Daily Archive: 12/04/2014

Dec 04 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: A Search for Justice in the Eric Garner Case

The Staten Island grand jury must have seen the same video everyone else did: the one showing a group of New York City police officers swarming and killing an unarmed black man, Eric Garner. [..]

The imbalance between Mr. Garner’s fate, on a Staten Island sidewalk in July, and his supposed infraction, selling loose cigarettes, is grotesque and outrageous. Though Mr. Garner’s death was officially ruled a homicide, it is not possible to pierce the secrecy of the grand jury, and thus to know why the jurors did not believe that criminal charges were appropriate.

What is clear is this was vicious policing and an innocent man is dead. Another conclusion is also obvious. Officer Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge; he needs to be stripped of his job. He used forbidden tactics to brutalize a citizen who was not acting belligerently, posed no risk of flight, brandished no weapon and was heavily outnumbered.

Eugene Robinson: What America’s police departments don’t want you to know

Michael Brown’s death was part of a tragic and unacceptable pattern: Police officers in the United States shoot and kill civilians in shockingly high numbers. How many killings are there each year? No one can say for sure, because police departments don’t want us to know.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police – defined as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” In all but three of these reported killings, officers used firearms.

The true number of fatal police shootings is surely much higher, however, because many law enforcement agencies do not report to the FBI database. Attempts by journalists to compile more complete data by collating local news reports have resulted in estimates as high as 1,000 police killings a year. There is no way to know how many victims, like Brown, were unarmed. [..]

Liberals and conservatives alike should be outraged at the frequency with which police in this country use deadly force. There is no greater power that we entrust to the state than the license to take life. To put it mildly, misuse of this power is at odds with any notion of limited government.

David Cay Johnston: Real world contradicts right-wing tax theories

California raised taxes, Kansas cut them. California did better

Ever since economist Arthur Laffer drew his namesake curve on a napkin for two officials in President Richard Nixon’s administration four decades ago, we have been told that cutting tax rates spurs jobs and higher pay, while hiking taxes does the opposite.

Now, thanks to recent tax cuts in Kansas and tax hikes in California, we have real-world tests of this idea. So far, the results do not support Laffer’s insistence that lower tax rates always result in more and better-paying jobs. In fact, Kansas’ tax cuts produced much slower job and wage growth than in California.

The empirical evidence that the Laffer curve is not what its promoter insists joins other real-world experience undermining the widely held belief that minimum wage increases reduce employment and income.

Steven W. Thrasher: The Eric Garner decision confirms a holiday of horrors. ‘Tis the season for more protest, not less

Pretending that we should keep calm and carry on – that we even can – is a bigger fantasy than Santa Claus

On Wednesday evening in New York City, as dusk fell into night, another grand jury failed to indict another police officer for killing another unarmed black man in America – this one a bona-fide homicide caught on camera. On Wednesday night in New York City, we protest. And then they planned in this same town – on this, the same night in America when the law continued to allow cops to kill black men – to light the most famous Christmas tree in the country. [..]

And, yes, the protesters should be peaceful – but we need to be disruptive. Because the same structural racism exists in New York City that does in Ferguson, as it does everywhere in the United States. As President Obama said on Wednesday night: “This is an American problem.” And no holiday lights should be lit while the light of justice is snuffed out for so many.

Of course nobody wants to watch a mirror image of the violence that erupted in Ferguson fewer than 10 days ago. But the Rockefeller Center tree lighting makes for a primetime-TV image of this country, next to New York’s protest, which is sadly like the surrealism of the Obama-next-to-protests split- and the irony of the Season’s Greetings-banner-over-the-riot-gear-cops photo. It’s a diptych of injustice on steroids.

Seums Milne: Cuba’s extraordinary global medical record shames the US blockade

From Ebola to earthquakes, Havana’s doctors have saved millions. Obama must lift this embargo

Four months into the internationally declared Ebola emergency that has devastated west Africa, ]leads the world in direct medical support http://www.theguardian.com/wor… to fight the epidemic. The US and Britain have sent thousands of troops and, along with other countries, promised aid – most of which has yet to materialise. But, as the World Health Organisation has insisted, what’s most urgently needed are health workers. The Caribbean island, with a population of just 11m and official per capita income of $6,000 (£3,824), answered that call before it was made. It was first on the Ebola frontline and has sent the largest contingent of doctors and nurses – 256 are already in the field, with another 200 volunteers on their way. [..]

But the island is still suffocated by the US trade embargo that has kept it in an economic and political vice for more than half a century. If Barack Obama wants to do something worthwhile in his final years as president he could use Cuba’s role in the Ebola crisis as an opening to start to lift that blockade and wind down the US destabilisation war.

