Friday, February 13, 2009

Dr. Wakefield: Don't Poke the Aspie.

Warning! Science in Progress (Rocket) shirt

The news is filled with the shocking, utterly shocking news that three special masters of the US Vaccine Court have found no scientifically credible correlation between Mercury and Autism, and further, that what slight evidence that suggested the connection in the first place, way back in 1998 - was bogus.

In a statement to be published in the March 6 issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal, the researchers conceded that they did not have enough evidence at the time to tie the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR, to the autism cases. The study has been blamed for a sharp drop in the number of British children being vaccinated and for outbreaks of measles.
This aspect of the movement featured often truly disgusting rhetoric that brought uncomfortable memories of the legacies of the Eugenics Movement - offered in defense of behavior-mod strategies that are of debatable benefit at best and torture at worst.

Autistics themselves were instrumental in fighting back against unscientific hysteria and outright abuse of process nobably by contributing to and disseminating credible science, intervening in attempts to enforce orders that ABA therapy be paid for from the public purse and devestatingly effective responses to unscrupulous practices within the "research community" the anti-vax movement depended upon. And ultimately, the questions raised led to the right questions being asked,
regarding the fundamental research that led to this mess.

Celebrate Neurodiversity stamp

Memeber of PeTP People for the ethical tr... shirtIt should be noted that the questionable motivations and associations in the "pro-cure" wing have been documented and observed by Actual Real Scientists for some time. This was just the final straw, and the barely concealed outrage at the perfect storm of stupidity, incompetence and venality is manifest in the conclusions of the Special Master's report, dismissing with utter finality the claims that MMR was in even the slightest sense contributory to autism.

Conclusion: A “loving, caring, and courageous” family “misled by physicians who are guilty of gross medical misjudgment”

The record of this case demonstrates plainly that Michelle Cedillo and her family have been though a tragic and painful ordeal. I had the opportunity, in the courtroom during the evidentiary hearing, to meet and to observe both of Michelle’s parents, and a number of other family members as well. I have also studied the records describing Michelle’s medical history, and the efforts of her family in caring for her. Based upon those experiences, I am deeply impressed by the very loving, caring, and courageous nature of the Cedillo family. Those family members clearly have done a wonderful job of coping with Michelle’s conditions, and in caring for her with great love. I admire them greatly for their dedication to Michelle’s welfare.

Nor do I doubt that Michelle’s parents and relatives are sincere in their belief that the MMR vaccine played a role in causing Michelle’s devastating disorders. Certainly, the mere fact that Michelle’s autistic symptoms first became evident to her family during the months after her MMR vaccination might make them wonder about a possible causal connection. Further, the Cedillos have read about physicians who profess to believe in a causal connection between the MMR vaccine and both autism and chronic gastrointestinal problems. They have visited at least one physician, Dr. Krigsman, who has explicitly opined that Michelle’s own chronic gastrointestinal symptoms are MMR-caused. And they have even been told that a medical laboratory has positively identified the presence of the persisting vaccine-strain measles virus in Michelle’s body, years after her vaccination. After studying the extensive evidence in this case for many months, I am convinced that the reports and advice given to the Cedillos by Dr. Krigsman and some other physicians, advising the Cedillos that there is a causal connection between Michelle’s MMR vaccination and her chronic conditions, have been very wrong. Unfortunately, the Cedillos have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment. Nevertheless, I can understand why the Cedillos found such reports and advice to be believable under the circumstances. I conclude that the Cedillos filed this Program claim in good faith. [emphasis added]

Thus, I feel deep sympathy and admiration for the Cedillo family. And I have no doubt that the families of countless other autistic children, families that cope every day with the tremendous challenges of caring for autistic children, are similarly deserving of sympathy and admiration. However, I must decide this case not on sentiment, but by analyzing the evidence. Congress designed the Program to compensate only the families of those individuals whose injuries or deaths can be linked causally, either by a Table Injury presumption or by a preponderance of causation-in-fact evidence, to a listed vaccination. In this case the evidence advanced by the petitioners has fallen far short of demonstrating such a link. Accordingly, I conclude that the petitioners in this case are not entitled to a Program award on Michelle’s behalf. (pp. 173-174)

The Special Master had some particular words for Dr. Wakefield, et al, in an earlier section, which I repeat in full.

