Links 4/29/17

Links for you. Science:

The Giant Sea Mammal That Went Extinct in Less Than Three Decades
What is adaptation by natural selection? Perspectives of an experimental microbiologist
Origins of Indonesian hobbits finally revealed
Historians say the March for Science is ‘pretty unprecedented’
The Planet Can’t Stand This Presidency


The replacements: The H-1B visa system has been broken for decades. Now workers want Trump to fix it
What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech
Events, dear boy, events
Back at the Carrier Plant, Workers Are Still Fighting on Their Own
The Washington Post Ran a Correction to Its Disability Story. Here’s Why It’s Still Wrong.
Don’t blame Bernie Sanders for Heath Mello. (“But it’s notable that Sanders became a lightning rod here. He’s campaigning with Perez, after all. They are, presumably, stumping for Mello because that’s what the national party wants them to do.”)
Jeff Sessions decries nonexistent New York murder epidemic (if you’re a seventy-year old Fox-News watching elderly man, there’s a good chance you still think NYC is like it was in the 1970s)
More Evidence of a Skills Shortage Among Employers
I always have SO MANY QUESTIONS about the economies of post-collapse fictional societies.
So this is what unity means to the DailyKos leadership.
A Hundred Days of Trump
Is It Time to Break Up Google?
Merge, Bail, and Make Out Like a Bandit
Abortions in Massachusetts down nearly 11 percent since 2010

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

In Case You Missed It…

…a week of Mad Biologist posts:

Krugman’s Really Ugly Assumption

Petty People: The Mitch McConnell Edition

What We Mean By ‘Antibiotic Resistance’: The Ciprofloxacin-Shigella Alert Edition

Cherries, Close Up

The Waffling On Abortion Isn’t Sanders, It’s Coming From The Democratic Party

Why Silicon Valley Keeps Getting Biotech Wrong


Thoughts On “The Nonpartisan Nerd Parade”

Old And Alone

Remember The Victims Of The Nebraska Public Power District

Posted in Weekly Roundup | Leave a comment

Links 4/28/17

Links for you. Science:

Urban Birds Sing Shorter Songs When Traffic Is Loud
Report: After years of cuts and even more proposed, public health faces funding crisis
‘They’re just hiding’: Experts say Puerto Rico may be underreporting Zika-affected births
Changing minds on a changing climate
Too many studies have hidden conflicts of interest. A new tool makes it easier to see them.


Have You Never Been Mello? On Bernie and Abortion in Omaha
‘Did your father die?’ (maybe a few more of these stories, and a few less about stupid Trump voters)
A story about the choices prosecutors make
Dkos sh*t the bed in Omaha yesterday.
Let’s talk about Omaha. (what’s ridiculous is that he’s a pro-Planned Parenthood mayor running for the mayor’s office in Omaha; this is such small beans)
My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.
Meet the world’s most bizarre subway, Israel’s funicular “Carmelit”
The Secret Service closed the sidewalk south of the White House. It could have been so much more.
America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People
Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria
It’s Time for the Left to Take Questions About Russia, Trump, and Hacking Seriously
Let’s Talk About Bubbles and James Comey (the truly frightening thing is that most elections can be swung by the voters who make up their minds with less than two weeks to go)
How Ideologues Use Grade-School Economics to Distort Minimum Wage Debates
“Not enough money”
The Automation Grift: From Flying Cars to Ordering Cat Food on the Internet – Part 2

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

Remember The Victims Of The Nebraska Public Power District

Recently, the rightwing rag The Federalist had a silly article titled “For The Left, Socialism Denial Is Holocaust Denial”, so, before we continue, I would ask for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Nebraska Public Power District*.

OK, let’s continue.

Socialism seems to be quite the rage, between Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist (we’ll return to this), and the popularity of the socialist journal, Jacobin, which says much about the inadequacies of liberal journals. It’s quite bizarre given that much of what is being called a socialist agenda is nothing more than one part New Deal liberalism (e.g., minimum wage, worker protections, progressive taxes), and one part Great Society liberalism (e.g., national health insurance, which was the long-term goal of the designers of Medicare and Medicaid). Even what is called single-payer healthcare in the U.S. would be socialized health insurance, not socialized medicine (we do have socialized medicine in the U.S., in the form of the Veterans Adminstration and the military’s TRICARE).