Jessica Valentii: If we truly valued motherhood, we would actually do something to help pregnant women

We’ve all heard the platitudes: Motherhood is the most important job in the world. If mothers made a parenting salary – we’re chefs, chauffeurs, housekeepers and office managers! – we’d be bazillionaires.

Come on. We’re not even willing to let a pregnant woman hold on to a job.

On Wednesday, the US supreme court will hear arguments in a case to decide whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to provide accommodations for pregnant workers. The case stems from former UPS worker Peggy Young, who was put on unpaid leave after her doctor recommended she not lift packages heavier than 20 pounds.

All the Hallmark-card sentiment in the world doesn’t change the reality that whether you’re in the highest court in all the land or at the neighborhood playground, pregnant women get treated like second-class citizens and mothers are expected to “do it all” with little more than a condescending pat on the head.

Dec 04 2014

The Breakfast Club (Plagiarize)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgFor me the creepiest thing about James Watson is not his views on race, but that this egotistical asshole has any shred of credibility at all for a career based on the theft of the ideas and work of others.

This is not uncommon in Elite Academia where Senior Professors rarely teach and routinely steal the results of their Assistants to publish under their own name but Watson deserves a special place in hell for using unpublished data from Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, co-researchers at the Medical Research Council, without her consent, using Maurice Wilkins (who worked in the same lab) as a spy.

More than that in his book The Double Helix, published after Franklin’s death, Watson slanders her and denigrates her work, making it appear that she was nothing more than Wilkins’ assistant and too dumb to interpret her own results when the double helical nature of the DNA molecule was in fact her original suggestion, simply because she was a woman and “intimidated” him (meaning probably she turned down his sexual advances).

So it’s no surprise at all that this sexist pig turns out to also be an unreconstructed racist of the Charles Murray type and after he revealed himself in 2007 started to lose the luster and lucrative Board positions and speaking fees he had enjoyed, and is practically reduced to pauperhood having (as he does) to subsist on his meagre high 6 figure tenured Professor’s salary.

So what is a poor undeserving Nobel Prize winner to do when they’re strapped for cash like that and really, really want a David Hockney which would be just perfect over the living room couch?

Why pawn it of course.  They’re made of real gold you know, but like Super Bowl Rings are more valuable than the materials because of the rarity.  Unlike Super Bowl Rings they are seldom sold before the death of the recipient so this one is expected to fetch between $2.5 and $3.5 million which will be just about enough for that Hockney behind the divan.  But be of good cheer, munificently he’s pledged that any excess will go to his alma mater, that factory of greedy fascists and patently and transparently false theories to justify the prejudices of Plutocrats, the University of Chicago.

He may have unravelled DNA, but James Watson deserves to be shunned

Adam Rutherford, The Guardian

Monday 1 December 2014 05.41 EST

Watson has said that he is “not a racist in a conventional way”. But he told the Sunday Times in 2007 that while people may like to think that all races are born with equal intelligence, those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. Call me old-fashioned, but that sounds like bog-standard, run-of-the-mill racism to me.

And this current whinge bemoans a new poverty born of his pariah status. Apart “from my academic income”, he says, Watson is condemned to a miserly wage that prevents him from buying a David Hockney painting.

His comments reveal a pernicious character entirely unrelated to his scientific greatness, but that is longstanding and not new. Watson is rightly venerated for being half of the pair, along with Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA, and for leading the Human Genome Project. The story of the unveiling of the double helix is messy and complex, just like all biology. It has been pored over and studied and embellished and mythologised. But simply, the race was won by Crick and Watson, and in April 1953 they revealed to the world the iconic double helix. The key evidence, however, Photo 51, was produced by Rosalind Franklin and Ray Gosling, at King’s College London. Franklin’s skill at the technique known as X-ray crystallography was profound, and was indubitably essential to the discovery. Crick and Watson acquired the photo without her knowledge.



The first account of the story of DNA was by Watson himself, and reveals his character. Honest Jim is what he wanted to call the book that was published as The Double Helix in 1968. It is a classic of nonfiction writing, and deservedly so. It is brilliant and racy and gossipy, and full of questionable truths.

He patronisingly refers to Franklin as “Rosy” throughout, despite there being no evidence that anyone else ever did. Here’s a sample of how he described her in the first few pages: “Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive, and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. This she did not.”

James Watson’s sense of entitlement, and misunderstandings of science that need to be countered.

By Janet D. Stemwedel, Scientific American

December 1, 2014

Positioning James Watson as a very special scientist who deserves special treatment above and beyond the recognition of the Nobel committee feeds the problematic narrative of scientific knowledge as an achievement of great men (and yes, in this narrative, it is usually great men who are recognized). This narrative ignores the fundamentally social nature of scientific knowledge-building and the fact that objectivity is the result of teamwork.