On “autistic enterocolitis”: “Defective or fraudulent science”

As explained above, Dr. Krigsman based his general causation opinion on the reliability of the Uhlmann study’s general conclusion that children with both developmental disorders and gastrointestinal problems are often infected with measles virus in their intestines, while developmentally normal children with GI problems are rarely so infected. However, as previously discussed, I have concluded that the Uhlmann study was unreliable. Therefore, with the Uhlmann study discredited, Dr. Krigsman’s general causation theory is simply left without any evidentiary support.

Dr. Krigsman has not pointed to any other possible basis for his theory. For instance, Dr. Krigsman did not point to examples in medical history of any type of virus persisting in intestinal tissue and causing chronic GI symptoms. To the contrary, Dr. Hanauer, an expert well-qualified concerning GI inflammation, testified that he is unaware of any examples of viral persistence in intestinal tissue causing chronic inflammation. Neither Dr. Krigsman nor any other expert for petitioners contradicted Dr. Hanauer on this point. Moreover, in constructing his general causation theory, Dr. Krigsman clearly based his theory on the “autistic enterocolitis” theory that evolved from Dr. Wakefield’s seminal 1998 article mentioned above. In his expert report, Dr. Krigsman indicated that he sees a causal connection between the MMR vaccine and a disease category that he described as “autistic enterocolitis.” And at the evidentiary hearing, Dr. Krigsman again used the term “autistic enterocolitis” to describe the disease category that he believes to be MMR-caused. Indeed, Dr. Krigsman’s use of the term “autistic enterocolitis,” along with his assertion that Michelle Cedillo’s illness is a “classic” case of “ASD-GI disease,” perhaps might create the impression that “autistic enterocolitis” is a recognized disease category, accepted by the medical community. That, however, is not the case.

To the contrary, Dr. Hanauer, very experienced in the specific area of inflammatory bowel disorders, testified that the term “autistic enterocolitis” is not utilized in any gastrointestinal textbook of which he is aware. Similarly, Dr. Gershon stated that both the terms “autistic enterocolitis” and “ASD-GI” are not recognized by “gastroenterologists as a scientific community.” Dr. Fombonne and Dr. MacDonald both testified that there exists no evidence to support such a diagnostic category. And Dr. Krigsman himself admitted that two leading textbooks on gastroenterology, which he acknowledges to be authoritative, do not use the terms “autistic enterocolitis” or “ASD-GI.”

Thus, it is clear that the diagnostic category of “autistic enterocolitis,” developed by Dr. Wakefield and adopted by Dr. Krigsman, is not a medically-recognized category. In fact, the record indicates that the term “autistic enterocolitis” evolved from Dr. Wakefield’s above-mentioned 1998 article; the term appears in several articles published over the following years by Dr. Wakefield and a small group of his followers. One such article using the term “autistic enterocolitis” was published in 2000 by Wakefield and colleagues. And it is clear that Dr. Krigsman, in developing his causation theory, was influenced by those articles. For example, Dr. Krigsman testified that his initial idea, that autistic children with gastrointestinal symptoms might be suffering from IBD, was triggered when he read that very Wakefield 2000 article. Given that Dr. Krigsman’s general causation theory was influenced by the “autistic enterocolitis” theory developed by Dr. Wakefield and colleagues, it is fair to note that Dr. Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” theory, and his credibility in developing the theory, have come under severe criticism. For example, see the discussion […] above concerning various committees of medical experts who have considered and rejected Dr. Wakefield’s causation theory. Further, respondent’s experts in this case provided much testimony relevant to the credibility of Dr. Wakefield’s procedures in developing his theory.

