Monday Reads: Oh, I wish I was in the land of data …

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Good Morning!

I’m forever aghast at the number of folks that prefer tropes and memes to actually investigating what works and doesn’t work for the economy.  It’s a bit like watching people rush to that wagon where the snake oil salesman promises a miracle cure.  Meanwhile, back here in the land of data, we use the scientific method.  Wishful thinking just doesn’t cure math deficiency.

Of all the myths and falsehoods that Republicans have spread about President Obama, the most pernicious and long-lasting is that the $832 billion stimulus package did not work. Since 2009, Republican lawmakers have inextricably linked the words “failed” and “stimulus,” and last week, five years after passage of the Recovery Act, they dusted off their old playbook again.

“The ‘stimulus’ has turned out to be a classic case of big promises and big spending with little results,” wrote Speaker John Boehner. “Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, millions of families are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ ”

The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed. But put simply, it prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (There are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.

And yet Republicans were successful in discrediting the very idea that federal spending can boost the economy and raise employment. They made the argument that the stimulus was a failure not just to ensure that Mr. Obama would get no credit for the recovery that did occur, but to justify their obstruction of all further attempts at stimulus.

So the American Jobs Act was killed, and so was the infrastructure bank and any number of other spending proposals that might have helped the country. The president’s plan to spend another $56 billion on job training, education and energy efficiency, to be unveiled in his budget next month, will almost certainly suffer a similar fate.

This may be the singular tragedy of the Obama administration. Five years later, it is clear to all fair-minded economists that the stimulus did work, and that it did enormous good for the economy and for tens of millions of people. But because it fell short of its goals, and was roundly ridiculed by Republicans and inadequately defended by Democrats, who should have trumpeted its success, the president’s stimulus plan is now widely considered a stumble.

There are so many people that would rather look at what’s in front of their nose rather than examine information over time and look for trend and random events.  Did you know that  January 2014 was the 4th warmest on record for our world?

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But it turns out that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this January was the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest January on record. It was also the 38th January in a row that boasted temperatures above the average for the 20th century: temperatures were 1.17 degrees above average globally.

You have to go all the way back to 1976 – the year Paul McCartney and Wings made it to #1 with “Silly Love Songs” and Elton John and Kiki Dee followed close on their heels with #2′s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, to find a below average temperature for January.

Think about it: If February’s temperatures are also above average, we will have seen 29 years since the last month of below average temperatures.
And global warming deniers never once mentioned California’s drought. It was as though it was not even happening. But these extremes of weather are predicted by the scientific model. Instead of intelligent discourse, we had Todd Akin (R-MO) claiming back in 2009that regulating CO2 will make the seasons stop,” showing he knows no more about climate science than he does about biology. That same year we saw Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) say that because CO2 is in Coca Cola that it is safe and should not be regulated. More recently, we getTony Perkins asserting there is more evidence that God is behind “hurricanes and storms” than there is for climate change. We get David Barton saying last October that abortion is really to blame for climate change. And we get Glenn Beck claiming those who deny climate change will shortly be sent to internment camps.
In other words, you are not going to get an intelligent debate on climate change from Republicans. And Beck, who is a genre unto himself? Nice a fantasy as this is, it’s not going to happen.

What is going to happen to everyone is going to be much worse than internment if something isn’t done. The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet would mean sea levels rising more than 200 feet. If you want to know what the world will look like then, go to National Geographic and take a look.

Keith Brekhus reported here in January that “the Australian based Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science has released a new study arguing that climate models have underestimated the extent to which the doubling of carbon dioxide will affect global surface temperatures.” What we get in response is the Exxon-funded Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change telling us that CO2 is actually good for us, and that global warming will be beneficial, and that anyway, the fact that the planet is warming and that CO2 emissions are increasing, is not evidence of causation.

When Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says that CO2 is good for plants it is because that is what Exxon and other fossil fuel giants are paying her to say.

trappedIt’s equally interesting that a law denying rights to GLBTs  boils down to a few crazy businesses that don’t want to send wedding accouterments  to gay couples because OMG! Have any of these folks ever read about the abuses that lead to our Constitutional concept of religious liberty? Do they think really think that selling a wedding cake is the same as subjecting oneself to the Inquisition?

The Arizona law seems to apply to services beyond those tied to weddings, but same-sex weddings are the impetus for these bills. Specifically, they are in response to lawsuits against three different Christians who refused to photograph, bake a cake, and sell flowers for same-sex weddings. The backers of these laws claim that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, provide a good or service for a same-sex wedding because it violates the teachings of Christianity.

If these bills become law, we could see same-sex couples being denied service not just by photographers and florists, but also restaurants and hotels and pretty much anyone else who can tie their discrimination to a religious belief.

Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.

Strangely, conservative Christians seem to have little interest in this level of analysis and jump right to complaints about their legal and constitutional rights. It’s not that these rights don’t matter. Rather, they should be a secondary issue for Christians. Before considering legal rights, Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.

Nor does the Bible teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation. Yet Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does.

Okay, and now for something about True Detective.  It’s my latest addiction and I fully confess  that I passed it on to BostonBoomer, my sister, and Doctor Daughter. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT)Screen-Shot-2014-02-21-at-12.00.26-AM

David Haglund: This show gets into your head something fierce. About halfway through this episode, called “Haunted Houses,” Rust’s commanding officer chews out his subordinate for bothering people about the long-since-closed Dora Lange case. My eye flashed to the officer’s nameplate: Leroy Salter (played by Paul Ben-Victor, by the way, also known as Vondas from The Wire). Leroy … that derives from French for “the king.” As in the Yellow King? And what could “salter” mean?

Before I could start Googling surname origins, Rust began spouting his theories about a high-reaching murderous conspiracy and, for the first time (in my book, anyway), they sounded like the mad ravings of a paranoid. I recalled that Satan-themed T-shirt on one of the jailed boys who had sex with Marty’s daughter—a shirt that sported a black star or two—and thought about how sometimes the signifiers of devil worship are just for show. The ground beneath me started to shift.

Bring me back from the brink, Willa.

I haven’t had this much fun since Twin Peaks.

I’ve been haunted by this song since I started watching the series.  The music track is as haunting as the imagery and the story line.  It’s chosen by T Bone Burnett who is an artist I’ve had the pleasure to mic and mix.  I love the Train Song By Vashti Bunyan and it’s perfectly placed in the series.

BTW, do you watch “Big Bang Theory”?  I hope you know that  Mayim Bialik who plays Amy Farrah Fowler actually has a doctorate in neuroscience.  You can’t do many advanced degrees without a lot of calculus. I actually started to like math when I went into the part that wasn’t bounded as finite.  Most folks may remember her as Blossom but …

During a red carpet interview at the SAG awards this January, the actress was forced into an awkward situation after Bono’s doppelganger tried to asked her if people assume that she can do advanced math because she plays a smart character on TV. As it turns out, she can do calculus in her sleep because she’s secretly a neuroscientist. And by secretly, I mean she publicly taught for several years, wrote a book about the science of hormones for parenting and has given several public (and very recent) lectures about the importance of investing in STEM careers and research. Oh and she’s also the official spokesperson for Texas Instruments graphing calculators.

She’s a scientist and an actress.

Just one more thing …

I know my fiction from my fact. I’m not so sure that’s true about a lot of policy makers these days of the Republican Persuasion.