It doesn’t help that the words liberalism and liberal have become synonyms for ‘stuff that people to the left of Republicans do/say that I don’t like.’

At this point, let’s outsource this to Max Sawicky (boldface mine):

Sanders, for inscrutable reasons, calls himself a ‘democratic socialist,’ in effect redefining the term in popular debates. Thanks to him, democratic socialism now means 1) building out the incomplete U.S. welfare state, 2) ensuring high employment with high wages, 3) combatting climate change, and 4) reforming our money-dominated political system….

We could say Sanders’ “democratic socialism” is democratic because it seeks fair elections and promotes the right to vote, both scandalously imperiled in recent years. More broadly, democratic means, if we win an election, we get to pursue our programs, but if we lose, we go home to lick our wounds and live to fight another day. When the term ‘democratic socialism’ was coined, it reflected a jaundiced reference to revolutionary currents on the left who might seek to take over the state by force, or who might not be good sports in the wake of an electoral defeat. Today those currents are nearly extinct, so all socialists in effect are democratic socialists.

The ‘socialism’ part is harder to justify, in light of the political baggage of “nationalizing the means of production.” Sanders left that ambition behind, I imagine, some time ago. In truth, there is today no meaningful advocacy of large-scale nationalizations of U.S. industry, either in the realm of economic research or political mobilization. We do see well-founded advocacy for public utilities in limited, specific areas such as postal savings banks and public broadband, what some radicals have described disparagingly as “gas and water socialism.” (It used to seem like there would never be any danger of anybody not having access to water.) We also see discussions of sovereign wealth funds and decentralized movements in pursuit of cooperative enterprise and labor-managed firms.

The upshot is that ‘socialism’ in the U.S., or the less familiar term ‘social-democracy,’ looks a lot like the agenda pursued by Franklin Roosevelt’s administrations in the 1930s and 1940s. Even so, Democratic Party elites are pointed in a different direction.

I’ve always described myself as a liberal, before that briefly became cool again (and well before the aforementioned, current pejorative phase). To me, progressive is a meaningless, content-free descriptor without a whole lot of (or any) ideological heft behind it.

There are socialist entities that this liberal does or would support (go NPPD!), such as socialized health insurance, public fire departments, and public education. By the way, we used to have private fire companies; they didn’t work out so well, as they had the habit of ignoring burning fires while, at the same time, renegotiating the terms of their contract. That doesn’t make me a socialist any more than thinking some problems do have market-based solutions: I’m not interested in buying my donuts from a government-run commissary (though given the choice between no donuts and socialist donuts…). The latter hardly makes one a full-throttled capitalist.

But liberal, even as most ‘socialists’ are espousing New Deal and Great Society liberalism, has become a pejorative. Why? Because what is called liberalism is actually neo-liberalism–it certainly has very little relationship to either New Deal or Great Society liberalism. Let’s turn to Sawicky again:

While no Democratic politician would reject the slogan of universal coverage, the Clinton campaign offered no path to such an outcome. The Obama Administration went wobbly on one device to that end – the idea of a public option. Both leaders and their supporters can’t seem to grasp the inadequacy of market provision of health insurance, even as its deficiencies under ‘ObamaCare’ become ever more painfully evident.

More generally, ‘neoliberalism’ labors under the bias of seeking market solutions, up to and including creating them from scratch, as we saw with the Obama’s health insurance exchanges. The tendency is to discount the viability of public provision.

I’m not suggesting that markets are never of use. I would say social-democracy is about pushing the balance in the direction of a myriad of needs unmet by “the market.” Neoliberalism is about searches for market-based approaches.

The flap about “free college” offers another case in point. Critics of Sanders’ platform, including the most liberal, would wax philosophic in the vein of “nothing is free.” Of course, nobody thinks college instruction comes without costs. What is really at issue is whether the rising cost of college should be financed by taxes or by the ‘market’ route of students resorting to personal, eternal indebtedness.

