Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 13 May 2012

Via Sullivan, a suggestion from Dan McAdams about the difficulties some people have accepting natural selection theory:

A story is a narrative account of a motivated character who acts to achieve certain goals or ends over time. Every great story you can think of—from Homer’s Iliad to your favorite television show—involves characters who pursue goals over time, characters who want something and set out to achieve it. In this sense, the classic biblical creation stories are very good stories. You have a main character—God, the creator—who sets out to achieve something over time. There is purpose and design to what God, the main character, does. God is an agent—a self-conscious, motivated actor. All stories have agents.

Evolutionary theory, however, is not a story in that there is no prime agent, no self-conscious and motivated main character who strives to achieve something over time. For this reason, there is no overall narrative arc or design, no purpose that is being achieved by a purposeful agent. Instead, you have random, mechanical forces—variation, selection, and heredity. Bad story! But, at the same time, extraordinarily brilliant and elegant theory, for it provides a compelling and scientifically testable explanation for life on earth.

This dovetails well with a book I read two weeks ago, Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain. Mooney doesn't suggest that people who deny the obvious—like evolution or climate change—are stupid; rather, they have compelling psychological and historical reasons for believing what people like them tell them. Mooney makes it clear that we need better stories, better narratives, to help people understand and accept the counter-intuitive ways the world actually works. But McAdams has a point: some people need narratives, and narratives need actors. Natural selection works without any conscious intervention. Climate change happens because of billions of diverse actors.

Pointing out how people have got things wrong doesn't work. We need to speak the same language.

Sunday 13 May 2012 18:27:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#

Or, as Krugman puts it, Eurodämmerung:

Some of us have been talking it over, and here’s what we think the end game looks like:

1. Greek euro exit, very possibly next month.

...

4b. End of the euro.

And we’re talking about months, not years, for this to play out.

Good thing I only have about €15 in cash. Though I do have some escudos and pesetas somewhere...

Sunday 13 May 2012 14:49:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Saturday 12 May 2012

It looks like we're not hearing the truth about anthropogenic climate change. Who's keeping the lid on the data? Climate scientists:

Climate scientists have been consistently downplaying and underestimating the risks for three main reasons. First, their models tended to ignore the myriad amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks that we now know are kicking in (such as the defrosting tundra).

Second, they never imagined that the nations of the world would completely ignored their warnings, that we would knowingly choose catastrophe. So until recently they hardly ever seriously considered or modeled the do-nothing scenario, which is a tripling (820 ppm) or quadrupling (1100 ppm) of preindustrial levels of carbon dioxide over the next hundred years or so. In the last 2 or 3 years, however, the literature in this area has exploded and the picture it paints is not pretty (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces").

Third, as Blakemore (and others) have noted, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are generally reticent and cautious in stating results — all the more so in this case out of the mistaken fear that an accurate diagnosis would somehow make action less likely. Yes, it’d be like a doctor telling a two-pack-a-day patient with early-stage emphysema that their cough is really not that big a deal, but would they please quit smoking anyway. We live in a world, however, where anyone who tries to explain what the science suggests is likely to happen if we keep doing nothing is attacked as an alarmist by conservatives, disinformers, and their enablers in the media.

The post goes on to outline how much fun life will be in 80 years when, if we do nothing, global temperatures will be 5–7°C warmer than now. A related article goes into more depth, and includes this chart of what summers might be like:

I'll wrap up by linking to yesterday's Science Friday, which discussed the appalling lack of scientific literacy in government. And the band played on...

Saturday 12 May 2012 17:19:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Friday 11 May 2012

Leave it to a British newspaper to create such a clear diagram of states' policies:

On the same subject, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today promised to pass a gay-marriage law...someday:

Supporters of the gay marriage bill pending in the Illinois House aren't likely to call it for a vote before lawmakers are scheduled to go home May 31.

