In this just-completed election cycle, one thing should be clear to everyone: the GOP got thumped.   Their candidate failed to upend Obama.   Their slate failed to retake the Senate, and in fact lost seats.   The Boehner team in the House retained control, but saw the chamber’s approval ranking plummet to historically-low levels while losing, as of this writing, at least six seats.   Tea-party backed candidates who promised to usher in a revolution in 2010 faced the stiffest opposition in both House and Senate races, and it was the rejection of many such candidates that prompted the unlikely spectacle of Democratsretaining seats in red states.

Meanwhile, in this state, the biggest number haunting the California Republican Party is not the 1 percent that have benefited the most under the Bush tax cuts, or the 47 percent figure that Gov. Romney described to a group of millionaire donors.   No, thenumber that should concern them, more than any other, is 29.4 percent:  the historically-low percentage of registeredCalifornia voters who now identify as Republicans.   As I write this, the state GOP is in danger of being so much in the minority that Democrats in Sacramento will be able to ignore them on most measures.

Why did the GOP fail so miserably, especially in the Golden State?   It certainly wasn’t because they didn’t have their advantages.   The President sought reelection in an economic climate that historically dooms incumbents.   The Democrats had far more seats to defend in the Senate than the GOP, many in red states.    And, just two years ago, the highest court in the land had struck down campaign finance law that had placed limits on the amount of money that could be spent by corporations in political campaigns.   A bad economy, far less seats to defend and unlimited cash had Republicans throughout this country salivating at the prospect of capturing the White House and both houses of Congress.

Despite all that, the GOP experienced colossal reversals, especially in California, where the party’s positions are increasingly unappealing to the majority of registered voters.  The views articulated in the GOP state and national platforms, in turn, reflect a party whose base is older, less diverse and (surprisingly) less able to respond to changes in the political environment.    While the Romney campaign and other Republicans attempted to frame this election as a referendum on the economy, time and again GOP candidates at all levels (and especially Tea Party types) were unable to stay “on message”.  

When they went “off message”, GOP candidates invariably either made statements that hurt them with independents, or which solidified Democratic opposition, or both.   On foreign policy, on immigration, on abortion, on marriage equality, over and over again Republicans were forced to own their previous words and deeds in ways that turned off independents.  And, in various schemes at the state level intended to suppress the size of the electorate, GOPlawmakers cemented the resolve of minority voters to do whatever it would taketo turn out and vote against the party that would attempt to make it moredifficult for them to cast a ballot.

That is why, in an election night betting pool, I chose 332 electoral votes.  I had seen for myself the impressive determination of many African-American and Hispanic voters waiting five, six, even eight hours to cast ballots during early voting that had been rather cynically curtailed by Florida Governor Rick Scott.   Unlike other places where either the Justice Department (Texas) or local courts (Pennsylvania) got involved, the people of Florida had largely been unable to stop the GOP-controlled Florida state houses from reducing the number of days of early voting, and they certainly hadn’t been able to convince the state to make extra machines and manpower available in densely-populated, Democrat-leaning urban areas.  

The fact of voter suppression attempts itself had been well-reported by some media, but how registered voters were taking the whole affair was not.  It was my sense that the media was understating the degree to which such tactics (or what is almost as bad, the threat of such tactics) would affect the psyches of the potentially-disenfranchised.   Throughout the country, but especially in Florida, where there was little relief from these ploys, I felt that groups of people were talking in their churches, their barber shops and their neighborhood watering holes about what people in other parts of the state were attempting to do to them.  It was my sense that, just beneath the surface, there was a growing anger that would boil over on Nov. 6th, like soldiers from an exposed nest of fire ants.   My sense of this grew palpable on Sunday night before the election, and by Monday morning I became convinced that this anger would show up at the voting booth in ways that the polls couldn’t quite anticipate.

So, with great confidence on Tuesday evening (around 5:30 in California) I raised the eyebrows of many by boldly predicting 332 votes, based on the assumption that the President would not only take those swing stakes placed in his column by Nate Silver’s “538” model, but that he would take Virginia and Florida.  In a word, I thought there were lots of votes from people who didn’t really love the President’s performance, but who were determined to vote, to stand in line however long it took, to defy the attempts of any “monitors” to intimidate them,  to spite the forces who would attempt to take away “Big Mama’s vote”.

And, if it wasn’t for chronically-strapped Miami-Dade Countyin Florida giving up and going home after midnight on Tuesday, I would’ve seen my bold prediction come true then and there.   As it was, Florida was still officially “too close to call” at the time both Colorado and Ohio broke, “too close to call” at the time Karl Rove had histiff with FOX News analysts, “too close to call” when Governor Romney conceded and still (insert eye roll here) “too close to call” for days after the election.  

What a joke!   I hope the people of Florida look at the stinking turd of governance called Rick Scott* and send him packing when he is up for reelection, because he accomplished a double-whammy:   he snubbed the basic human dignity of many citizens by making it harder from them to vote, and he (yet again) reminded the rest of the nation that the government in Florida still conducts elections like a third-world country   
Thankfully, this time the citizens of Florida reminded this nation that the right to vote is a sacred obligation, a defense of the bonds that unite all of us.  The Romney camp has already conceded this point, but regardless of when the official pronouncement comes, make no mistake:  the Obama team won in Florida.   The President garnered 332 electoral votes, as I predicted.   The high number of electoral votes captured is not a fluke, but in line with the margin of error in what the best models predict.   Romney and the Republicans collided with reality, and (as it always will) reality prevailed.
(* You might wonder how Rick Scott, being so dreadful---his highest approval ratings so far are in the high 30's----how did he ever win election?    Well:  it's because he's a Rich $cott, to the tune of $75 million)
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I wanted to give a little love to my friend Max De Vivo, an outstanding guitarist, and his new project, the Foreigner tribute band "Double Vision".   Most so-called "tribute" bands are basically just playing the hits.   But, like Fresno's Fab Faux ("The Beetles") and a handful of other acts I've seen over the years, Max and his friends deliver the whole vibe, including songs and memorable playing only real fans would recognize.

I first met Max several years ago when he was auditioning players for "Midnight Run", a Journey tribute band, and I've always had a twinge of regret that at that time I wasn't able to pursue new musical opportunities, because they had a sensational act, delivering all of the Journey sound with just a four-piece band and a talented singer.   Max is originally from Italy, but you'd never know it to talk to him:  he's a genuinely nice guy, a 'people person' who knows how to make friends, and truly one of the tastiest and most versatile players I've had the privilege of meeting.   I'm thankful that Max was able to play some licks on my long-running CD project, because he has beautiful tone and real grace as a soloist.

Given all that, I shouldn't be surprised that his latest project tickles my interest.  Max's new band ups the ante quite a bit, and based on what I'm hearing I can't wait to see what these guys will sound out when they play out.   The players are as talented as his previous group, and this band is a six-piece, which gives them significant flexibility and power in live performance.

And, speaking of live performance, Double Vision will headline a big show at the Tower Theater on Saturday, November 24th.   The show is a benefit for Bruce Conte, a long-time friend of Max's and formerly a guitarist with Tower of Power.   Conte, who is battling leukemia, is slated to make an appearance with his band, along with Vinyl and Snail. 

There is a Facebook page set up to support Bruce, and more information should be available there in the near future concerning the November benefit here in Fresno and Conte's ongoing struggle to obtain the (very) expensive medications required to treat his condition, which is complicated because of his past history of diabetes.   Like millions of Americans, Bruce Conte has a "preexisting condition" that limits his ability to access affordable health insurance....something to think about, perhaps, as we near another date in November.

At any rate, on Nov. 24th fans of Foreigner can do "double duty": they can hear a first-rate band with top players play classic rock hits, and they can help a legendary and well-loved guitarist tackle a very difficult health situation.   Two for the price of one, and everyone wins.   Come out and support this event, you'll be glad you did.

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I got a curious voice mail just a few minutes ago from a "Blocked Number".   It SOUNDS like the person was trying to say, "You eight detention-failed me last year."   I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but if you have my number, "mystery caller", you might also know I'm on Facebook, or you might know I have a blog.   So let's clear up a few things, about detention and failure....