A related canard was the fake-left idea that we ought not to pay for the education of the children of the rich. Everybody knows that children of the rich would not be likely to attend public universities in the first place, and even if they did, their addition to the total cost would be negligible.

There is nothing much radical about free college. We have ‘free’ K-12 education and no plutocrats have been strung up. The practical difference between social-democratic and neoliberal is directional. Neoliberalism resists the enlargement of tax-financed public services….

The accepted academic definition of neoliberalism traces back to the Nineteenth Century version of liberalism, which upheld free trade against mercantilism and supported no more than a very limited public sector. It’s said that this ideology enjoyed a revival in the Twentieth Century. From where I sit, among Republicans no revival was necessary. The ideology never went away. The bigger change was the movement away from the New Deal and the Great Society among Democrats, towards the view typified by Bill Clinton’s remark that “the era of big government is over.” This is why my definition could be seen as idiosyncratic, compared to most other treatments.

One motivation in this political movement was the hope that Democrats could capture more of the center, including moderate Republicans…

I feel the urge to end by insisting that ‘neoliberal’ does not imply moral condemnation. Some of my best friends, etc. The wonder is that it is often taken that way. It is fair to resent reductionist depictions of one’s views, but summary characterizations can be useful and fairly applied.

The struggle in the Democratic Party is between neo-liberalism and social-democracy (or “democratic socialism”).

So I guess I’m a socialist. Or something.

*The NPPD is a socialist enterprise: the generation and distribution of electrical power is done entirely by government employees, though they deliberately go out of their way on their website to obscure this.

Posted in Democrats, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Links 4/27/17

Links for you. Science:

An asteroid will not destroy Earth today. But let’s consider that for a moment.
Giraffes must be listed as endangered, conservationists formally tell US
Why Are Some Mice (and People) Monogamous? A Study Points to Genes
Poverty, open sewers and parasites: ‘America’s dirty shame’
Medieval medical books could hold the recipe for new antibiotics


How I Got a Tampon Dispenser Installed in the West Wing
Sorry, Republicans, but most people support single-payer health care
No, Mr. President, you can’t do what you want
Trump and the Trumpists
Educated Evangelicals, Academic Achievement, and Trumpism: On the Tensions in Valuing Education in an Anti-Intellectual Subculture
Sorry, Republicans, but most people support single-payer health care
Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet
We’re Now In the Second Biggest Housing Boom of All Time
These photos show what it’s like being a punk in Burma
The couch surfing provacateur
Trump’s private spook
A Millennial Feminist Explains the New Feminism to a Boomer Feminist Philosopher (a little long-winded but good)
The House Democrats Would Likely Have Had Much, Much Worse Leadership Without Pelosi– And When She Finally Goes, They Will
Chechens tell of prison beatings and electric shocks in anti-gay purge: ‘They called us animals’
What makes Sanders so significant is that he’s the first left (visible) politician in decades to offer a political analysis of the economy.

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

Old And Alone

Observed in Blagden Alley, D.C.:

Alone, tired

Posted in DC | 1 Comment

Thoughts On “The Nonpartisan Nerd Parade”

To use Buzzfeed’s phrase. Hughes (boldface mine):

The programming could be called a lot of things. Inspiring, maybe. Nerdy. Wholesome. Boring. But it was not in any way controversial. And in that way it felt like a missed opportunity, bizarrely disconnected from the crowd of thousands, many holding cutting signs about the president’s hair, hands, skin color, intellect, tweets, and policies. Because for the people in the streets, it wasn’t just a march in support of science, it was a march against the President’s anti-science policies. Yet the march’s leadership, in a bid for inclusion, shied away from that. That was a mistake.

It was billed as the march for science. But just about everyone actually marching, even the kids I talked to, was quick to say what the march was really about: Trump….

It’s not that a global pep rally for science is a bad thing, necessarily. It’s not in a scientist’s nature to opine from soapboxes (it’s why they write research papers in the passive voice). They’re much more comfortable advocating for facts and truth. The thing is, as Yale scholar Dan Kahan pointed out on Twitter, most people, no matter their political or religious orientation, agree that science makes our lives better. What we don’t all agree on is whether Trump is making good decisions.

