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Member since: Mon Mar 22, 2004, 01:26 PM
Number of posts: 9,995

Journal Archives

House of (mis)Representatives

Government by the people? Maybe. Government for the people? Don't make me laugh. Government of the people though is perhaps the most spectacularly broken clause in Lincoln's famous tripartite phrase, and what Andrea Seabrook takes a look at in "House of (mis)Representatives" the very first episode of DecodeDC. If this episode is typical of those to follow, then I think we can thank modern journalism for being so mind-numbingly idiotic that it caused Andrea Seabrook, NPR's congressional reporter for almost a decade, to throw up her hands and quit, because this is exactly the kind of information and historical context that is so desperately needed on both sides of the ideological fence.

Listen online: http://www.decodedc.com/blog/2012/9/14/episode-one-house-of-misrepresentatives.html
Subscribe to the podcast via RSS or iTunes at The Mule Radio Syndicate: http://www.muleradio.net/decodedc/1/

Reports of Junk DNA's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

A number of biologists were annoyed this week when the press release for the ENCODE Project’s latest findings proclaimed that 80% of the Human Genome actually has a function.

As T. Ryan Gregory of University of Guelph points out, most of the major media outlets ran with the press release and proclaimed the revolutionary discovery that Junk DNA isn’t Junk after all.
The Myth ... of the Myth of Junk DNA John Farrell John Farrell Contributor

The key point of misunderstanding, as both Gregory and Larry Moran at University of Toronto, point out, is that the ENCODE team, headed by Ewan Birney, decided at the outset of their announcement to define biological function in as liberal a way as possible. Here’s Gregory:

To get that 80% figure, you have to have a very loose definition of “function” indeed. Actual evidence (which itself may not convince many experts) suggests 20% is functional in the sense of, well, having a biological function. The 80% value refers only to “specific biological activity”.

Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2012/09/07/reports-of-junk-dnas-demise-have-been-greatly-exaggerated

The hype surrounding the ENCODE findings isn't as bad as NASA's "arsenic life," but it's pretty bad. If you want to know more about why ENCODE's findings don't support the hype, biochemist Larry Moran has been writing about it extensively. See: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/search?q=ENCODE&max-results=20&by-date=true
Posted by salvorhardin | Sun Sep 9, 2012, 11:38 AM (2 replies)

Bill Clinton says the unemployed don’t have the right skills. It’s not so.

One of the few outright false statements in Bill Clinton’s speech last night was his claim that unemployment remains high because workers just don’t have the right skills... ...the New York Fed, found that a skills mismatch caused only 1.5 points of the 5 point increase in unemployment after the financial crisis. ... Edward Lazear, a Stanford economist who served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors for George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009, and James Speltzer of the Census Bureau, found (pdf) the same thing. ... Lazear and Speltzer also found that unemployment shows the same trends across education groups, indicating that what’s causing unemployment is low demand, not that people don’t have the skills necessary to be employed. ... Jesse Rothstein of the University of California at Berkeley, found, like Lazear and Speltzer, that unemployment rose about the same amount across all education groups. He also tries to figure out whether wages have increased. If employers are having a hard time finding skilled workers, they should increase their wages. Did they? No — not even for new job postings, and not even if you correct for changes in the number of people employed by each industry due to the Recession...

Full article with graphs: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/09/06/bill-clinton-says-the-unemployed-dont-have-the-right-skills-its-not-so

When factcheckers get trigger-happy

Brendan Nyhan on how factcheckers dilute and devalue their product.

Is there such a thing as too much factchecking? Factcheck.org described former President Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic convention Wednesday evening as a “fact-checker’s nightmare” in part because, “with few exceptions… his stats checked out.” Rather than concede that it had little material to work with, however, The Associated Press manufactured a “fact check” of Clinton that focused far too heavily on omitted context and possible counter-arguments to his opinions rather than untruths or errors—and even managed to work in a gratuitous Monica Lewinsky reference that invoked Clinton’s reputation for factual slipperiness.