First of all, I DO assign detention to my students, usually for gross academic negligence rather than misconduct.   I usually start by assigning detention at lunch ("Study Hall"), and I expect my students will arrive within ten minutes of the lunch bell to serve it, with or without lunch.   I allow students to eat in my room during lunch, and I also provide them something to do that gives them an opportunity to raise their grade, which is typically disastrous by the time I assign Study Hall. 
Now, students can decide for themselves whether this is a punishment or an opportunity, and their attitude about Study Hall will no doubt have an effect on whether or not this intervention will prove helpful.   Frankly,  as a personal matter I'm more interested in their choices than their feelings.   If they feel motivated by having the opportunity to raise their grade, and they make the choice to take their work seriously and complete it, that's great.   If they simply think they are being punished, and their only motivation is to do whatever they have to do to avoid future punishment of the same sort, then the outcome is likely the same:   that is, they make the choice to take their work seriously and complete it.   I'm focused on the outcome, not the kid's emotional journey.   If they hate my guts but do what they need to do to be successful, that's all that I care about.

That may seem a little harsh, but the reality is that if the kid is assigned Study Hall, they have established a pattern of indifference or hostility to education, and I've done some research on the kid in question.   I've typically got a couple of test scores in the books, I have their current and previous year's grades in the system to peruse, and there is usually some interesting entries in their behavioral file.   What I typically discover is that the problems I have with them are not problems just for me, or just for the science curriculum, but long-standing problems that are largely a reflection of the student's choices, and what choices have been tolerated in the past.

There's a line of defense that I've heard dozens of times every year of my teaching career, usually from exasperated teachers and administrators who are drawing a line about what they are willing to do with a particularly difficult student who has already exhausted the usual remedies.   It goes something like this: "The student has the right to fail."   It's the public school version of that old saying about assuaging a horse's thirst.   All we can do is lead our little chargers to the trough of education.   We can't actually force them to drink much if they aren't thirsty for knowledge.

So, yes, the student has the right to fail, Lord knows we can't force them to care and actually do the work needed to pass their classes.    I tell the students that they have the right to fail, if they so choose.   But, unlike some of my colleagues, I add the following:   as their teacher, I not only have the right, but I have the moral obligation to make that choice as difficult as I can.

So, let's suppose that the student doesn't attend Study Hall as I direct, and their parent or guardian won't excuse that absence.   In that case, the student is defiant.   I'll assign them after-school detention, which is strictly punishment, and that will bring the matter to administration's attention.  And then I'll call the home, and give the parent an earful.   And then I'll (firmly) assign Study Hall again.   At this point, the student will usually attend.   Those who make a different choice typically don't last much longer with me, or with the public schools.

From time to time, I'll have a parent who won't support Study Hall even after signing a contract at the beginning of the course where they stipulated they would support it.   This is a bit trickier, but in general these cowards will do anything to avoid further conflict with their kid, and since I won't budge, they'll move the kid out of my class, convinced (incorrectly) that I am somehow the problem, rather than their coddled spawn.   Again, I care more about their choices than their feelings, and the result is the same:  the kid who won't work, who won't respond to discipline, they end up self-selecting out of my class one way or the other.

Now, it would be a mistake to think that I don't have other strategies to motivate students.   I do, and after nearly fifteen years of teaching, I know what will work for me and what won't work.   Some kids are going to need more motivation than an occasional Study Hall.   For those kids, I will offer Saturday School.   This is another opportunity, only longer and more grating on the student's sense of their freedom.   Unlike Study Hall at lunch, which I assign as I see fit, I will enlist the parent's support before I assign it, and will expect students to complete a permission slip to receive the opportunity.   Most parents, as it turns out, will support this intervention if given sufficient advance warning.

But, whether we are talking about detention or Study Hall, punishment or opportunity, during lunch or in Saturday School, none of these interventions are intended to fail the student.   So, "mystery caller", I have no idea what you mean by "detention-failed".  In fact, I would think it very odd if there was a teacher in the core curriculum who based any part of a student's academic grade on behavioral choices regarding attendance or misconduct.  It would make more sense if you said "test-failed" or "homework-failed" because it is usually specific student lapses on various assessments that set the stage for a failing grade.  

One more thing, "mystery caller":   maybe you were my student, but don't make the mistake of thinking that I, the teacher, failed the student just because you received a failing grade.   If you received a failing grade, it is because YOU failed to earn enough points to pass the course.   It is YOUR choices, not my feelings, that determine the grade you earn.   My feelings are not on the table, and even if they were on the table, most of my students haven't had enough life experience to understand them, much less appreciate them.   You're not getting a rise out of me, no matter how many times you decide to "drunk dial" your old teacher. 

The only reason I'm writing this now is to help my present students connect-the-dots on likely consequences, because my students are entering the critical period where I start assigning, as I like to call them, opportunities.   Perhaps reading some version of this on-line will help them understand how I will handle cases of gross academic negligence.

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A reader of my blog (and a formidable acquaintance) takes me to task for an earlier post about Mitt Romney in which I alluded to Kolob, a legendary planet that figures in LDS traditions.   Their comment is too sharp and too thoughtful not to be reproduced in full:

This just in: planet Kolob has yet to be discovered, but Willard Romney's 2011 tax returns have been released,Yes, planet Kolob has yet to be discovered. In fact, science has yet to verify any religious belief.

That does not stop people from thinking their own magical thinking is superior to the magical thinking of others, and use this is a form of condescension.

Is there some connection between the Romney tax problem and his improbable belief God lives near Kolob? About as much a connection between Obama's problems and his improbable belief in the Resurrection I would imagine.

Unnecessary mockery of another's religious beliefs is always an implicit invitation to unnecessary mockery of one's own religious beliefs. Most who believe in intellectual honesty try to avoid it, as it is always a quick race to the bottom.

Hmm.   I guess I'm not wearing a seamless garment?  Actually, I don't know that Romney believes anything about Kolob, as it's apparently a minor heterodox claim among the LDS that is not, as far as I know, believed to be essential to the Church's teachings.  An appropriate comparison for the President would not be his improbable belief in Resurrection (which is surely central to Christianity), but perhaps to a dispute about whether St. Paul was married, or no.
At any rate, nothing in my post asserts that any belief held on faith on my part is superior to any belief held on faith on the part of LDS, and I think my critic misread my intent if they presumed that I was  mocking the beliefs of LDS generally, or Romney's beliefs in particular.   My reader is a principled skeptic on a host of topics, so perhaps he or she was too quick to seize upon comments that referenced religion as being inherently critical?  Alternatively, my writing sacrificed clarity for a stylistic flourish? (More on that in a moment).

At any rate, my critic asks about the connection between Romney's taxes and his (supposed) beliefs about where God hangs out.  Well, at the risk of being picky please note that I didn't reference that belief at all, but merely the fact that Kolob hadn't been discovered.   Unlike God's existence (which my reader correctly notes cannot be verified), the existence of a planet like Kolob is, in principle, verifiable.   If some LDS astronomer predicted (for whatever reason) that a planet with certain properties and dimensions would be detected around a certain star, that could be tested.   This would still not prove any theological claims about any planet, whatever you called it, but again I wasn't referencing those claims.   For that reason, it would be a mistake to think that I am somehow invested in a contrary, but equally theological claim about Kobol's properties, or that I could imagine that the failure to verify Kobol's alleged existence could be enlisted to support my own brand of "magical thinking."  (Shoot, I don't even like the term "verify" that much, because of its association with logical positivism. )

The actual linkage that I had in mind was not God's existence, but Kolob's existence.   There is a play on the word "discovery" in a legal sense, in that in releasing his 2011 tax returns Gov. Romney was finally providing some transparency and documentation on an item that was as previously remote as an alleged (and as yet undiscovered) planet.   In the back of my mind I also had the image of other things that are remote to the average American: Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island tax shelters.   Perhaps I should've chosen some other image of a remote, fantastic place (Shakespeare's "undiscovered country", or Shangri-La, etc.) as a means of making that point.   My critic is quite right about one thing: given that Mr. Romney's LDS beliefs (whatever they are) are not germane to how his taxes are perceived, it would not be appropriate to mock them.  I'm disinclined to discuss such things in general in the political arena, except perhaps in the case where a person's professed beliefs are explicitly contradicted by their actions.   That seems fair game to me, but even there I suppose I should be cautious.  Throwing stones can be contagious.