Of course, it’s even more galling to have James Watson portrayed (including by himself) as an exceptional hero of science rather than as part of a knowledge-building community given the role of Rosalind Franklin’s work in determining the structure of DNA – and given Watson’s apparent contempt for Franklin, rather than regard for her as a member of the knowledge-building team, in The Double Helix.

Indeed, part of the danger of the hero narrative is that scientists themselves may start to believe it. They can come to see themselves as individuals possessing more powers of objectivity than other humans (thus fundamentally misunderstanding where objectivity comes from), with privileged access to truth, with insights that don’t need to be rigorously tested or supported with empirical evidence. (Watson’s 2007 claims about race fit in this territory.)

Scientists making authoritative claims beyond what science can support is a bigger problem. To the extent that the public also buys into the hero narrative of science, that public is likely to take what Nobel Prize winners say as authoritative, even in the absence of good empirical evidence. Here Watson keeps company with William Shockley and his claims on race, Kary Mullis and his claims on HIV, and Linus Pauling and his advocacy of mega-doses of vitamin C. Some may argue that non-scientists need to be more careful consumers of scientific claims, but it would surely help if scientists themselves would recognize the limits of their own expertise and refrain from overselling either their claims or their individual knowledge-building power.

Where Watson’s claims about race are concerned, the harm of positioning him as an exceptional scientist goes further than reinforcing a common misunderstanding of where scientific knowledge comes from. These views, asserted authoritatively by a Nobel Prize winner, give cover to people who want to believe that their racist views are justified by scientific knowledge.



However, especially for people in the groups that James Watson has claimed are genetically inferior, asserting that Watson’s massive scientific achievement trumps his problematic claims about race can be alienating. His scientific achievement doesn’t magically remove the malign effects of the statements he has made from a very large soapbox, using his authority as a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Ignoring those malign effects, or urging people to ignore them because of the scientific achievement which gave him that big soapbox, sounds an awful lot like saying that including the whole James Watson package in science is more important than including black people as scientific practitioners or science fans.

The hero narrative gives James Watson’s claims more power than they deserve. The hero narrative also makes urgent the need to deem James Watson’s “foibles” forgivable so we can appreciate his contribution to knowledge. None of this is helpful to the practice of science. None of it helps non-scientists engage more responsibly with scientific claims or scientific practitioners.

Holding James Watson to account for his claims, holding him responsible for scientific standards of evidence, doesn’t render him an unperson. Indeed, it amounts to treating him as a person engaged in the scientific knowledge-building project, as well as a person sharing a world with the rest of us.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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Dec 04 2014

On This Day In History December 4

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 4 is the 338th day of the year (339th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 27 days remaining until the end of the year

On this day in 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.

Washington had led the army through six long years of war against the British before the American forces finally prevailed at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. There, Washington received the formal surrender of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, effectively ending the Revolutionary War, although it took almost two more years to conclude a peace treaty and slightly longer for all British troops to leave New York.

Fraunces Tavern is a tavern, restaurant and museum housed in a conjectural reconstruction of a building that played a prominent role in pre-Revolution and Revolution history. The building, located at 54 Pearl Street at the corner of Broad Street, has been owned by Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York Inc. since 1904, which claims it is Manhattan’s oldest surviving building. The building is a tourist site and a part of the American Whiskey Trail and the New York Freedom Trail.

Revolution history

In August 1775, Americans took possession of cannons from the artillery battery at the southern point of Manhattan and fired on the HMS Asia. The British ship retaliated by firing a 32-gun broadside on the city, sending a cannonball through the roof of the building.

When the war was all but won, the building was the site of “British-American Board of Inquiry” meetings, which negotiated to ensure to American leaders that no “American property” (meaning former slaves who were emancipated by the British for their military service) be allowed to leave with British troops. Board members reviewed the evidence and testimonies that were given by freed slaves every Wednesday from April to November 1783, and British representatives were successful in ensuring that almost all of the loyalist blacks of New York maintained their liberty.

After British troops evacuated New York, the tavern hosted an elaborate “turtle feast” dinner on December 4, 1783 in the building’s Long Room for U.S. Gen. George Washington where he bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army by saying “[w]ith a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

The building housed some offices of the Confederation Congress as the nation struggled under the Articles of Confederation. With the establishment of the U.S. Constitution and the inauguration of Washington as president in 1789, the departments of Foreign Affairs, Treasury and War located offices at the building. The offices were vacated when the location of the U.S. capital moved on December 6, 1790 from New York to Philadelphia.

Dec 04 2014

TDS/TCR (What the heck is a Foo?)

TDS TCR

I have a dream

California Burning

The real news, Jon’s web exclusive 2 part extended interview with Sophie Delaunay, and this week’s guests below.