Journalists have also struggled to define an appropriate standard for factchecking in the case of Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee. Significant portions of Ryan’s speech to the Republican convention last week were condemned as misleading by the press, creating a new focus on the honesty of a politician who was previously viewed by many commentators as a courageous truth-teller. The focus on Ryan’s misleading statements about policy was laudable, but it had perverse consequences—a disproportionate amount of coverage devoted to the news that Ryan had misstated his marathon time.

The turn toward narrative-driven nitpicking of Ryan worsened this week when The Washington Post ran a pedantic feature about the charges against him. As political scientist (and Post contributor) Jonathan Bernstein pointed out on his personal blog, the Post article devotes far too much attention to minor factual discrepancies that seem to be news only because Ryan’s honesty is now in question—a pattern that recalls reporters’ treatment of Al Gore in 2000.


The debate over Ryan’s recreational habits became even more inane yesterday when The Atlantic’s James Fallows published reader speculation that Ryan was lying back in April 2009 about his record of climbing mountains with 14,000-foot elevations in Colorado—a claim that was both trivial and apparently wrong.

Full post: http://www.cjr.org/swing_states_project/when_factcheckers_get_trigger-happy.php?page=all
Posted by salvorhardin | Thu Sep 6, 2012, 05:37 PM (2 replies)

Historian Jonathan Zimmerman: History shows business experience doesn't make a good president

Good presidents need experience in the business world, right? Wrong. Of all the GOP’s campaign-season talking points, this one is the easiest to debunk.

The assumption was on vivid display at last week’s Republican National Convention, where nominee Mitt Romney – a former private equity manager – contrasted his resume to President Obama’s. “He took office without the most basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task,” Romney said, criticizing Mr. Obama. “He had almost no experience working in a business.”

But it’s simply false to say that a business background is “essential” to succeeding as a president. Since 1900, only five of our 20 presidents had significant business experience when they entered the White House: Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes.


The best one was surely Hoover, who remains a symbol of presidential ineptitude for his ham-handed reaction to the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression. Before that, however, he made millions in the global mining industry. A peripatetic traveler, he moved from Australia to China to England in search of better opportunities.

Full article: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2012/0906/Not-true-Mitt-Romney-History-shows-business-experience-doesn-t-make-a-good-president
Posted by salvorhardin | Thu Sep 6, 2012, 03:55 PM (4 replies)

The Luddite Lament

Good show, if you like Luddites, and who doesn't? Too short though. You can listen online at the link.

In The Luddite Lament, the award winning folk singer John Tams looks back at the machine breakers of the 19th century, through the prism of the songs they inspired.

Two hundred years ago parts of Britain were on the brink of rebellion - and you could be imprisoned for singing a song. There were said to be more troops on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire than on the Continent with Wellington. The reason? Men armed with hammers, pikes and even guns were attacking mills in protest at the introduction of new machinery. Luddism began in the Midlands in 1811 and swept northwards to Yorkshire and then Lancashire.

In just one month in 1812 a mill was attacked by over a hundred men, two Luddites were killed, a manufacturer was shot dead and then, to add to the air of fear and paranoia, the Prime Minister was assassinated. Spies and informers crisscrossed the Luddite areas passing what information they could to the authorities - but the Luddites were notoriously difficult to infiltrate. They sang songs about their exploits - about hardship, about machine breaking and about their hero General Ludd. This programme examines the story of the Luddites using some of those songs

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0112y4d
Posted by salvorhardin | Thu Sep 6, 2012, 12:52 AM (0 replies)

Historian sees complex debt schemes key in many US downturns

Since the financial market collapse of 2008, hardly a news cycle has churned without reference to the Great Recession being the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression.

For some, those two bad-debt calamities loom as the dark anomalies in the brighter story of America's long ascent to economic superpower.

Not so, says Scott Reynolds Nelson, a history professor at the College of William and Mary.

The 2008 meltdown was just the latest in a long line of financial crashes caused by Americans' knack for embracing complex credit schemes to meet a ravenous hunger for capital, Nelson writes in his new book, "A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters."