Anyway, the substance of my post clearly has nothing to do with what items either I or Mitt Romney take on faith.  It was an attempt by me to parse the whole issue of taxes and wealth in the context of framing a winning political message.  I think I was actually very fair to the Governor and made clear I think arguments that appeal to envy of another's class or wealth are non-starters with me.  Those kinds of arguments also lead pretty quickly, in my critic's phrase, to a "race to the bottom."   But I think I also made clear that Mr. Romney's lack of transparency hurts him with voters, regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about class envy.  That lack of transparency makes Mr. Romney more remote, and makes a difficult task (connecting with the average person and winning their trust) all but impossible. 

As I noted, I'm not really all that concerned about how Mr. Romney made his money.   The IRS got to see it, and presumably they apply a pretty good "smell test" to returns on income of seven figures, or more.   I was trying to explain why Romney's success, in my view, could've been part of a more user-friendly narrative that could've pointed to the Governor's potential strengths, and why his choices were simply bad politics.  This post doesn't really critique Romney's beliefs or character one bit: it's about the choices he made in the course of several news cycles that any reasonably talented politician would've understood were not in his best interests.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my critical reader for provoking this response, because one of my goals this year is to write, write and write some more...and, hopefully along the way, polish my writing skills.   Part of writing is editing, but one of the bracing things about blogs is that people often do not edit their own work.   It's a format that lends itself to a "quick-write" sort of response.  I wrote the first thing that popped into my head for an opening paragraph, looking for an exotic "grabber" to bring the reader in, and those kind of "impulse buys" clearly have their drawbacks.   While I don't think my general argument is in any way compromised by my poor choice of parallelism, my skeptical reader seized upon my first nineteen words, ran it up the yardarm and fired away.    To me, it was just another literary reference, like Croesus or "death and taxes".  If someone thought I was fanning the flames of anti-Mormon bigotry, I ask for a mulligan.   I ask my skeptical readers to consider giving me the benefit of the doubt.

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Today, Governor Romney proclaimed that Pennsylvania was in play, and that he believed that his supporters in the Keystone State would triumph, and that because of that, Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes are going to go to Team Red.

In further news, the Romney camp announced that 147 percent of Americans now support him, that catsup is a vegetable, that being down in the polls means that you are up in the race, and that once elected they intend to normalize diplomatic relations with the Ministry of Magic.

Seriously, politicians all say stuff at times which is so transparently the opposite of what is actually happening.   It's a disease, an occupational hazard, it goes with the territory, my GOD, what state am I in right now and WHO am I supposed to be talking to in a few minutes?   In the whirligig of rope walks, puddle jumps, bunting-bearing bandstands and squalling brats, even the best-rested, best-prepared pol is going, from time to time, say things that are patently at odds with reality: witness both camps, with their Harvard-educated, highly-successful and heavily-polished candidates each busily dialing down expectations for the first debate with a furious (and utterly disingenuous) exchange of money quotes about their opposite's strengths as a public speaker.   Yeah, I've been implying the other guy is not qualified, incompetent, clueless, out-of-touch for months now, a guy who doesn't "get" the average American, but by golly, now that push comes to shove and we have to, you know, actually talk to each other it wouldn't surprise me the least if he can make a few points, so let's not get crazy expecting that, you know, I'll actually win.

So both sides do it, but some do it better than others.   Case in point:  Gov. Romney's big "secret", that Pennsylvania were back in play.   It's both highly unlikely and pointless.  In the first place, Pennsylvania, by all accounts is so solidly blue right now that you can't even find a projection that lists it as even being a possible "swing state."   Nate Silver, whose application of sabermetric style to political forecasting has an enviable track record of transparency and accuracy, has two observations about the state that are hard to ignore:

First, that this state is solidly with Team Blue:   as of this morning, the polling averages show that the President has an eight-point lead in a state that will begin early voting next week.  The respected Quinnipiac Poll even has the President up by TWELVE points.  There isn't going to be enough news cycles, enough debate fireworks, to erase eight points, much less twelve,  before early voting begins.   At best, you might see a two-point dip in that time, and so by the time the general election begins, much of Pennsylvania's electorate will have already cast their votes in such a way that the President is likely to be ahead.

What is Romney's big "secret" that could overcome that?   Well, perhaps he's hoping (though he'd be foolish to say so openly) that Pennsylvania's new "voter ID" law could reduce the number of pro-Obama supporters from making their voice heard between now and Election Day.   If so, the musings of this federal judge, who must rule by this coming Tuesday, can not give Romney supporters any confort.  It seems likely that, given the fact that Democrats in the state have gone on the offensive on this point, that whether or not the law is partially hamstrung or not, its effects will be minimized.

Here's a second problem: an upset win in this state might not mean diddly.   Let's suppose Pennsylvania actually did manage to "flip" by November, and that Gov. Romney stages a last-minute rally and wins a close race.   That's not impossible:   Nate Silver estimates that, as of this moment, there is a three percent chance that such an event could happen.  Here's the problem:  Silver's model also shows that this is highly unlikely to be dispositive on the outcome of the electoral college, giving Pennsylvania just a 1.1 percent chance of being a "tipping point" state, ahead of every other state listed as a potential "toss-up" a month ago other than New Mexico which (by the way) is favored to go the President's way, as well.   In fact, other than Rasmussen Reports, every poll now shows the President ahead in all ten of the top "swing states", a list that often as not does not even include Pennsylvania!  Thus, Silver concludes that there isn't any point in putting significant resources into Pennsylvania for either side.

There's been a lot of talk lately about poll bias, but in general polls (and especially averages of leading polls) tend to arrive at numbers that are very close to what actually happens.   In this case, we can evaluate whether or not the two camps really believe the polls by assessing their actions:  if either the President or the Romney camp believed that Pennsylvania might be in play, the story would not be a declaration of upset by the Republican challenger, but a sudden influx of money into the state to rev up the ground game and buy advertising.

That is manifestly not happening.   As the POLITICO article makes clear, neither side is opening the wallet.   In this light, Romney's declaration seems positively quixotic.   The only way he could really believe that an upset is in the works without investing real resources into the ground game and attack ads is if he believed that the dynamic on the ground will be more effected by the voter ID law than by campaigning.    I prefer to believe the Governor is opportunistic rather than personally invested in voter suppression efforts, so in that scenario he couldn't really be hoping that the laws will do what this man clearly intended them to do (I love it when they actually say what they believe):

One more thing, and this really isn't the thing that anyone likes to emphasize, but it's true:  Pennsylvania's importance in the overall scheme of things for national elections has been in decline for a long time.   Beginning in 1960, the Keystone State lost two electoral votes with every census until the last, when it only lost one.  That's a lot of electoral votes, and the changing demographic of the state makes those votes increasingly urban, diverse and...Democratic.   So Mitt Romney isn't just whistling in the dark, he's looking for a blip that goes against a lot of historic trends, and a short-term surge of mythopoeic proportions.

Not gonna happen, sorry.

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Look at this.   I mean, seriously, look and listen to this.  

This is five guys back in 1973, just five guys, but just so much happening musically and visually during 26 minutes or so.   It's not a single, it's not a rock opera per se, but it's a piece of music that's organic, ever-shifting, with recurring themes and development.   Visually, it's still arresting: the costumes, the stagecraft, the instrumentals that engage as the stage goes dark, allowing lead vocalist Peter Gabriel time to metamorphize into something new and weird.   It's damn entertaining, but there's also a serious attempt to play with William Blake and related subject matter.  

The thing begins with something that sounds like a joke.   It's whimsical at first, but there's something unnerving, too:  a pastorale, all earthy and concerned with reproduction, but also a feast of crows assembled from the wreckage of a great battle.   Disturbingly, it seems that the author of this feast is the "mighty One" that slays with the sword that comes out of his mouth....which, it turns out, looks very much like a black light, wielded as one might carry a crucifix.  Yeah, it's weird and wonderful.  I sure would like to have a shot at playing the whole thing some time.

