Home of the New Deal

Or at least one of its architects, Harry Hopkins. Observed at the corner of 34th and N Streets, Georgetown, D.C.:

Home of new deal

Home of new deal

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Evidence of Just How Stupid Our Foreign Policy Establishment Is

And it’s a resilient establishment–there is a limited range of opinion, and those outside of it don’t last very long.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote this about Our Excellent Syrian Intervention (boldface added):

Yes, we might be sending a message that using chemical weapons is unacceptable. But we will also be sending this message:

You [ISIL] can be a hardcore militant whose goal is to set up a fiefdom in an unstable neighboring country (Syria) to serve as a base of operations for destabilizing a fragile government that we have spent lives and treasure supporting, and we will attack the government that would oppose you.

That, too, is a statement. A fucking stupid statement. I understand why people want to do something–chemical weapons are awful (though when the U.S. used phosphorus–also a violation of chemical weapons treaties–in 2005 in Falluja, I think, at least, some of those calling Syria’s action unconscionable were quiet then). But we have little ability, short of a full-scale invasion, to do something about the situation, except possibly make it worse in ways we can’t even understand…

As Gary Brecher put it:

In fact I remember a Syrian Sunni colleague yelling, in the middle of an office argument, “I would rather have SHAYTAN ruling my country than Assad!” I’ve always wondered whether he still feels that way, now that he’s had a chance to see the heads stuck on poles in Raqqa. You want Shaytan, kid, sometimes you’re gonna get Shaytan.

Well, recent documents confirm just how stupid our foreign policy establishment is (boldface mine):

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.

One would think that a key lesson of Sept. 11, 2001 was that supporting Salafist militants would eventually do more harm than good.

One would be wrong.

This was not only predictable, it was predicted.

Posted in Fucking Morons, Iraq, Syria | 1 Comment

Links 5/27/15

Links for you. Science:

Are Dogs as Old as Eurasian Human Modernity?
A glass-half-full view of academic fraud in political science
So you’re related to Charlemagne? You and every other living European…
Why we’re healthier in the summer, sicker in the winter
GMO Scientists Could Save the World From Hunger, If We Let Them


Lessons From the Thinnest of Seymour Hersh’s Thinly Sourced Claims
Waco shooting latest chapter in bloody history of Bandidos biker gang
An NBA Player Is Missing the Playoffs Because the NYPD Broke His Leg—Why the Sports-Media Silence?
Birth Control That Works Too Well: A Colorado program to give low-income teens long-acting contraception dropped the teen abortion rate dramatically. But conservatives refuse to fund it.
Why Is the Upgrade Often Less Satisfactory than Your Current Program?
‘What’s my job, right?’ On the CIA, False Intelligence, and Other Obligations
Lax security cited in artworks’ disappearance
Five Ways to Help Nail Salon Workers
The Mystery of Extraordinarily Accurate Medieval Maps
“It’s on me”: How a bag of free bagels can expand and enrich the world
Why Are There So Many Shuttered Storefronts in the West Village?
Newark: The Civil Rights Lie
Do not call me girl: Women in the workforce
Four stories of escaping poverty in Boston
Broadband competition, Cajun style
Poverty persists in N.E. suburbs: Boston Fed finds joblessness, wide use of food stamps

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Block Off All the Roads to Maryland. Do It Now

This will not help reduce traffic problems in D.C. (boldface mine):

On Tuesday, the MVA announced that parallel parking is no longer part of the driver’s license test in Maryland. Officials said other parts of the test — the two-point reverse turn and the on-road portion — are sufficient to assess a driver’s skill….

“If you live in D.C., you’re going to be doing a lot of parallel parking,” he said. “But the fact is that most people who don’t live in the city don’t parallel park that often.”

David said the driving-instructor community has been awash in rumors that there might be another reason behind the change. Some MVA locations are backed up more than two months to schedule a driving test, presumably clogged by people who failed their parking the first time.

“It is by far the most complex thing on the actual skill test,” David said. “Maybe taking out parallel parking will help more people pass, help alleviate that part of it.”

If you can’t manage to parallel park, then you’re not a good enough driver to be driving in a crowded urban area.

Maryland Drivers in D.C. are scary enough as it is…

Posted in DC, Fucking Morons, Run Ya Bastids!, Transportation, We're Really Fucked | 2 Comments

Thoughts on the Promises of Big Genomics

Last week, David Dobbs wrote a piece about Big Genomics, in which he took a critical look at the Human Genome Project (‘HGP’). Below are some thoughts about his piece and ‘Big Genomics'; this shouldn’t be construed as a ‘response':

1. The HGP was overhyped. Many biologists, even with our rudimentary late 20th century biological knowledge (heh), realized that a DNA sequence would not be the be all and end all. If memory serves (and at this point, who the hell knows if it does), I thought the claims (“cancer cures in five years”) were absurd (although here’s some ‘countersnark’).