For example, Nicholas Chadwick in 1996 was a Ph.D. student working in a London laboratory for Dr. Wakefield, performing PCR testing for measles virus. Chadwick’s interactions with Dr. Kawashima’s laboratory, which was collaborating with Wakefield in the area of measles detection, convinced Chadwick that Kawashima’s positive results in measles virus testing were “false positives,” the result of contamination. Chadwick related that conclusion to Dr. Wakefield. Nevertheless, Wakefield submitted for publication a manuscript relying on the purportedly positive results from Kawashima’s PCR testing. Chadwick asked that his own name be taken off the manuscript, because he was not comfortable with the data. Dr. MacDonald described the Wakefield 2000 article as “deception,” in two respects. He opined that the article deliberately described normal findings in the intestines of the autistic children as “pathology”—i.e., abnormality indicative of disease—in order to create the false impression that the autistic children had much more intestinal pathology than the non-autistic children in the study. Dr. MacDonald also testified that the article misrepresented a photograph of a child’s cecum (a part of the large intestine) as being a photograph of the child’s ileum (a part of the small intestine). He opined that it was “highly unlikely” that this misrepresentation was a mistake, as opposed to deliberate deception. Dr. Rima described an interaction with Dr. Wakefield, in which he informed Dr. Wakefield of a specific contamination error in Wakefield’s measles detection efforts. Dr. Wakefield, however, did not retract his claim that measles material had been identified.

Further, as noted above, after public criticism of the “autistic enterocolitis” theory, ten of Wakefield’s twelve co-authors on the original 1998 article published a letter in which they formally “retract[ed]” the causation interpretation suggested in the original article. At the same time, the British medical journal that published the 1998 article, the Lancet, reviewed allegations of impropriety by Dr. Wakefield and his co-authors in the submission of the article. The Lancet editors noted that some of the children described in the article were also part of the legal action against the vaccine manufacturers, in which Dr. Wakefield was also involved. The editors concluded that this circumstance constituted a financial conflict of interest by Wakefield, which Wakefield should have disclosed to the Lancet, but did not. Dr. MacDonald, indeed, went so far as to opine that Dr. Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” theory was merely an “invention” created for litigation purposes. Similarly, Dr. Rust summarized Wakefield’s process of developing and disseminating his general theory, and described it as “scientific fraud.”

To be sure, the petitioners in this case have stressed that they rely upon Dr. Krigsman as their expert concerning the causation of GI symptoms, not Dr. Wakefield. Thus, they argue that criticisms of the personal integrity of Dr. Wakefield are not relevant here. However, because Dr. Krigsman’s general causation approach clearly was strongly influenced by Dr. Wakefield’s theory, criticisms of Dr. Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” theory are relevant, and criticisms relating to Dr. Wakefield’s credibility in developing that theory are of relevance as well. Therefore, it is a noteworthy point that not only has that “autistic enterocolitis” theory not been accepted into gastroenterology textbooks, but that theory, and Dr. Wakefield’s role in its development, have been strongly criticized as constituting defective or fraudulent science. (pp. 141-144)

In other words - it is the the opinion of the special masters that the case is not merely invalid on it's merits - that the science presented is factually insufficient - but that key portions of it are fraudulent - a position underscored by the public position of The Lancet and the withdrawal of names from the foundational "study" that started this mess.

It shows a fundamental contempt for justice, contempt for the best interests of autistics subjected to the highly questionable treatments Wakefeield and his co-conspiritors advocate, and should deeply trouble the governing boards of those issuing their respective professional certification. There is a reason why there is a growing lack of trust in authorities and it is because that over the last several decades, there has been a general perversion of the entire concept, various systemic and significant abuses of public trust and, of course, an entire culture has developed to claim that criticizing the perpetrators is evidence of some dark conspiracy.

I could just as easily point to climate change deniers or the people who insist in the face of all respected opinion on economics that "trickle down" economics really did work, and that more tax cuts and less regulation is the real answer to a problem that was in significant part made worse by tax cuts and absolutely made possible by lack of regulation and willful disregard for what regulations existed.

But then, you might very well ask, whom should I trust? How do I choose between two positions, founded as they are upon science that's well above my comprehension level?

Well, in all honesty, it's not easy, but there are a few principles that will allow you to avoid being easily fooled - and I learned these in nineth grade. You see, you don't usually have to dig into the technical arguments. If you do have to, than what you see is most likely a legitimate scientific or technical dispute. In which case, you may do as do I - wait for a consensus.

In the case of climate change, that consensus exists to an extent that it really absolves you from having to consider the ideas of bias or fashion. The data agree, the vast majority of scentists agree, at least in the broad strokes and of equal importance, those who dissent are not just a minority, but very few of them are dissenting from a background that permits us to be unskeptical of their motives, in some case, fairly obvious, such as researchers paid by oil companies coming to conclusions that any oil company would be happy to have. Wonders! Astonishment! You can safely assume such studies to be junk science if they oppose a general, interdisciplinary consensus AND directly benefit both the researcher and the interest group that paid him. (Now, if they should turn out differently, that's an entirely different kettle of penguins.)

