACA explicitly allows employers to do that, in fact - just increase the wages to cover the lost insurance benefit. Then those employees can go on the exchanges and buy their own insurance, spending their earned compensation in whichever way their individual consciences see fit.

Hobby Lobby does not want to compensate with wages alone, however, because corporations get tax breaks for compensating with insurance that they don’t get for compensating with wages. They want it both ways – reap the tax benefits conferred on corporations that buy insurance for their employees, but don’t be made follow the laws governing said insurance.

If their religion means so much to them, they can forego the fucking tax break. 

Which Side Are You On Boys?

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.                                                                            
                                -- Abraham Lincoln (noted Communist)

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman lays out in stark terms the way we have (yet again) come to privilege wealth over work in our economy. This struggle is not new, and it is not easy to force those with wealth and power to more equitably divide the proceeds of labor, rather than gathering it all for themselves. But force them we must.

Krugman in the New York Times yesterday:
It seems safe to say that “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade. Mr. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.
It's worth your time to read the whole column. Krugman quickly and clearly illustrates how the entire economic program of the G.O.P. has been one of always prioritizing wealth over work; inheritance over labor. I think this is one worth sharing far and wide to remind everyone of the stakes of the mid-term elections.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Native Plants I Love

I'm a big advocate of using native plants in the garden. They are adapted to our climate, have evolved to harmonize with our insect population, and can be just as interesting and beautiful as non-native exotics. Plus you don't have to worry about them jumping the fence, invading the landscape, and choking out everything in their path.

This delicate spring ephemeral is Erythronium americanum (common names: trout lily, dogtooth violet). They are scattered throughout the woods behind my house,where I took these pictures.

Trout lilies grow from corms and send out stolons from them, forming colonies over time if left undisturbed. They grow best in a deciduous woodland environment, with filtered sunlight and humus-rich soil. They are some of the earliest bloomers in the spring, and by the end of the season, flower, foliage and all disappear, remaining dormant until the following spring.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Destroying Our Schools in Order to Save Them

Anyone who has children in public schools knows the increasing reliance on standardized testing and "Big Data" to set education policies is driving away skilled teachers, turning our classrooms into education factories, and killing public education (which I suspect is the real goal of these policies).

The other day I raised the issue of changing one's mind based on evidence, and how rarely that seems to happen. Well, education researcher and activist Diane Ravitch is someone who managed that trick when faced with overwhelming evidence that the "Education Reform Movement" she used to advocate for has been a spectacular failure and is undermining public education in the United States, to the immense profit of a select few.

In a post today on her blog, Ravitch quotes an article examining the effects of testing-mania on a school district in Lafayette, Louisiana (Louisiana being ground-zero for school reform post-Katrina):
Bureaucracy created by the current data-driven accountability system is a major source of teachers’ frustrations. The state and districts are consumed by a school letter grade, the formula for which constantly changes under State Superintendent John White and BESE. For example, high schools are now judged on the ACT scores of all students, regardless of whether or not they are going to attend college. We now require students to take not only the ACT but also the “Practice ACT” plus hours of ACT test prep. This numbers game does little to help struggling students academically or emotionally. It is yet another mandate that allows adults sitting in offices to say they are helping “the kids” and holding schools accountable, while Johnny still can’t comprehend what he’s reading. This year in Lafayette, a typical sophomore will take 25 district and state standardized tests, consuming 25 percent of the school calendar for the sake of “data.”
In elementary schools in our school district in North Carolina, all 3rd graders have standardized assessments three times every week as part of the newly-implemented "Read to Achieve" program.  These assessments reduce time available for actual instruction, place an additional (and significant) paperwork burden on teachers, and take the ability to evaluate student progress away from the people who actually interact with students on a daily basis. And this doesn't even include the End of Grade Tests and other standardized assessments that were already in place.

Ravitch's blog is a good place to start reading about the "Education Reform Movement" being foisted on our public schools, the interests behind that "reform," and the real-world effects of these policies.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mercer 78 - Duke 71

Ah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!

Whoo! Okay, breathe . . . . . Nope.

Ah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!Ah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!Ah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!

The Importance of Looking Back

Lawrence Walsh, Special Prosecutor for the Iran-Contra scandal (although "scandal" seems like an awfully tepid term for turning the Constitution into guinea pig bedding) died this week. Charlie Pierce has a column up about what what Walsh tried, and ultimately failed to accomplish.

The only thing I would add to his discussion of the scandal is the fact that we seem to be even more determined not to let the powers that be, in whatever realm, actually pay for their crimes and devastating mistakes. Scam homeowners with fraudulent mortgages? Here's a slap on the wrist and another bonus.  Crash the world economy? Have a bailout and feel free to take on even more risk. Lie us into war? No problem. Install a torture regime? Nothing to see here.  Why do we seem incapable as a people of holding our "leaders" to account?

Take it away Charlie . . .

Relatively Recently Read

Who would think a novel about the siege of Leningrad and the various horrors of war could be so damn funny? Still not sure about the framing device, but overall I really liked this one.

Fun facts about the author, David Benioff:
1. He is the co-creator and co-writer of the Game of Thrones TV series (which I would have never guessed from this novel).
2. He is married to actress Amanda Peet.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ch Ch Changes

I think we've all read articles or heard stories about how difficult it is to get people to change their minds about things based on evidence and logical argument, as opposed to emotion and/or personal experience. It's why groups fighting hunger don't show you pie charts, but rather the faces of starving children. Or why Senator X doesn't raise an eyebrow over the statistics on rising autism rates (to pick an example), until a friend's grandkid gets diagnosed, and then research funding becomes priority one.  

I also think that most of us like to believe that we make our decisions based largely on evidence, as opposed to emotion or whether we have happened to experience something personally. All this got me wondering - when was the last time I changed my mind about something relatively significant based on evidence/a logical argument?  Note that I'm talking here about changing an already-held opinion, not forming a new opinion (which I think we do far more frequently based on evidence).

First of all, I had to admit it has been a long time since I have changed my mind about anything big. About 8-10 years ago I changed my mind about the whole nature vs. nurture question, going from an almost total belief in nurture to a MUCH more balanced view. But that wasn't based on evidence; that was based on becoming a parent. Politically, I haven't had any major changes in outlook in a long time, only becoming more liberal as I have more lived experience and read more widely.

Then I finally thought of something. An ugly something. A prejudice that I am not proud of, and that I stubbornly held onto until, I am ashamed to say it, very recently. That is, a prejudice against fat people.  Not that I dismissed overweight people out of hand; not that there weren't people I love who are or had been severely overweight. But I admit, on some level I believed that to be greatly overweight was to be lazy, to lack self-discipline. Not only did our culture broadcast this message constantly, but my lived experience taught me this. I was thin; when I gained a couple of pounds I just ate less for a few days and it was all good, so why was it so hard for fat people to get control of this problem? Ugh.

Then I started reading articles on obesity, and how very little self-discipline actually has to do with weight. How two people can eat the same amount of calories and do the same amount of exercise and one will gain weight and one will lose weight. How gut flora, and hormones, and genetics, and things we can't yet account for all contribute to obesity.

I don't know why it took scientific evidence rather than just basic human decency to get rid of my bigotry, but in this case, evidence changed my mind. Evidence helped me get past an ugly emotional response that had no basis in reality but was there nonetheless.

I don't know that this one, idiosyncratic example sheds any light on how we open our minds to change, but I'm interested in the mechanics of changing minds.

For anyone reading, can you think of examples of evidence/logical arguments changing your mind about something meaningful?