Make no mistake, it would take a bit of doing. You need an outstanding drummer to handle the tempo changes and odd meters (2+2+2+3 vs. 3+3+3 at times).

You need a keyboardist who can play two rigs at the same time, and do a reasonably good job of aping the Mellotron sounds and organ registrations (particularly difficult: an instrumental that builds out of the rhythm of a Leslie speaker at a certain speed and level of overdrive).

 You either need two players to cover the bass and rhythm guitar parts like Mike Rutherford, or you can have a double-neck guitar and sit next to a pair of bass pedals.    I mean, those kind of guys have just got to be falling out of the woodwork, common as church mice, right?

Your other guitarist needs to be pretty versatile, playing little filigree work as one of either two or three guys on acoustic 12-strings, but also able to do the volume knob business and finger-tapping on the electric. Oh, and you need a vocalist who is a showman who can also play the flute.

I'm game if anyone else is.



This just in: planet Kolob has yet to be discovered, but Willard Romney's 2011 tax returns have been released, which means that an issue that had seemingly lost interest for nearly everyone but Nevada Senator Harry Reid is suddenly back front-and-center, which had the handicappers who cover these things scratching their heads.

Puzzled about what's puzzling them?   Let's recap:   Governor Romney, the Republican nominee for President, is the wealthiest man to ever be nominated by a major American political party, maybe the wealthiest to head the ticket of any party, period:  conservative estimates of Romney's wealth total about a quarter of a billion dollars.   He's the kind of guy who, if he wanted, could easily buy a professional sports team, and while not a billionaire, could put together a billion-dollar deal if he wanted to.

Romney's best argument for pursuing the highest office in the land, frankly, is that he has been a striking success in the private sector.   After all, he began young adulthood as, you know, only a millionaire, and he's easily increased his net worth by a factor of, oh, 200 or more.   The feeling in some quarters is, if you want to grow the economy, now's the time to find someone with that invaluable private sector experience to run things, not another professional politician who has spent most of his time in the public trough.

It's a success story that is beyond the imaginings of most Americans.   OK, well maybe not me or Han Solo: we can imagine quite a bit, but it's impressive.   But here's the problem: while emulating Croesus, Governor Romney has also had quite a few public instances of playing King Midas--in reverse.   For one thing, he has so far refused to release tax returns from between 2003 and 2009, and only got around to releasing last year's returns today.   Along the way, it became public knowledge that before Romney became governor of Massachusetts, he divested many assets into his wife's name, including Swiss bank accounts and some kind of mysterious tax shelter thingy in the Cayman Islands.   These are the kinds of moves that can effectively conceal God-knows-how-much from the IRS and the scrutiny of the general public, and also the kinds of moves that the average American could only imagine having the resources to make.

As a consequence, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has for some time been repeating an unsourced rumor to the effect that Mr. Romney hasn't paid taxes sometime in the last ten years.  That claim took a mild hit yesterday in terms of its credibility, given that for 2011 at least Mr. Romney has provided a return, and a supposed audit of his returns showed that, on average, he paid significant taxes over that ten-year period.  However, that claim hasn't been disproven, either.   It is still quite possible that during some of the last ten years, Romney paid little or no taxes.   So, while today's release provides some details, it's not a "smoking gun" to make Reid's smear campaign go away.   There are also some fascinating details in the 2011 returns that show that the Romney camp has tweaked the return in order to remain consistent with prior claims made by the candidate about the size and nature of his 2011 returns.   The short version is that Romney ended up paying more than he was legally required to pay, in order that his effective tax rate would hover around 14 percent (as he had previously claimed), rather than less than 10 percent, if all of his charitable giving had been deducted as the law requires.

On MSNBC, the largely partisan analysis had a field day with this, while Reid essentially doubled down on his dark hints, supposedly telling a Las Vegas Sun reporter that he still believes that the Governor is hiding something.   Well, maybe, maybe not, but the fact remains that the decision to release the returns now, with the first debates less than two weeks away, is quite curious.   It will be interesting to see if the President even alludes to tax returns at all, and perhaps the Romney camp simply felt that a preemptive strike would make the DNC people think twice about returning to the issue.    Well....think again:

Yes, if the thought this would make "the chattering class" just "stop it", as Mrs. Romney had pleaded earlier this week, well, this is an enormous blunder on the part of the Romney camp.   Most Americans had been focusing on his other miscues, and this reminds voters of a detail that makes his ill-chosen "47 percent" reference seem not just a question of indifference, but indicative of arrogant disregard for the lot of ordinary Americans who pay taxes at a rate well above what's been shown in Mr. Romney's returns released to date.   Releasing these numbers gave his DNC foes more grist for the mill, and pretty much forced media outlets, even FOX, to address the question of whether he had something to hide.   Heads you lose, Mr. Romney, tails they win.

Let's be clear:  a lot of this criticism is just patently unfair.   Governor Romney makes a lot of money, and he gives a lot of money, and that's one reason why his effective tax rate is so low.   If I was in a position to give at Romney scale, I certainly would, and I would certainly take advantage of a tax code that allows me deduct charitable giving, because that would allow me to give even more to the causes that I care about.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with Governor Romney paying 14 percent or 9 percent, and charitable giving is absolutely something we should encourage our more fortunate fellow citizens to do.  As far as I can see, Mitt Romney is doing nothing I wouldn't do to maximize my own investment in this country and its people.   Nothing.

But you know what?   I'm not running for President of these United States.    If I was, and I was burdened with potential voter envy due to my success, I would certainly not approach the question of my personal wealth the way that Mr. Romney has.   I would release all my tax returns, and I would've liquidated my foreign investments years ago and be completely transparent about them, even those transactions that provoke envy, because first and foremost I would not want to give anyone, anywhere, anything to hang their hat on where they could claim that I was hiding something.   I would do that even if my effective tax rate would approach zero, because full disclosure up front would allow me to turn a potential negative (wealth that most Americans can only dream of) to a positive.   Governor Romney's greatest asset in a troubled economy is his well-established ability to make a good living by making business ventures more profitable, but he can't effectively make that point if he hides behind the skirts of the law and refuses to discuss details about how he made those ventures more profitable, and just how profitable they were.

This could've been so different.  Romney is a citizen of a country where, as one wag put it, most people don't see themselves as poor, but merely as future millionaires who are likely to strike it rich, any day now.   If Romney had recast his business ventures and his income in terms of that great American dream, he might not become more likeable, but he instantly becomes harder to actively dislike.   The way to counter the stereotype of "to the manor born" is not to allow your foes to characterize your success as privilege, but to paint yourself as a man who has worked very hard to achieve success in business, to describe the agonizing, the soul-searching that could attend making the very hard decisions about businesses that affect people's lives.   Even blue-collar workers who've lost jobs due to mergers and outsourcing could appreciate why decisions for the greater good often involve short-term sacrifice, the distinction between eggs and omelettes.

Similarly, the way to counter the stereotype of "miserly plutocrat" is to emphasize the relationship between financial success and charitable giving.  Mr. Romney could've pointed to people who are far wealthier than he, people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and praise them for their philanthropy, and to tightly wrap their ability to give to a tax code that rewards personal generosity.   You would pick billionaires on the other side of the aisle to praise, and draw careful attention to specific acts of charity that they have produced, rather than appear boastful about your own giving.   This would make you look generous and principled in discussing "wealth creation", and walks you nicely back toward the conservative narrative as to how wealth is created.

(Now, keep in mind I don't buy that narrative, precisely because people like Gates and Buffett are exceptional.   Rich people as a group tend to invest in old businesses rather than start new businesses, and "trickle down" fiscal policies, combined with increased leveraging of the system with money by the very rich, has created an economy that is increasingly stratified and which squeezes the middle class in a way that stifles economic growth.   But I'm not arguing that narrative is true, merely that it has been historically persuasive for many Americans when sold a certain way, a way that Mr. Romney ought to understand how to sell.)

Yes, these are the kinds of things you could talk about if you were completely transparent about your own finances:  hard work, tough decisions, charitable giving as a form of economic investment.   In the hands of a skilled politician like Bill Clinton, you might not persuade an independent voter that your prescription for the economy is entirely sound, but it would be clear that your views on how to grow the economy, views that differ from the President, proceed directly from your own experience, your own hard work, your own success, and that becomes increasingly difficult to criticize without seeming mean-spirited.