In the case of Dr. Wakefield, well, Dr. Wakefield was neither particularly clever in his scientific fraud nor in concealing his connection to litigation arising from his entirely convenient "research."

Or not to put too fine a point on it, Dr. Wakefield prostituted himself in order to make a buck. He presumed upon his authority, his status, his profession and his credentials in order to fabricate evidence that would permit him and the odious lawyer he colluded with to make hundreds of thousands of dollars. All that was required was for him to not care about the consequences to society, his profession, the reputations of his colleagues or the impact upon public health.

The principle illustrated here is called "Quo Bono" - that is to say, who profits by me believing this?

Let's look at one of the still active and strident proponens of the anti-vax myth: Age of Autism. This is their sponsor's reaction to the Omnibus Decision which I quoted from above:

National Autism Association Response to Autism Omnibus Court Decision:

You can pretty much stop reading there, because their own summary tells you all you need to know about the level of honesty and the ethical culture of the "National Autism Association" and those willing to publish it's dubious defense. The only proper, ethical approach would have been a public statement for regret, condemnation of Wakefield, and a sincere promise to clean house. At a decent miniumum.

Oh, I could respond in kind - although it would be a lot like pushing baby ducks into a pond. I'll leave that to another aspie's perseveration. I merely wish to point you to all the various advertisements for "biomedical interventions" and "treatments" and cures on that site. Might there not be a tiny, barely perceptible financial incentive here to dissuade you to consider the merits of the scientifically credible positition?

Moreover - and this is an important point - the site relys heavily on two rhetorical techniques; emotional persuasion and anechdotal evidence.

Neither is proper when speaking of diseases and cures, for diseases and cures are matters of provable fact, with discoverable mechanisms, treatments subject to testing. But most critically, their first and primary response is to question the motives of those criticizing them.

That's a rather bizarre claim, from those who's motives are so clearly questionable. So, as I say, who will benefit, that you believe that these "interventions" will provide some benefit to your autistic child? Who will benefit if you choose to believe - in the face of overwhelming and entirely respectable science to the contrary?

Doctor Wakefield - a proven scientific fraud, will benefit. The lawyers will benefit. But the overwhelming evidence to date is that if you believe the quacks, your child will not - and if you act upon the assumption that your child is at risk from the MMR vaccine, you are directly contributing to the very real and deadly serious risk of an epidemic.

This is why we all have the responsiblity to curb our credulity, to ask the hard questions of people who claim to be authorities and expect answers that are substantial and proven; particularly when they nostrums and treatments come with substantial and obvious risks.

This is true in the Autism community, it is equally true within communities of faith, where misrepresentations of core texts have mutated into entire denominations, within the finacial and poltical communities of western culture - and it is all due to a failure to hold authorities to account; of an inappropriate, and frankly lazy willingness to inappropriately trust people on the basis of nothing more than a jutting chin and a confident seeming assertion. Donald Rumsfield seems to spring to mind, for some reason. But since he does, it is difficult to think of someone being more obviously and confidently wrong than "Cakewalk Rummie."

The simple principle here is "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." I have no problem with people having a reasonable belief that thimerisol and autism might be linked, or that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It is not reasonable to presume that someone in authority is lying when you have no basis for that assumption. But, should those assertions be true, then there are certain logical steps to be expected, certain actions, certain patterns that MUST occur IF that assertion is to be established as a fact.

Instead, in both cases, bullshit was piled upon bullshit. And really, that's all you need to know. The second shovelful of bullshit proves beyond a doubt that whatever the truth might be, it won't be coming from that source. Move along, withdraw your support, direct your attention and energy elsewhere, for nobody ever got anything but the top slot on a sucker list by believing a famous liar.

Celebrate Neurodiversity by webcarve
Warning! Science in Progress (Rocket) by dwaterfield
Memeber of PeTP, People for the ethical tr... by Philoso_tz

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The List: Stoner Athletes

From CBC's "The Hour", the single best MSM response to the Moral Crisis that is Michael Phelps: THE top 5 stoner athletes of all TIME!.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dear Bill O'Rielly - Yo Mamma!