2. The HGP was absolutely necessary. Does anyone think we’re worse off for having done it? Of course we–and the National Institutes of Health–needed a human genome sequence. It’s ludicrous to think otherwise. It was going to be expensive–important data always are, one way or another. It led to significant technological and methodological improvements (one of the key reasons to do ‘Big Science’). Yes, the first genome was largely ‘engineering’, but, after that, we can start ‘doing science.’ For those who think the HGP took all the R01, independent researcher money, that’s not really the case (while $3.8 billion isn’t chump change, it’s a very small percentage of NIH funding over a fifteen year period). And I’ll just lob this grenade out there: as someone who has had salary paid off of R01 grants, most don’t ‘pay off’, especially when sometimes we need to pick an area and ‘go Manhattan Project on its ass‘ (I’m a poet, I really am…).

3. We need to rethink the underlying model for much of human genetic disease. It seems that thinking about this from a genetic load perspective is helpful: most human disease should consist of rare alleles, unless there is some kind of balancing or environment-specific selection. What this means is that a disease like schizophrenia will often be like Tolstoy’s unhappy families–each case (or at least cases in different families) will be schizophrenic in its own unique way, in the same way there isn’t ‘cancer’, but a multitude of different cancers. That we have been as successful as we have been using such primitive approaches with relatively low resolution data (SNPs) is remarkable.

4. We’re missing the short- and medium-term future of genomic technologies. This doesn’t have anything to do with human genetics (so if that bothers you, feel free to ask for your money back). Over the next five to ten years, I think the biggest improvements stemming from genomics won’t be in human disease, but in infectious disease surveillance and diagnosis. It’s already happening, and will continue. Importantly, it doesn’t require that much new basic biological understanding (though more never hurts).

5. Regarding the ‘Big’ part, most U.S. science is bureaucratic in nature, but R01 science is simply uncoordinated and inefficient (which has its advantages). If you don’t believe that, go peruse DrugMonkey’s or Jeremy Berg’s blog, both of whom spend a considerable amount of effort basically telling scientists how to fill out grant application forms more effectively. Pretty much defines bureaucracy. Yes, bold, independent researcher, you are but a small cog in a mighty bureaucratic enterprise. Admittedly, that enterprise is often uncoordinated and somewhat duplicative–which can actually be a good thing (we shouldn’t have only one group doing something). But, as I noted in point #2, sometimes we need to crank up the command-and-control.

6. Behavioral modification, for the most part, has also had limited success. In the piece, Dobbs argues, “Some suggest — and I agree — that we’d do well to take some of the billions spent chasing genes for conditions like Type II diabetes, heart disease, or stroke and spend it instead on finding ways to change risk-elevating behaviors like smoking, overeating, overdrinking, and avoiding exercise.” The problem is that behavioral modification alone hasn’t been successful. Behavioral modification reinforced with government regulation and restriction–smoking costs more and you can’t smoke in certain places–has been successful. But I’m skeptical about our ability to bamboozle people to a low BMI without policy changes, many of which would be very unpopular.


Posted in Genomics | 4 Comments

Links 5/26/15

Links for you. Science:

Geographic Disparity of Severe Vision Loss — United States, 2009–2013 (one more bad health indicator for the U.S. South)
Gene turns female mosquitoes into males
Scientists Map 5,000 New Ocean Viruses: In the few decades since viruses were first found in the oceans, scientists have only been able to identify a handful of species. A new survey has uncovered nearly all the rest. (if they had done this with PacBio or Oxford Nanopore…)
What’s Next for the Microbiome? (your chance to influence federal funding policy; shit or get off the pot, so to speak….)
What the Oil Spill Off Santa Barbara Is Going to Kill


A Plea for Culinary Modernism: The obsession with eating natural and artisanal is ahistorical. We should demand more high-quality industrial food (excellent)
We Need Antibiotics. They’re Not Profitable To Make. Who Pays?
Slander On The Cuyahoga: What Cleveland Police Tried To Do. In which we learn what happens when there is no videotape
Is Uber Dangerous for Women?
7 in 10 schools now have shooting drills, needlessly traumatizing huge numbers of children
Silent for decades, underground theater set to be revived
This Church Might Not Look Like Anything Special, Until You See It From Different Angles
Kansas has found the ultimate way to punish the poor
This rich Texas jackass murdered a black rhino and now thinks he’s the f*cking saint of conservation
Homo economicus or homo paleas? (it’s not that often I agree with Cochrane…)
Decency of Irish not limited to liberal Dublin
‘Prisonized’ neighborhoods make ex-cons more likely to return to the slammer
Strikethrough (Fatality): The origins of online stalking of abortion providers.
HTML9 Responsive Boilerstrap JS (funny)
Ireland has left ‘tolerance’ far behind: LGBT community has given all of Irish democracy one of its greatest days

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Observed on 30th Street, between Cambridge and Dent, Georgetown, D.C.:


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