As much as scientists may want their work to have bipartisan support, those days are long gone. For the past four years, the House Science Committee has become one of the loudest voices against climate science, repeatedly calling scientists “alarmist” and dishonest. Trump’s budget chief says that NIH funding should be cut because of “mission creep” and that climate research is “a waste of your money.” The president has suggested that vaccines — the greatest public health effort of the modern era — cause autism.

These are very real divides, but the march pretended they don’t exist. That neutral stance, however admirable, likely came at an opportunity cost. The march’s organizers had tens of thousands of motivated voices at their disposal. Would that energy have been better directed at electing Democrats in 2018? (The Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton tweeted support of the march.) Or fighting against Trump’s hostile stance on immigrants, who make up nearly 20% of the scientific workforce? Or convincing scientists to run for office themselves?

For the record, I attended the D.C. march. The problem, as I see it, is that the march had three main objectives (I’ll describe them in no particular order). The first was to increase diversity and to address issues facing historically marginalized groups (and I’m including immigration in this). Despite much of the online/Twitter heat about this, I think most march participants supported this. That said, parts of the left need to learn how to write a mission statement that doesn’t mangle English using Sociology 101 terminology (really, it didn’t help. At all). If phrased properly, this wouldn’t have been very partisan at all (unless you’re Attorney General and elite racist Jeff Sessions).

A second objective was to convince people to take scientific and scientists’ claims seriously (e.g., global warming). This is both political and, regrettably, partisan. It is political in that these problems require political solutions–and thus recognition by our political system. In the case of global warming, it is partisan in that the Republican Party has decided to pretend the overwhelming scientific consensus backed by multiple lines of evidence is wrong. It’s worth noting this wasn’t always the case: pre-Iraq war, many Republicans agreed that global warming was happening and that it was significantly affected by human activity, but many also argued it was too expensive to do anything about it. Lighting billions of dollars on fire for Our Excellent Middle East adventure kinda dinged the fiscal argument, leaving little choice but to assail the science. So there really isn’t any way around this, except to be political and partisan.

A third objective, one that I think was ignored by some march participants, was the issue of science funding. As we’ve written many times on this blog, if you claim to love science, but you don’t fund it, you don’t love science at all, you’re just ogling its butt (or grabbing it by the…). The actor James Earl Jones, when asked why he was doing commercials, responded, “You can be an actor or you can be unemployed. You can’t be an unemployed actor.” Ditto scientists. Funding matters–and if you’re worried about diversity issues (which is good!), ask yourself this: who gets hit the worst when funding gets cut? (Hint: not senior, white, male scientists).

The problem is that funding is a hard issue. It doesn’t neatly map onto party lines, but, at the same time, certain areas are quite partisan. For some funding areas, such as NIH, there are many Republicans who support maintaining funding, even increases. There are also those, of course, who want to cut things to pay for stupid tax cuts and that wall. This is where it gets tricky: if science is turned entirely into a partisan football, then Republicans, even in non-partisan areas of science, will be backed into a corner by Fox News et alia, and be pressured to slash funding. At the same time, there are cuts planned for completely partisan purposes (largely having to do with global warming) that are hideous. And we do like the concept of solidarity–we shouldn’t throw climate science overboard to ‘save’ medical science*. So the strategy here isn’t straightforward.

While this might seem craven to some, if you support Science, but aren’t willing to support actual scientists, which means both our research and our earning a living, well, again, you’re just ogling science’s butt. Science doesn’t happen without funding–and funding cuts wouldn’t be trivial in their effects on individual scientists. That is inherently a political issue (as are emergency medical services)–the government spends money. In some cases, it’s also a partisan issue. Splitting that difference is hard.

It’s also why, for better and for worse, I think there was a major push to keep the marches ‘non-partisan’ by some scientists.

*Or should we? I don’t like it, but there is a case to be made: the ethics of awful situations are not trivial.

Posted in Conservatives, Funding, Global Warming, NIH | Leave a comment