I've been told that it is best to rise above petty insults, to refuse to descend to the level of uncultured tallywhackers such as Bill O'Rielly. But experience has told me that if one does not lower oneself just a little, no communication at all will occur. And more practically, while there may be no effect upon the target itself, the resounding "thwack" of correction may prove either instructing or amusing to one's audience. Echidne of the Snakes brings our attention to yet another turd plopping into the intellectual watershed of America. And - as is not unusual - it comes courtesy of Bill O'Rielly and - of course - the Fox Network.

It's Bill O'Reilly having fun imitating Helen Thomas, calling her the wicked witch of the East and so on. But the most fascinating bit is the one where O'Reilly asks us why his mother isn't out there sitting in the front row of Obama's press conference, asking questions. Or Colmes' mother. Or any old lady at all! (He doesn't say that but it's what he means.)

To deny Thomas the respect her experience and professional qualifications deserve is probably a sexist response on O'Reilly's part. Try a reversal by imagining an older male journalist in her place and then O'Reilly arguing that his own dad is equally qualified to ask questions at the press conference.

If you think O'Reilly should apologize for his comments, go here.

I would not bother demanding an apology - it amounts to the solicitation of perjury, without the satisfaction of being under oath.

More to the point, the proper response to offensive speech is more and better speech; that is to say, better targeted and far more amusing at the expense of the the target deserving such public correction.

I firmly believe this is a better and more productive response than the amusingly typical attempt to pressure Bill-O into apologizing to Helen Thomas for being disrespectful of her gender, age, wisdom and status. Hell, consider the source; the fact that he DOES disrespect her tells you exactly where he stands as a gentleman, journalist and carbon-based organism.

It's not so remarkable that he said what he did. It's that it's so apparent he believes that what he said is self-evident; moreover, that he believes that he is, due to his gender, skin color and political viewpoint, of inherently greater worth than Helen Thomas in particular and pretty much anyone else, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that he's a moral and mental midget, unworthy of being in the same room - or time zone - of persons of any color, gender, political philosophy or sexual orientation with an actual informed opinion about anything at all.

It reminds me of the time my father - a life-long grifter, racist and Orangeman - informed me that he was of course a better man than Martin Luther King - after a reprise of the "I Have A Dream" speech.

He, like Bill, was held in contempt by anyone who had the misfortune to come to know him, much less have to do business with him. And like Bill - he was completely impervious to that well-earned contempt. Even by white racists.

If there was a cover illustration for "Unskilled and Unaware," it would properly feature Bill's smirking face.

So, here's my response, Bill.

Yo Momma.

Your Momma is embarrassed enough by your antics without you dragging her into this. And if she could hold her own in the front row in the white house press gallery - how come you turned out the way you did? Dude, your best gig was Hard Copy - it's been downhill ever since. I mean, from a journalistic perspective. The fact that you and your show is not a constant, burning humiliation to the people in charge of Fox News, in all aspects, simply shows how little they care about the people they exploit - which would include both their listeners and their employees.

There's no better illustration of that amoral calculus than the fact that you still have a job, loofa boy. Trust me on this, Bill-O; they don't employ you because they respect you; not one whisker more than they respect the poor saps that produce, direct and light your show while enduring your innuendos. The fact that you are permitted to still work following your serial public sexual embarrassments demonstrates a systemic lack of respect for anything but ratings, by whatever means.

You will be on the air just so long as it is still illegal to show convicts being raped to death by donkeys - as was the amusing practice of the Roman Colosseum shows - shows that pandered to the exact same demographic of unwashed, uneducated pinheads as you do. When Running Man was made - I'm absofuckinglutely sure that you were an inspiration to everyone involved.

You have always appealed to that sort of mindset, and in rude point of fact, that means that you have equal or less value to Fox News than a literal donkey dick. If they could replace you that way - they would. In a heartbeat. Nor would it trouble their consciences in the slightest. Their sociopathy is evident enough in the fact that they employ not just you, but many examples of persons no better and even less skilled.

It's also why you so deeply fear the return of the fairness doctrine - because you would be getting your asshole kicked up around your ears by the "other side" every single day. And I'm not speaking of persons of the stature of Noam Chomsky. You get owned by anyone who has a good opinion of themselves and a mike you haven't switched off yet.