"The bank was saved and the people were ruined," Nelson quotes political economist William Gouge as saying in an 1833 work, "The Curse of Paper-Money and Banking," of actions taken by the Second Bank of the United States amid the Panic of 1819.

Full story: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-rt-books-deadbeats-review-correctedl2e8k5e4y-20120905,0,5509580,full.story
Posted by salvorhardin | Wed Sep 5, 2012, 09:59 PM (8 replies)

Social Security combats bullet rumors

Praise the Internet and pass the ammunition: the blogosphere is roiling with conspiracy theories over a Social Security Administration shopping list for 174,000 hollow-point bullets.

Depending on whom you believe, police who protect Social Security Administration officers are either preparing for impending financial doom by purchasing lethal ammo to put down rioting citizens, or they're just making a standard purchase of ammunition for a federal police agency.

It all began last month when the agency, which is primarily responsible for distributing benefits to the disabled and retired people, posted an announcement seeking bids for 174,000 hollow-point bullets.

Why? cried some bloggers.

Infowars, a website operated by right-wing talk show host Alex Jones, wanted to know if the agency was preparing for "civil unrest."

Full article: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/04/us/social-security-bullets/index.html
Posted by salvorhardin | Wed Sep 5, 2012, 02:36 PM (2 replies)

Democratic Party platform: An uneven progression over the years

In 1972, the party promises “a guaranteed job for all,” offering to “make the government the employer of last resort.” But 20 years later, the Democrats pivot and nearly apologize for themselves, appealing to “Americans who may have thought the Democratic Party had forgotten its way” by saying that it now “rejects the big government theory that says we can . . . tax and spend our way to prosperity.”

If Republicans from 1960 to today moved in fairly linear fashion to ever-more conservative stances on the economy, taxes and a slew of social issues, the Democratic evolution over the same period was a more jagged series of experiments with activist and statist approaches, interspersed with more traditional paeans to family, faith and individual initiative.

The Democrats’ 2012 platform, released this week at their convention in Charlotte, presents voters with a laundry list of positions designed to portray the governing party as the one committed to the middle class. The overarching idea is that “we’re all in it together,” and the document repeatedly says the party’s opponents are devoted to solving problems “from the top down,” focusing on the wealthy.

This year’s plank breaks little new ground, although for the first time, its support for legalizing same-sex marriage is definitive and clear, and it commits to combating anti-gay activity around the world.

But just as the GOP avoids the word “conservative” in its platforms, the Democrats never go near “liberal” or even “progressive.”

Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democratic-party-platform-an-uneven-progression-over-the-years/2012/09/04/b793213e-f144-11e1-a612-3cfc842a6d89_print.html

I'd argue the Republican progression has been exponential rather than linear. The Democrats seem to me to represent a slow, inexorable drift right.
Posted by salvorhardin | Tue Sep 4, 2012, 11:15 PM (0 replies)

Democrats Retreat on Civil Liberties in 2012 Platform

What a difference four years makes.

In 2008, Democrats were eager to draw a contrast with what they then portrayed as Republican excesses in the fight against Al Qaeda. Since then, the Obama administration has in many cases continued the national security policies of its predecessor—and the Democratic Party's 2012 platform highlights this reversal, abandoning much of the substance and all of the bombast of the 2008 platform. Here are a few places where the differences are most glaring:

Indefinite Detention
2008: "To build a freer and safer world, we will lead in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. We will not ship away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, or detain without trial or charge prisoners who can and should be brought to justice for their crimes, or maintain a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law. We will respect the time-honored principle of habeas corpus, the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention that was recently reaffirmed by our Supreme Court."

2012: Nothing. The Obama administration has maintained the practice of indefinitely detaining certain suspected terrorists. It has also made use of "proxy detention," by which foreign countries detain US citizens under questionable conditions, although the administration did do away with the Bush-era "black sites."

Full post: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/09/democrats-retreat-civil-liberties-2012-platform
Posted by salvorhardin | Tue Sep 4, 2012, 01:44 PM (0 replies)
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