"I think we have a few other things on our plate, like pensions, health care, Medicaid, public safety, education, the state budget, and I think that's going to take all of our time and attention," said sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago.

Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois project at The Civil Rights Agenda, put it more succinctly: "There has been a same-sex marriage bill out there since maybe 2006 in Springfield, and it's going nowhere fast."

If a vote were to happen, it likely wouldn't come until after the Nov. 6 election. The House and Senate will have a number of lame-duck lawmakers who are either retiring or lost re-election bids. They're more free to vote their conscience even if it diverges from the views of the people who elected them.

Oh, well. At least we have civil unions here.

Friday 11 May 2012 17:39:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

And the office dog is doing what he does best:

Friday 11 May 2012 16:09:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#
Thursday 10 May 2012

The President's announcement yesterday and a new ad this morning make it clear the election 179 days from now is about the future vs. the past:

Sullivan comments:

One small note. Above, Romney says that we should not discard 3,000 years of history of one-man-one-woman marriage. Ahem. His own family were ardent polygamists only a century ago - and went to Mexican colonies to escape US federal oppression of their version of marriage (which also goes back a long, long way and still exists across the world). Romney's great-grandparents were polygamists; one of his his great-great-grandfathers had twelve wives and was murdered by the husband of the twelfth.

For Romney to say that the definition of marriage has remained the same for 3,000 years is disproved by his own family. It's untrue. False. A lie.

Why people fight so hard to cause other people pain has never made sense to me.

Thursday 10 May 2012 11:06:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 9 May 2012

The President's stance has evolved:

video platform video management video solutions video player

Question: when will Romney say something?

Wednesday 9 May 2012 14:26:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

I'm not the only one who sees Richard Lugar's defeat last night as more evidence the Republican party, long unmoored from reality, has drifted to the edge of the flat world they inhabit. It turns out, Lugar sees the same thing:

[Republican U.S. Senate nominee Richard Mourdock] and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.

But wait, there's more:

I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements.

Says Robert Wright, "It almost sounds as if he thinks Republicans are a bigger part of the problem than Democrats."

In unrelated news, Sunday was the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster. I mention this only because the Atlantic had a side-bar on the Lugar story, and I thought it was interesting. Yay Internet, helping people forget what they were mad about!

Update, from Mourdock: "I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view."

Yep, that sounds like an accurate view of the Republican party.

Wednesday 9 May 2012 08:50:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Today the right wing won two battles in their long, slow, rear-guard war against the 21st century.

In North Carolina, voters chose by a 60-40 margin to add an anti-marriage amendment to the state constitution, continuing the tradition of tolerance and modernity established by enlightened statesmen such as Jesse Helms and William Blount:

North Carolina has become the 31st state to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution, with voters banning same-sex marriage and barring legal recognition of unmarried couples by state and local governments.

Money from national interest groups poured into North Carolina. The National Organization for Marriage contributed $425,000 to the Vote for Marriage campaign, according to the latest reports, and the Human Rights Campaign and its affiliates contributed nearly $500,000 to the opposition Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families.

Vote for Marriage raised more than $1 million, and the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families raised more than $2 million.

It's interesting that the latter two groups, who received most of their money from out-of-state, anti-gay concerns, failed so miserably to do what their names suggested were their missions. It's almost as if George Orwell had named them, but of course he's been dead for quite some time.

Meanwhile, Indiana Republicans tossed out the third most senior U.S. Senator because his decade-long rightward drift wasn't radical enough:

Sen. Richard Lugar’s 36-year Senate career is now history.

Lugar was defeated in today’s Republican primary election by Treasurer Richard Mourdock, ending his bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.

It wasn’t even close.

With 70 percent of the vote counted, Mourdock had 60 percent to Lugar’s 40 percent.

It's possible that Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly will defeat Mourdock in November, but not likely. Indiana, some will recall, came close to legislating the value of a mathematical constant not too long ago, shortly before giving vital support to the Ku Klux Klan.