Well, at this point we should all know that this path was not the path pursued by Gov. Romney.   He chose to keep his tax records secret but, as Roger Simon points out, require his running mate (Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) to provide ten years worth of returns, just like Senator McCain required Romney to release ten years of returns back in 2008 when he was being considered a potential running mate, just like Romney's own father (former Michigan Gov. George Romney) provided decades of returns.    That Romney remains patently unwilling to abide by the same standard his father advocated, and that he and other politicians require of each other, can only be described as hypocritical.   Perhaps his camp thought that the news that the Governor paid millions more than he had to in 2011 would make him more sympathetic and make the whole tax return thing go away, but you can't elicit sympathy when people see you as a hypocrite.   It's only full disclosure that creates the dynamic where an open discussion of your wealth and privilege can be turned into a positive.

So, do I believe Gov. Romney has something to hide, as Harry Reid wants us to infer?   I don't really care at this point, and I don't think most Americans care at this point, either.   The issue is not whether or not Romney has anything shameful hiding in his returns, nor is the issue the supposed attempts of the left to revive class warfare and pillory Mitt for the "crime" of financial success.   The issue is that Mitt repeatedly fails to connect to regular Americans in a way that embodies his views on fiscal policy, which is supposedly his strong suit as a candidate.  

You can't separate the man from the policy, because the man manifestly embodies not the 47 percent, not the 53 percent, not the 100 percent, but the ultra-rich: the one-tenth of a percent of Americans who are doing fabulously well in this stagnant economy.   It's not class envy to demand that a historically wealthy candidate in a time of great income disparity show transparency and consistency in their own financial dealings in order to be regarded as credible on fiscal policy:  it's common sense.

Common sense would also suggest that if, for whatever reason, you don't want to shine the light of day on your tax records, it would be unwise to remind the electorate of that less than two weeks before your first presidential debate, and just 45 days before the election.   Common sense, that any reasonably competent politician who knows how to connect with voters would appreciate.    The problem is that Mitt Romney is not a competent politician.   There are things that he is good at, including making money and building organizations behind the scenes.   He is ambitious and smart, but he utterly lacks the common touch that politicians with less money and less brains have in earnest.

That's why any mention of taxes is now "death" for the Romney campaign, and just as I am certain of death and taxes, I am now certain that the Romney campaign will continue to shoot itself in the foot all the way to November.   Mitt Romney isn't just a flawed candidate: he embodies a flaw in the Republican Party, he embodies a flaw in the entire conservative wing of American politics, he IS a flaw masquerading as a candidate.  The flaw: the belief that money and power and the "right" ideas should be enough to buy an election. 

I passionately believe otherwise.   I believe a compelling and winning candidacy must have more than dollars, more than influence and more than a list of tired talking points.   They have to personally connect to the American people, and it is striking that the Romney organization not only doesn't appear to understand that, but they don't appear all that interested in trying to understand that.  Indeed, the entire GOP apparatus seems to hang, increasingly, on the idea that the big money made available in the Citizens United decision will allow them to leverage the election with a billion dollars worth of late advertising.

Mitt Romney may not really buy into every part of the ideology of the "Tea Party" movement, he might be something of a RINO who is attempting to conceal his more moderate views, but in this one thing he is definitely lock-step with the rest of his party:   he's got the money, and he manifestly believes that the guy who's got the money should prevail, for both pragmatic and ideological reasons.    I think that's a flawed outlook, likely a fatal flaw.  But let's consider the possibility that I'm wrong, and that like death and taxes, the eventual ascendancy of Mitt Romney and his money is inevitable.   If so, this election becomes a test of whether monied interests can prevail over the 47 percent of Americans who, Mitt Romney implies, are not carrying their weight.   If Mr. Romney and his allies are correct, America is for sale, and the people who are the "job creators" are the ones who have both the means and the compelling moral obligation to put in the highest bid, and take over.

Words: 2,528

Total:  23, 586



So...there's usually nothing remotely amusing about the Third Reich.

However, this is a well-known Internet meme, whose purpose is most certainly not to celebrate anyone in jackboots.   There are a zillion versions of this, so I beg your pardon in advance if you don't think this is funny.  But, since we're now in the middle of the Seoul Pop Invasion, this gave me a chuckle:



Today, Dr. Tony Vang officially resigned from the Fresno Unified School District Board of Trustees.

I am relieved, to put it mildly.

Dr. Vang's tenure as Board President undermined some of the good will he had built up in nine previous years of service on the Board. As the first Hmong-American to be elected to the FUSD Board, and one of the more prominent Hmong-Americans in the Valley, his Board service had met with mixed reviews on policy, but until last year no one had ever questioned his judgement or character.

That all ended when reporters for the Fresno Bee investigated discrepancies between his official residency (within FUSD boundaries) and other residences listed for the purpose of voting. Residency requirements are often skirted or even ignored by elected officials, but any chance that Dr. Vang could've defused the controversy came to an abrupt end when he stonewalled the media, issued misleading statements to the public to justify his residency, and publicly attempted to bully fellow Board members and citizens wishing to address the Board.

In a space of a few hours, Vang (using his power as the Board's President) precipitated a walkout by other Board members by denying them the opportunity to speak, selectively set limits on the time for public comment based upon whether the citizen was critical of his actions, and used police power to, in essence, throw out the local union representative when he attempted to exercise his usual perogative to address the Board. It was, as the local media reported, an extraordinarily blatant attempt to use power to quash legitimate public concerns, unprecedented as far as anyone could recall in the history of elected bodies in Fresno County.

Dr. Vang shortly stepped down as Board President, and has now read the tea leaves: no further good can be served the Hmong-American community or the electorate at large by remaining on the Board, because Dr. Vang's actions undermined not merely the form, but the substance of what is essential in local government: access and accountability. His self-serving statement does not admit the obvious, that he is stepping down largely due to his own missteps, abusing the public's trust and publicly abusing the power he was granted as Board President.

Why did he wait so long? Here is where Vang's legacy is unsettled, because he represented a key supporter of Dr. Hansen, who like all Superintendents of large urban school districts eventually make a lot of people unhappy. Hansen has a difficult job, and we are currently at the point in the "leadership cycle" where in attempts to generate evidence of progress on various fronts the administration increasingly is adopting "top-down" measures that, no matter what the good intentions, are likely to generate more heat than light from the workforce (teachers) that are expected to implement them, mid-stream, in addition to all the other bureaucratic layers that we are expected to "check off" in lesson planning, classroom management, grading and the like. To put it simply, the heat's on Hansen, and so pressure is being brought from downtown to the classroom in a last-ditch effort to put some lipstick on the pig.

With Vang gone, however, there is no guarantee that a new Board majority will coalesce around the Superintendent's agenda. It's more likely that the new Board member will be an independent voice, not commited either to the Supe or to the increasingly-restless trio of Board members (one from the Bullard area) who feel that they have been continuously sabotaged by the present administration. If Vang isn't replaced by someone who will at least give Dr. Hansen a chance to make his case, then he's on borrowed time. I'm not sure, myself, how I feel about that. All I know is Dr. Vang had to go in order to build a new Board majority, one that the public could be reasonably certain would allow it adequate access and accountability in public meetings. Please, no future dictators need apply.

Words: 661

Total:  21,028



So, somebody forwarded me one of those articles on "science" you can find on the Internet.   Over the years, I've crusaded against creationism, particularly the young-Earth variety that attempts to inject itself, with disastrous results, in the public school curriculum.  

I've gained some notoriety, some respect and made a few enemies along the way.   And, thanks to people like Chris Mooney, I've gained some appreciation for some of the things that make pseudoscientists tick.   Given my interests, it's not surprising that most of my foes are self-styled political conservatives.

But it would be a mistake to think that in any of my tilts with the "giants" of pseudoscience proceed from any political animus.  I don't ask if they are Democrats, or Republicans, or Jesuits or Rastafarians.  