Media Matters - whom you hate with a blind passion - need only archive your own words to prove that this is by no means an isolated lapse on your part. Sad to say, it's not even the most profound lapse, in a journalistic sense. They focus on your deliberate lies, things that are provably false to fact, as opposed to the oozing, palpable, sneering contempt for competence in any form; feeling that in the final analysis, malicious lies are of more significance than mere stupidity.

Your standard response to being busted for falsehoods is also documented. You just repeat it - louder. While whining about being picked on by "liberals." Bill, you are not only an embarrassment to journalists and editorialists of honor and stature - you even manage to be offensive by the standards of professional liars. Ask around. Use the grapevine. See if you can find out what Tony Snow really thinks of you. Even for such a polished prevaricator as the Snowman, it might be difficult for him to come up with a semblance of sincerity while uttering a complement. And I question the likelihood that he'd consider you significant enough to bother lying for.

The standards that permit you to flourish like black mold around the base of a badly installed toilet has caused people to confuse "liberalism" with "People who know what the hell they are talking about" and/or "People who don't lie to me."

Not being a Liberal, I find this somewhat troubling. But it HAS done wonders for Barack Obama in particular, and truth-tellers in general.

So, I say, turning my back on Bill and speaking to the gallery - what have we learned from this?

I have learned, once again, that anyone or anything that Bill O'Rielly thinks is bad is worth having a look at and than anything Bill hates and fears is quite likely worth doing. Twice.

Further, I've learned that anyone that makes Bill O's tiny penis shrink on air to the point where he has to mock and ridicule probably has a book that's well worth reading. And that's the best possible response to this public dissing of Helen Thomas - put her book on the best-seller list. And be sure to tell everyone why.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Breaking News! Senators Did their Jobs

There's an aphorism about politics that I haven't seen cited often the last few decades in regard to Politics, Umurikin Style; that "politics is the art of compromise." That's a trend that I've seen mirrored in Canadian politics. Well, whether it was in regard to the "fierce urgency of now" as communicated by Obama's televised ass-kicking, or whether it was due to the overwhelming lack of support for Republican threats to have a temper tantrum and hold their breath until they turned blue - nonetheless, apparently sanity prevailed, and the Senate passed the Stimulus bill.

That is to say, they did their job in a timely manner, after properly debating the issues. Well, they debated the issues as they saw them; what snippets I've seen showed me that our leadership doesn't have much of a grasp of economics. Much of the Republican rhetoric reminded me of the late and unlamented William Proxmyer - I honestly don't know which party he belonged to - who made his career on ridiculing programs he did not understand, and pretending to not understand programs he didn't like.

Of course, there's stupid things to be found in any budget - but the bleating often was about things that actually made some sense, if you believe that government has a proper role in society, in regards to investigation and regulation. For instance, some idiot was wittering on about the horror of giving the Social Security Administration money for new computers. Well, you know, it's getting hard to find Cobol programmers these days, and they just don't make parts for those keypunch machines any more.

Yep, I just ridiculed the critic with about the same information level as the senator in question. It's pretty easy. OTOH, he has a staff and gets paid a couple hundred thousand a year to have a duly deliberated viewpoint. I'm a blogger sitting in my living room. I don't feel that he should be living up to the standards generally expected of "Pajamas Media" bloggers.

Anyway, sanity prevailed, without a complete split along partisan lines. Perhaps it was due to the loud hint that if they got with the program, the economy might rebound in time for the 2010 elections. Perhaps it was due to howls of outrage communicated by phone, email, fax and paper to republicans threatening to obstruct the bill. If so, it only penetrated three skulls - but that was enough, and what are elections for.

But I was struck by the "breaking news" that Congress had done it's job.

Meanwhile, like the first tender shoots of spring, like the rays of a new dawn, I'm starting to notice Liberals and Progressives actually speaking Liberally and Progressively. In other words, they are now able to start advocating the batshit things that they want to see, as opposed to pointing out the bullshit we have all been wading through.

William Kunstler
has been reliable and adept at pointing out the wrongs of neoconservatism and the evils of predatory supply side, trickle down, unregulated kleptocracy. But his visions of positive change do not comfort me, or strike me as being (thank god) particularly likely.