The struggle between fear and future has gone on longer than written history. Future always wins. But fear inflicts an enormous cost in the bargain. I only hope today's victories by the religious right in the U.S. are what they seem: tantrums of the bigots and zealots that history is leaving behind.

Update: Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett has won the Wisconsin Democratic primary to face Governor Scott Walker next month in the latter's recall election. The re-match of the 2010 election is a statistical dead heat, though Barrett has a slight edge. At least Wisconsin's right wing is unambiguously about making rich people even richer, without muddling the message with religion. Still: I'll be glad to see the back of Walker, whenever he leaves office.

Tuesday 8 May 2012 21:31:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Raleigh | Religion#
Tuesday 8 May 2012

A mailing list I participate in has attracted a troll, which is a person who, deliberately or not, annoys everyone around him with ill-tempered, rude, and stupid questions. Our list's troll has managed to get himself suspended from Wikipedia about 10 times (he's still suspended), mostly for "incivil tone" and for missing the purpose of Wikipedia.

This kind of user has haunted every online community since The WELL and CompuServe—yea, even unto the days of the of dial-up BBS. This guy is simply the first troll we've seen on this particular list, though.

Tuesday 8 May 2012 17:02:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Monday 7 May 2012

Even if Parker hadn't gotten fired two weeks ago, it looks like the building would have stopped him coming in anyway. We got this email earlier today, forwarded by the landlord:

We received a complaint about one of your tenants having a dog in the building. This was discovered by persons on the 5th floor hearing barking on the 4th floor. Hopefully I'm not confusing your unit with another but per the building rules and regulations policy that's attached to the Easement and Operating Agreement, only seeing eye dogs are permitted in the building.

Some people just don't like dogs. Their lives must be so sad.

Monday 7 May 2012 11:11:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker | Work#

Thunderstorms yesterday delayed the start of the Cubs-Dodgers game yesterday, with a first pitch almost three hours later than the scheduled 1:20pm start time. We got to the park at 2:30 during a brief break in the rain, relieved to discover the game was still on, and that we'd dressed warmly enough for it.

Fortunately our seats were under the awning. Unfortunately the weather got colder. We lasted until the middle of the 2nd, then went elsewhere to watch the end of the game.

The Cubs ultimately won in the 11th. Dodgers pitcher Jamey Wright accidentally beaned Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, loading the bases, and then walked David DeJesus to end the game. By this point, we were warm and dry 5 km from the park, so we didn't get to hear "Go Cubs Go" after all.

As an aside, I have to say that watching the groundskeepers roll up the infield tarp is fascinating. They appear to have it down to a science.

Monday 7 May 2012 10:57:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Saturday 5 May 2012

After Stansted Airport, north of London, added its voice to the growing chorus of UK airports with ridiculously long lines at immigration, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded changes:

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is understood to have told the Home Office to look at measures including the reintroduction within weeks of less strict security checks on British and European travellers.

It came as managers at Stansted Airport, in Essex, said “unacceptable” hold-ups had affected its passengers and criticised the UK Border Agency (UKBA), saying they would be demanding an explanation for the delays.

A separate queue for travellers from outside Europe who do not require a visa is also likely to be set up in the arrivals halls, meaning shorter queuing times for US, Canadian, Japanese and some South American nationals. It means the longest queuing times will be confined to those who need a visa to come to Britain, including Indian, Pakistani, and Jamaican citizens.

For the record, my last two entries to the UK in March—the first at 10pm on a Thursday night to Heathrow and the second at Gare du Nord in Paris—took only a few minutes. (I think Heathrow took about 15 minutes or so, but it didn't seem onerous.) But my last entry to the U.S., coming home from that trip, took less than 90 seconds. So the UK getting a Trusted Traveler program similar to Global Entry will make everyone's Heathrow experience better.

Saturday 5 May 2012 17:39:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Travel#
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David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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