In fact, yawn-double-yawn, who cares?    Instead, I typically ask myself questions like this: "Are they members of the scientific community? "  "Are they behaving as if they were members of the scientific community?"   "Do they have "evidence" that would past muster with the scientific community?"  "Are their concerns either based upon, or directly address potential shortcomings in well-established models widely-accepted in the scientific community?"

If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, even if I have doubts about their conclusions, I regard them as colleagues and engage them as such: which means, frankly, that they are treated like adults and their ideas are subjected to the brutal competition of ideas which is science.   I take them seriously if they fit those criteria, even if they hold creationist views, because that's the way science should work:   we shouldn't have any sacred cows, and as long as everyone agrees to play the game of science by the rules that (by definition) are essential to its success, in the long run everybody wins by taking such folk seriously.

On the other hand, if they aren't scientists, they don't act like scientists, if they lack evidence, if their foundational ideas are irrational, then I tend not to take them too seriously as long as they are sincerely interested in understanding the actual science they want to engage.   I only get really bent out of shape when it becomes clear that they are willing to advance their cause by unethical means, or by arguments that any reasonably educated person can be expected to reject as inherently flawed.

It turns out that the political right does not have a monopoly on such pseudoscience.    Again, I was recently forwarded a piece of pseudoscience, in this case just  one of many highly aroused critiques of a Stanford study that's been getting some attention lately for showing (in a meta-study of many short-term studies) that there is very little evidence to support the claim that organic food is obviously healthier than "non-organic" conventional produce.  Why, there's a petition at change.org to "force" Stanford to retract this study, or some such nonsense.

Excuse me while I double up, on the floor, laughing.   Yes, it's Party Rock Anthem tonight.   In a word:  Ha. Ha Ha!  Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha-Frickin'-Ha, how incredibly stupid are you people?

As if the scientific community gives a rap about what some group of political activists think!   Listen carefully, numbskulls on the left:  the scientific community doesn't care what you think.   It cares about evidence.  In your case, if you want someone to retract an article published in a journal, you don't get that to happen by drafting a petition aimed at their employers.   That's not how science is done.   If the study is flawed, there will be legions of scientists waiting to point out the study's methodological missteps, conceptual lapses or unreplicable results.   That's what we do in science, see?   We spend a lot of time constantly challenging each other, because there's a huge incentive for us to do it:  the guy or gal who makes a better argument, who points out the shortcomings in work good enough to be published, that's a member of the scientific community to reckon with.   The one with the best SCIENCE-FU will triumph over your pitiful "Pseudosciency Style."

I will now apply a little, just a little, of the old SCIENCE-FU to some left-leaning wackjobbery for a change, namely those who push exaggerated claims for the benefits of "organic" food, who (oddly enough) are the same twisted panty-wearers who essentially want to censor the Stanford study out of existence since it doesn't fit their world view.   What are the facts?

Well, the first fact is that the word "organic" was appropriated by these New Age-y types decades ago to mean "produce grown without pesticides" which they conclude (naturally) is better because, you know, it's just more "natural" to grow things without pesticides.   That irritates people who actually have taken a few chemistry classes, because of course the word "organic" simply means a molecule based on carbon chains.   Organic chemistry is the study of compounds based on carbon, whereas inorganic chemistry studies compounds primarily based on other compounds.

There is nothing inherently nice, fuzzy or user-friendly about "organic" chemistry.   In fact, we tend to be very careful with the organics, simply because they can be (gasp) dangerous.  You've heard of cyanide?   Just a carbon triple-bonded to nitrogen, folks.  Rubbing alcohol?   Formaldehyde?   Carbon-based.  Or perhaps you've noticed that we're concerned about carbon emissions from fossil fuels?   Yeah:  methane, butane, octane, kerosene, xylene, trinitrotoluene (TNT)....I'm assuming that you don't pour any of these over french fries.   Actually, given the stupidity of some New Age views on nutrition, maybe I shouldn't assume that, but let's be charitable.   The point is, most organic compounds are actually toxic, and that includes the organic compounds in food.   Our bodies actually spend a huge amount of energy building enzymes whose purpose is to remove as many of the naturally (yes, NATURALLY)-occuring toxins that are in food, yes even in the supposed "organic" foods.

So, from the word 'go' the use of the word 'organic' is at best misleading, because it is used in a sense that really is contradicted by the reality of organic chemistry.   But let's give the advocates of organic food the benefit of the doubt, and not dwell too much on the fact that, where terms are concerned, they are playing Humpty Dumpty's game.
Anyway,  I am not persuaded that so-called "organic" food is safer or healthier.    Let's first deal with the claim that "organic" foods are more nutritious, one of the claims made in Lappe's article.   Well, research on this point is as mixed as the greens that might find their way to our tables!   There is a terrible hidden methodological problem with most of the studies cited by advocates of organic produce, and it's related to the fact that anything which is locally owned and grown is likely to be fresher, and thus healthier for you, whether or not it has pesticide levels which are detectable (which, by the way, is typically an amount that is vanishingly small!).

Most people in North America (where most of the studies are done) do not live as I happen to do, in a breadbasket of agriculture.  I can buy significant amounts of just-harvested produce from a couple of different farmer's markets in my own county every week.   It's fresh, like "just-picked-today" fresh.  Most Americans can't do that: at best, even if they go to a farmer's market, it is produce that was picked in the last few days.  Most Americans don't even do that: they consume produce which is not locally grown, and which typically is not organic produce, anyway, because most organic produce is consumed locally, anyway.  In a further irony,  so-called "organic produce" that is shipped far from its point of origin typically is sprayed with stuff to preserve it and to DELAY the hatching of larvae in the crops, so to call it "organic" is a bit of a stretch.   In fact, the dirty little secret of organic produce is that it rots faster, because there is lots of little insect larvae and nematodes growing in the stuff.   That's why the overall yield of organic produce is low compared to conventional produce.

Thus, there is no reason to believe that the nutritional content of fresh produce is lessened by the presence of pesticides.   The relative drop in nutrition in "non-organic" produce is due to a higher percentage of the produce not being consumed fresh, locally, but within 1-2 weeks at some location distant from the point of origin.   Studies that control for this factor find virtually no difference in nutrient levels.   Studies that "cherry-pick" the time that cherries are sampled will inevitably find a difference that works in favor of locally produced, locally consumed organic produce.

As for the health risks?   I can kill lab rats with the best of them for any number of substances, organic or otherwise, if I can select the dosage.  Most of the studies that are cited by organic food advocates as "evidence" for the risks of long-term pesticide exposure fall prey to the classic error of conflating correlation with causation.  For example, in this HuffPo piece decrying the Stanford research by Frances Moore Lappe, the author produces counter-studies that don't actually contradict the findings of the Stanford group, but which simply show a correlation between exposure to organophosphate in pregnant women and reduced IQ scores several years later in their offspring.   Correlation is not causation.   There are lots of things (um, choices?)  that could cause pregnant women to have children with below-average IQ that could also be associated with greater exposure to certain chemicals, and even if we grant for the purpose of discussion that the studies in question have "proven" "organophosphates lowers IQ", they haven't demonstrated that pesticides are the sole, or even the major source of organophosphates.   (Oh, and while I'm on the topic:  guess what kind of molecule an organophosphate is?   Yep, you guessed it: "organic.")

Now that doesn't mean that I am pooh-poohing the studies in question, or denying that certain pesticides (since banned) pose real dangers, or that we shouldn't study current pesticides carefully.   Science proceeds by questioning things, and by continuing to question things.  The Stanford findings are intriguing and merit further study, but conceding that is by no means opening the floodgates to the condemnation of a certain class of chemical.   No scientist would argue that organophosphate exposure has been proven to lower IQ.   The claim that a finding is "intriguing" and "merits further study" is just the kind of cautious language routinely placed in a scientific paper's "conclusion" section, the most modest and inoffensive sort of boilerplate imaginable.   See, here's a lesson for the left:  while many scientists (including me) are no doubt left-leaning in our politics, there is an inherent conservatism in expressing and sharing scientific findings, a deeply-engrained and strongly-reinforced tendency (especially in formal papers) to understate the scope and significance of any conclusions. 