If this nation wants to survive without an intense political convulsion, there's a lot we can do, but none of it is being voiced in any corner of Washington at this time. We have to get off of petro-agriculture and grow our food locally, at a smaller scale, with more people working on it and fewer machines. This is an enormous project, which implies change in everything from property allocation to farming methods to new social relations. But if we don't focus on it right away, a lot of Americans will end up starving, and rather soon. We have to rebuild the railroad system in the US, and electrify it, and make it every bit as good as the system we once had that was the envy of the world. If we don't get started on this right away, we're screwed. We will have tremendous trouble moving people and goods around this continent-sized nation. We have to reactivate our small towns and cities because the metroplexes are going to fail at their current scale of operation. We have to prepare for manufacturing at a much smaller (and local) scale than the scale represented by General Motors.
Actually - I should temper this with a loud caveat; I'm making the assumption here that he sees this return to Mayberry as being an inherent good, and sees no potential issues with people being forced of necessity to live in contained, localized political units, where they must go along to get along.

I've noticed that the main difference between conservatives and liberals in terms of public and social policy is what parts of my life they wish to interfere with, what particular liberties they wish to restrict; nobody speaks for the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, we could trust people to mind their own business for the most part, on the stunningly obvious basis of fact - mostly they do, and mostly they manage well enough.

They tend to manage better when mechanisms and resources exist with the aim of helping people make better choices, they tend to manage a lot less well when politics interferes with natural rights and common sense - the War on Drugs and the proliferation of private prisons speaks volumes about that. In other words, we have enslaved a vast number of human beings for reasons that strike me, and many others, as extremely dubious, and at horrendous price to the taxpayer in terms of economic impact and in terms of coarsening our culture.

We DO need to encourage all of the things Kunstler advocates. But we cannot afford to simply accept that the necessity for a new system of economics mandates a socialist form of authoritarianism to replace the current crop of self-anointed authorities.

We need to embrace and encourage the ideal of individual responsiblity. And by that, I mean, equipping people while they are very young to be able to think for themselves. Without that, the idea of "individual responsibility" is simply code for "you are responsible for doing what I tell you to do," the sense in which we have become accustomed to hearing it.

But in fact and in practice, while all the above Kunstler refers to will come about, they will come about as much from preference as of necessity. Just as no-body likes being forced to stay in one place, neither do they particularly long to be forced to commute. Further, there are technical solutions coming down the pike which will add MORE choices to our lives - not fewer choices.

You see, I prefer sourcing Leftist thinkers for their ability to see and articulate what is wrong with a status quo, and to an extent, trust them to point out a sheaf of choices. But it's wise to remember that the Lefts and Rights have an overriding common faith in their own suitability to tell people what to do, they tend to be Authoritarians to one degree or another; President Obama being no exception to that.

I'm an anti-authoritarian, politically. I call myself a "libertarian," but my primary issues are ethics and authority abuse. I hope for and see a future in which the necessity for authoritarian structures is reduced - simply one of many viable ways of organizing like-minded people in tasks of common value.

What I see is the obvious necessity and inevitability of political and social structure decentralizing itself - as Koestler seems to be implying - but also becoming even more connective. In other words, a world in which small groups of people are connected robustly into a vast, world wide web.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lesbian Sues Hospital Over Denied Access To Dying Partner

As her partner of 17 years slipped into a coma, Janice Langbehn pleaded with staff to let her into the woman's hospital room. Despite legal proof of guardianship and "power of attorney," Langbehn and the couple's three adopted children were not recognized as family and denied access until eight hours later -- just as the last rites were performed.

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A Graphictruth via Crooks and Liars

Click to read the fine print! Fully credited to "Original Col Kilgore" who comments in response to Yet Another Republican Pedophelia Scandal:

"I have always said that Republicans talking about honor and fiscal responsibility is like Ted Bundy talking about foreplay."

Oddly, Ted Bundy WAS a Republican.

Here's the Zazzle page -I drew the illustration to the right from it. Click to read the fine print.

This is my response to the people already flooding the comments thread at C&L to minimize it with the usual "few bad apples" meme.

Haven't we seen this before, in another hierarchical, moralistic, doctrinaire and now nearly irrelevant organization called Catholicism? Hell, I've gotten OLD watching that slow-motion train-wreck!

