seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy


Arranging the right words in the right order can be quite powerful

Creating Blind Spots

From David Frum, a Republican reflecting on the ongoing destruction of the Republican party in "The Great Republican Revolt."

Against all evidence, both groups interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.

Unfortunately this also appears to be a blindspot of the Clintons - they surround themselves with people that either are afraid to tell them when they are wrong or simply see the world the same way. As I have built a staff, one of my goals is that those around me are not afraid to tell me when I am wrong. And I encourage them not to take it personally when I disagree. And time will tell who is right.

Science and Technology

From 1990, by Carl Sagan...

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. It’s dangerous and stupid for us to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain. Jobs and wages depend on science and technology

26 years of stupidly ignoring the science of global warming. But the larger point of being science illiterate is well illustrated by this passage:

As we settled into the car for the long drive, he told me he was glad I was “that science guy”—he had so many questions to ask about science. Would I mind? And so we got to talking. But not about science. He wanted to discuss UFOs, “channeling” (a way to hear what’s on the minds of dead people—not much it turns out), crystals, astrology. . . . He introduced each subject with real enthusiasm, and each time I had to disappoint him: “The evidence is crummy,” I kept saying. “There’s a much simpler explanation.” As we drove on through the rain, I could see him getting glummer. I was attacking not just pseudoscience but also a facet of his inner life.

And yet there is so much in real science that’s equally exciting, more mysterious, a greater intellectual challenge—as well as being a lot closer to the truth. Did he know about the molecular building blocks of life sitting out there in the cold, tenuous gas between the stars? Had he heard of the footprints of our ancestors found in four-million-year-old volcanic ash? What about the raising of the Himalayas when India went crashing into Asia? Or how viruses subvert cells, or the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or the ancient civilization of Ebla?

The original is here.

On Orson Scott Card

I have been greatly enjoying a trip through Orson Scott Card's Enderverse. I only read Ender's Game last year, having long heard it was really good but just never getting around to it until the movie was coming out. I thought it was quite good and the sequel, Speaker for the Dead was even better.

I have had trouble explaining why these books speak to me, so I wanted to highlight two passages in Ender's Shadow - the fifth book.

"Second, you seemed to be listening to me, that to find out useful information, but to try to catch me in a logical fallacy. This tells us all that you are used to being smarter than your teachers, and that you listen to them in order to catch them making mistakes, and prove how smart you are to the other students. This is such a pointless, stupid way of listening to teachers that it is clear you are going to waste months of our time before you finally catch on that the only transaction that matters is a transfer of useful information from adults who possess it to children who do not, and that catching mistakes is a criminal misuse of time."
Ben silently disagreed. The criminal misuse of time was pointing out the mistakes. Catching them-- noting them-- that was essential. If you did not in your own and distinguish between useful and erroneous information, then you were not learning at all, you were merely replacing ignorance with false belief, which was no improvement.


Bean longed to be able to talk these things over with someone--with Nikolai, or even with one of the teachers. It slowed him down to have his own thoughts move around in circles -- without outside stimulation it was hard to break free of his own assumptions. One mind can think only of its own questions; it rarely surprises itself. But he made progress, slowly, during that voyage, and then during the months of Tactical School.

I just find that Card has a much better understanding of the possibilities and limits of our brains than most writers. I love reading as characters explore their own weaknesses and blind spots.

Economics of Equality

Published on January 23, 1915, in The New Republic by Walter E. Weyl, an early economist of the 99%.

There can be no equality nor any approach to equality except among men economically independent and economically comparable. You may talk of equality and fraternity of equal civil rights of equal political rights of the brotherhood of man and all the rest but unless your man has a secure economic position a chance to earn his living in dignity and honor he has no rights whatsoever. Political equality is a farce and a peril unless there is at least some measure of economic equality.

Read the full article here.

Struggle for Freedom

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.

Frederick Douglas

Conviction, Lies, and Truth

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.


Voting for Anti-Government Candidates Produces Bad Government

Here is the hard political reality: You can't expect to support and finance political candidates who preach that government is menacing and wasteful, that public employees are incompetent and corrupt, that taxes are always too high and destroy jobs, and then turn around and expect that the government will respond to your demands to hold down the cost of health care, or fund basic research, or provide good schools, efficient courts and reliable transportation systems.

Amen, Steven Pearlstein

Markets, Competition Require Good Government

I just picked up "Free the Market: When Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive" by Gary L Reback. It starts with this quote by George Will (from this column):

It will remind everyone -- some conservatives, painfully -- that a mature capitalist economy is a government project. A properly functioning free market system does not spring spontaneously from society's soil as dandelions spring from suburban lawns. Rather, it is a complex creation of laws and mores...


October Atlantic and the Media

As I continue to plow through the magazines I set aside during my sports shooting season, I wanted to note the 2009 October issue of The Atantic. It focused mostly on media issues, but also featured one of the best discussions of U.S. Torture Policy in Andrew Sullivan's letter to former-President Bush that offers perhaps the only real solution for moving forward on this important issue.

I was struck by a quote from Mark Bowden (an author I almost always enjoy reading, regardless of subject matter) in his "The Story Behind the Story" that really gets to the heart of why Fox News bothers me so much:

Journalism, done right, is enormously powerful because it does not seek power. It seeks truth.

Fox News has blazed a path of subverting what journalism should be. They weren't the first - but they have blown away the competition. And it bothers me to the extent that other networks copy that approach in an attempt to gain viewers rather than educate viewers.

I was pleasantly surprised by Robert D. Kaplan's "Why I Love Al Jazeera," (which was about Al Jazeera English, not the arabic sister-channel). AJE is basically a BBC-style program if Howard Zinn ran it - it focuses intently on the perspective of the powerless.

And Kaplan also zinged Fox News - noting:

I have spent the past two years reporting from the Indian Ocean region, dealing predominantly with Muslims and indigenous nongovernmental organizations; watching Al Jazeera is the vicarious equivalent of engaging in the kinds of conversations I have been having. One of the multitude of problems I have with Fox News is that even its most analytically brilliant commentators, such as Charles Krauthammer, seem to be scoring points and talking to their own ideological kind rather than engaging in dialogue with others. Watching Fox, you have to wonder whether many of its commentators have ever had a conversation with a real live Muslim abroad.

Health Care and Reagan's Recession Tax Hike

History from the Daily Beast:

Conservatives delude themselves that the Bush tax cuts worked and that the best medicine for America’s economic woes is more tax cuts; at a minimum, any tax increase would be economic poison. They forget that Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn’t end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.

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