As an example:  when Watson and Crick developed the model of DNA's structure, they had no doubt as to its significance.   They went down to the local pub, and as legend has it, bought a round of drinks for everyone announcing they had discovered the secret of life.    But, when it came time to write the paper, it was a very short paper.  You can read the whole thing online here in about two minutes, and its conclusion couldn't be more understated if it was mumbled into a microphone by Calvin Coolidge:  "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."

The Stanford study has a similarly modest conclusion, and certainly does not "prove" that "organic" produce might not be healthier to consume, and the authors of that study haven't, to the best of my knowledge, made such claims either:  rather, it is the media in its attempt to make the claim digestible (but also, ahem, "interesting") that has cast this study as a wholesale rebuke of notions that those committed to "organic" produce hold dear.   Thus, the highly emotive language used by Lappe':  the Stanford scientists were 'reprehensible' to publish this 'reckless' article.

Reprehensible?   Reckless?   I do agree that the conclusion of the Stanford study shows no consideration for how their findings might upset the carefully-stenciled cartoon worldview of many self-styled nutritionists, but beyond that I can't help but sneer.  The truth is that Lappe's judgement, and the censorious response of the "change.org" petition,  is all too typical of non-scientists on the left who attempt to pontificate on science. The organic food industry in this country, all too often, is allied with pseudoscience, such as the mindless opposition to GMO's (genetically-modified organisms).   Shockingly, this mirrors the pseudoscience that is usually associated with social conservatives!

That's a pretty strong claim to make about the New Age-y types, but hear me out.  These folk are, as far as I can see, engaged in a project of wishful thinking based upon the naturalistic fallacy, and their opposition to scientific findings contrary to their beliefs is in part driven by self-interest.   After all, "organic" food advocates have carved out a sizeable niche market to bear their "truthier" version of agriculture, a niche market largely made up of left-leaning folks which (to me, at least) bears an eerie resemblance to the niche markets created by creationists and dominionists,  characters who are making all kinds of money peddling alternative views on biology and American history to churches, religious academies and home schoolers.

So, it seems clear (to me, at least)  that the right does not have a monopoly on pseudoscience.   For every guy who wants to teach the Earth is 10,000 years old, there's some gal who's convinced that the crystals around her neck have "vibrational energy", and in my experience the latter individual has a whole series of untestable beliefs about animals and food that are at odds with reality.

Ah, but illusion abounds.  You should see the looks on my student's faces when I remind them that every food product they consume requires the sacrifice of another organism.   Unrealistic attitudes about food are inculcated at a very early age in a society that packs most consumables in plastic, which most people never harvest for themselves.  I have to wonder if my students think the item simply appears in the plastic!  It is equally unrealistic, however, for folk like Lappe' to think that simply changing the way we think about food is going to change the hard facts about food in the 21st Century.   Whether we like it or not, industrial-scale food production is essential for the short-term survival of our global population, and that means pesticides and biotechnology to maintain the high yields required.   In the long term, of course, human population growth can not be sustained...indeed I am skeptical about whether it can be sustained at its present size.

Activists like Lappe' seem to think that the answer is changing our priorities and patterns of consumption, but the only way they will be able to reverse the industrialization of food production is to reverse population growth.   Otherwise, demand trumps every other consideration, including possible long-term health risks.   I have to laugh at the Europeans who have bought into the pseudoscience of "Frankenfoods", but at least their position has a certain consistency.   They have NEGATIVE population growth, so they can afford to have a "natural" system based on local consumption with traditional methods.   They don't have to sacrifice freshness and worry about pesticides, because their shrinking populations don't require increased yields.  Bully for them, but the rest of the planet does, like it or not.

In the meantime, the way to proceed in science is not to condemn a published finding as "reprehensible" because it goes against your carefully-cultivated belief system, nor to attempt to suppress by censorship through petitions in the court of public opinion.   Critics of the Stanford study should do the hard work of replicating the work with better controls to address their concerns about its methodological or ideological biases, but with the same rigor of analysis, such that it is publishable in the scientific literature.   If they choose censorship and appeals to public opinion over the hard work of science, I don't care what their politics are.   Such folk are not only playing a different game than we scientists we play, they are attempting to redefine the rules of the game in such a way that their views are immune from criticism.   That's no different from the shell game pursued by creationists in the courts and in state legislatures, and it's just as contemptible to any real scientist.   These people, apologists for pseudoscience, will be justifiably excluded from the scientific community.

Words: 2,772

Total:  20,367



So, by noon yesterday I decided not to go on-line for the rest of the day.   In my regular gig (a public school science teacher), this can be hard to do.   Not only do I have to check district e-mail on a regular basis for communications, not only do I enter attendance and grades into an online system (ATLAS), but now I have two periods of a computer-based tutorial to monitor.

So, even if I wanted to do otherwise, every few minutes at Bullard I'm looking at some computer or other, most of which are connected to the web in some fashion.   But I just played a game of "let's pretend" with myself, that there wasn't anything else other than the district programs to use.   I didn't check my Hotmail or Gmail accounts, I didn't have a window open at any point to a news feed.

Why the programmed withdrawal from all things Web-derful?  Simply this:   I had read enough yesterday morning to know that, on the other side of the world, the merchants of terror had struck again at American interests, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.    Apparently, some of the citizenry in the Mideast had once again allowed themselves to become the cat's paw of forces arranged in a struggle between the modern and medieval.   A supposed trailer for a "film", made in America and uploaded to YouTube (in some versions dubbed in Arabic) contained scenes that not only visually depicted Allah's Messenger (which in itself is blasphemous to Muslims), but implied that, ya know, ol' Mohammed wanted to get it on with moppets, fellas and other vaguely-defined critters....

So, this is where the thing just gets weird, in fact just plain "Psychotronic."  The alleged maker of this "film", who sounds as if he some sort of disenbodied pathogen ("Sam Bacile"), is no budding Lili Reifenstahl or Luis Buniel,  with a daring cinematic vision enlisted in behalf of some provocative ideology.   There isn't anything about this trailer that would demand a thoughtful response, and in fact if you didn't know the circumstances of its production you would be forgiven thinking that it is some sort of spoof.   It is an incoherent, amateurish stitching-together of various unfinished snippets of video that makes the most hastily-assembled "SyFy" channel original look like Citizen Kane.   It is as if Ed Wood was reborn, and suddenly was able to shake the very heart of the world with achingly sincere, but also sincerely awful dreck, the kind of movie that's, you know, "so bad that it's good."

And yet, somehow, what anyone in North America would instantly dismiss as drivel became, once dubbed into Arabic, a trigger for public protests in the Arab world for its clumsy attempt to take a dump on the memory of the Prophet.   No doubt the filmmaker intended to provoke such a response, but how anyone in the modern world could believe this parade of non-sequiturs, cheesy acting and non-existent production values should be intended as representative of the United States or its government is difficult to understand.

Oh.   Wait.   "The modern world."   Let's pause, and soak that in.   We aren't really dealing with people who live in the "modern world", are we?  Just because they have access to technology with a global reach, just because these Arabs can access YouTube, doesn't mean that they are part of the modern world.   Just because many Arabs occupy large urban areas doesn't mean that they are urbane, or worldly, or even civilized.   The alleged filmmaker has gone on record as being fiercely anti-Muslim, describing the existence of a faith tradition with a billion adherents as a "cancer".   But there's nothing in the Muslim religion that requires people to attack embassies, destroy property or kill the unarmed representatives of another country.   The problem is not that some people in the Mideast think that Muhammad is God's Prophet.   The problem is that many of the Arab peoples in that region who belong to that faith tradition are not its best representatives.   Many are in fact barbarians with a medieval view of the world, who have only recently embarked upon a project of representative government, and who seem to view the opportunity to participate in such a project as an exercise in populist payback.

That makes me sad.   The death of our people in Libya angers me.   The irony that some of the protests were provoked by an ineptly made "movie trailer" kicks me in the gut.   But that's not why I had to get off the Net yesterday.   I had to step back, I had to disengage because of the sheer fury I experienced when I learned of how this story had been seized upon in the presidential race in a desperate, but misguided attempt to change the narrative of the election.

Let's be clear.   The Republican nominee has the absolute right to have a policy debate with the White House on foreign policy in general, and with relations with countries in the Mideast in particular.   They can be even said to have a duty to outline where they might differ with the present Administration on policy.   But they do not have a right, they do not have a duty to first misinterpret events on the ground, and then stubbornly insist contrary to all evidence that their understanding of the situation is correct.   Mr. Romney, you are entitled to your own views (however weird) on what you think Mr. Obama really believes about America.   You are entitled to your own beliefs.  You are not, sir, entitled to your own set of facts.   Your stubborn decision to "double down" on a late-night press release that inaccurately cast the Administration as apologizing for America is simply wrong:  wrong for you, wrong for your party, wrong for America, and wrong for the citizens of the world, a world that all of us, like it or not, must share with other peoples.   To further state, as you and some of your surrogates have done, that the Obama Administration sympathizes with those who have murdered their own appointed representatives in the Mideast is not merely wrong, it is repulsive.

Many decent and responsible members of the Grand Old Party have had the good sense and moral fiber not to launch, much less defend a critique that is unsupported by the facts.   They have made it clear that they do not agree with the course that you have set for your campaign, and that while they may differ with the President on long-range policy, that they support the President and Secretary Clinton in terms of the local response to these sad events.   I do not for a moment believe that most Republicans would embrace your shameful rhetoric to in pursuit of some short-term gain.   They are my fellow Americans, and most of them are decent.  You, Mr. Romney, I'm beginning to have my doubts about.  As President, it is not enough for you to be the Chief Executive, to imagine that you are simply stepping into the role of the world's biggest and baddest CEO.   You are expected to be the Head of State and the leader of the free world, and you are expected to engage the entire world.    Your actions make it clear that you are not ready to assume those roles, and that Americans should think twice before putting you in any position that might affect the foreign policy or national security interests of this great country.

So, for the next 54 days, I'm making it my business to share that viewpoint with as many of my fellow citizens as possible.   This country can not afford a reckless view of the world that puts a campaign narrative ahead of the facts, that grinds common decency for humanity beneath the boot of an uninformed and delusional corporate philosophy of governance.

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So, I'm not a political pundit, I just play one in the private little melodrammer of my mind, a place where the corpus callosum doesn't necessarily connect the "right" and "left" brain, issue-wise, but hopefully engages the creative faculties as well as those of logic.

Here, on the 11th anniversary of the 11th, the number that interests me is 270 (the number of votes in the Electoral College required to elect a President outright).   The analysis is pretty straight-forward:  there are certain states that would vote for a given party's candidate, even if that party's candidate would force an 11-year-old girl to deliver the spawn of her rapist uncle (which, incidentally, is found in a certain party's platform).

But I digress.   Again, some states are going to go "all in" with that candidate, even if they are "all in" with a completely repulsive personal history.   That's true for both parties.   The Democrats will probably take New York with more than 60 percent of vote if they ran a provocateur like Al Sharpton, and the Republicans would get nearly two-thirds of the South Carolina vote had Herman Cain been the nominee.   That's not to say that either party is "color-blind", you understand (one definitely isn't), but it says that, for both parties, there are places where the only colors that matter are red or blue.

So, the Prez has got many states "in the bag":  California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, in fact most of New England---all told, 142 electoral votes.

And Gov. Romney has parts of the "Solid South" (Alabama, Mississippi) as well as some Western states (Idaho, Utah) sewn up, to the tune of 76 electoral votes.

As "Obviousman" might say, there's a problem right there for Gov. Romney: in the comparison with the President, he trails in the number of electoral votes that can be absolutely said to be in his column, and with no chance to end up in Mr. Obama's tally.   Yet, there are a whole host of states that can be said to be, if not in his hip pocket, "leaning his way".   Here, he has an edge, with 115 electoral votes from such states as Montana and Texas, while Mr. Obama can only must 79 such states.   That narrows the overall race considerably, from 221 for the President, to 155 for the Governor While these can not be held to be as secure as their core, there can be doubt that they are very likely to go in the direction that they are leaning now, with only two months to go.

Neither side has the requisite 270 in this scenario, however, so both will need to pick up some of the so-called "swing states", ten battlegrounds that, political calculus demands, could go either way:

New Hampshire
North Carolina

All told, these states contain 126 votes, and they are all over the place: three in the South,  two in the West, one in New England and the rest in the Midwest.  The President needs to get 49 of these 126 votes to clinch, and there are several combinations of just three states that could get him there, most of them revolving around....(gulp if you knew this was coming)...Florida, which was so critical in 2000.  The one three-state combo that gets him there involves Ohio, which was so critical in 2004.   Neither state is a done deal for the President, but as we speak both are definitely inching toward his reelection.   The bottom line is that the map really favors the President here, with many ways to get the requisite 49 votes without having to take the majority of the states, or even winning the majority of the popular vote in these ten states.

For Governor Romney, things aren't looking so good, except in the money department.   The former head of Bain Capital, the wealthiest nominee of a major party in the history of our republic, he's pulling down the coin, and it's not his money:  he's pulled in more than $100 million each of the last four months from corporations and private donors, money which if applied directly to the IRS would probably lower all of our taxes a tenth of a percent.   It's not chump change. 

An interesting irony:  the failure of politicians to put party aside and work for the common good can have a stimulating effect on some industries---such as media. All told, this election will actually help put over a billion dollars into the economy, which is good news for those selling the scorched earth that dominates the present political landscape.  And, to give the Governor his due, no one is doing a better job overall in raising money to burn than Willard Romney.   That money, and the onslaught of corporate monies that are now a part of political campaign, is without a doubt what the GOP has to put its hopes in.   They have to hope that the money advantage plays out their way in the swing states, because the map is not in their favor.

How can Romney get the 79 "swing state" electoral votes he needs to get to the "coronation" number of 270?   Well, where the President has several combinations of three states that will get him there, the Romney camp needs to take at least six of the ten "toss-ups" to reach the Promised Land, and probably eight if they don't get Florida, with its 29 electoral votes.   There just aren't as many easy paths to victory, and a lot of hard-fought but ultimately futile paths that net then 60-70 votes, but not enough to overcome the Chicago machine.   To make things worse for the Governor, he only has really good polling numbers in a handful of states (among them, to make things interesting, Florida).   He's trailing in Ohio, significantly.   In the South, which should be a Romney stronghold, he has chinks in his armor: both Virginia and North Carolina are still neck-and-neck, absolutely in play with two months to go.

And here's the capper:  most of the polling numbers on individual states are old numbers, from late August, before the Democratic National Convention.  The national polls, the TV ratings and the disparity in social media coverage between the DNC and the Republican affair in Tampa are marked:  it is very clear that, despite a downsized agenda and cautious optimism, that the Obama-Biden reelection ticket has received the expected post-convention bounce---and the Romney-Ryan ticket has not.   The top of the ticket's overall numbers and favorables haven't moved a bit since early August, but the Democratic brand and its standard-bearer have seen obvious gains in national polls.   State polls past Labor Day will become available next week, and it seems likely that, if anything, the President and his organization will pick up steam in the swing states they are targeting.

Does this mean that the election is "in the bag?"   Only a person with no experience of the Electoral College would say that. The ability of independents to swing the election can not be underestimated, and it will not really be known until right around Halloween how many are going to give the Prez "four more years" and how many will demand, sans hope, a little more change?   The convention season has played in the Democrat's flavor as much as the money markets have favored the Romney ticket, but it will ultimately be debate performance and economic indicators that will sway swing-state independents the most.

Having said that, let's consider the most likely scenario, which is that the economy doesn't dramatically change one way or another in the next two months.   In that most likely of worlds, Obama and Biden will likely score some points with voters in the debates, which will tend to reinforce the image that the incumbents are more likeable and more battle-tested than the GOP rivals.   These will be modest gains, but they will be offset quite a bit by the PAC monies that will be thrown against the President.   In this most likely of worlds, New Hampshire will finally lean with the rest of New England, and (with Ohio) will end up in the President's column.   Meanwhile, the Romney camp will win the close ones in the West and the South, but not rally to pull any Obama-leaning states into the GOP's column.

Thus, here's my prediction.   It's just a prediction.   It doesn't mean much more than a hill of Henry Morganesque euphemisms in mid-September.   It's just what I think is the most likely outcome:

  Come back in late October and see if the map changes!

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