Crooks, liars, perps and confidence men ALWAYS gravitate to organizations that stress the appearance of propriety - because when appearance becomes confused with performance, they have free rein to do as they wish. And in doing so, they undermine, drive out and sabotage those who would actually live up to the ideals of that organization - those who do not simply leave in disgust.

There are many people who would be quite happy being called a Republican if there was any real connection between semblance and substance but clearly, that's not true, and it's not true on every level from raw personal perpishness to grand political strategy.

People who do things like this perp did do them because they are confident they can get away with it. Why are they so confident? Because they have gotten away with many other things for a very long time as an integral part of the process of getting to where they are. They have helped other crooks and perps cover up messes and feel they are owed. One hand washes the other. Men of the world understand how these things work, don't you know.

Yes, they work by means of obstruction of justice, in furtherance of a conspiracy. Sad to say, not only has the Republican Party prospered by means of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, it doesn't even seem to have collectively enough brains to realize that a conspiracy has to remain covert to succeed. When a story about the obvious political interference in a pedophilia problem by the US Atty. General hits World Net Daily, Raw Story AND Prison Planet and then VANISHES from mainstream news, not only is there an obviously rotting elephant in the room, it's become liquid in it purification.

Of course, we must ask why. The answer must, of course, be somewhat speculative, but some reactions are very revealing. I point to the front page of "Armchair Subversive" - a site that takes great glee in listing the perps figuring in significant Republican Scandals.

And what is a typical, Middle-American reaction? It's to be found at the bottom of that page.
"HATE MAIL:"Maybe you have no control over where they post your political bullshit but I wish they wouldn't post it on google when my 11 year old daughter is just trying to find ideas for her 12th birthday party. I am sure there are plenty of liberal fucks out there molesting children also!!!!!!! Post it where it matters in the trash!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you, a concerned mother"

Of all the logical failings of social conservatives, "shooting the messenger" seems to be the most widespread.

Now, one could argue that it's unattributed and might even be fabricated. One could and should consider the source. But the counter argument would be; does this response sound at all unusual? Sadly, it's a rather common sort of response, examples of it are already flooding into this thread and infest any attempt on any significant site to raise awareness of systemic abuses. As an exemplar, it speaks directly to the problem in exactly the way most others do - which is an attempt to preserve the appearance of morality and propriety at the expense of justice for those victimized by those hiding behind it's tattered facade.

If Social Conservatives who seem to be all that remain of public republicanism spent a tenth of the effort they invest in denial into due diligence and self policing, the Republican party and social conservatism might deserve a shred of respect, might have a trace of credibility.

But, to cite the name of yet another famous blog: Sadly, No.

Well, when corruption becomes something that can be assumed, taken for granted, when law enforcement is conspicuously conditional upon party affiliation, no matter how utterly repugnant the crime might be - how can anyone expect respect for the law? How do we raise the next generation to respect laws and lawmakers if it's laughable to point to the ones in power and the laws they pass and selectively enforce as proofs of concept?

That's one of them rhetorical questions.
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Fools vs Food Stamps

You may have seen this chart; I found it referenced at Econbrowser,
where you will find it discussed at a level I cannot begin to approach.

Chart from Excerpts of comments by Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's, testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business on July 24, 2008.

The problem with this chart is not it's questions of fact; it's the social implications; that the best way to create immediate economic stimulus is to increase food stamps. Cranial detonations occur wherever this data is presented, all echoing the odious reganite "welfare queen" meme.

Here's one such comment:

I am amused and amazed that anyone actually still believes this stuff. If the government gives a dollar (food stamps) to a homeless person holding a sign saying, "Will work for food" it will save our economy because he will go buy wine (with his now disposable income) and everyone will be better off.
But where did that dollar come from? The homeless person is supported in his homelessness and will go sleep under a tree rather than getting a job taking out someone's trash, so have we increased productivity? That dollar and all of the other dollars given the same way are taken from those who actually produce. So what this does is reduce production on both sides of the transaction. The multiplier actually multiplies waste and malinvestment.
The whole idea of a multiplier is fraught with inefficiency. A portion of consumption goes to inflation, a portion goes to waste, and in the end the whole economy is pushed into disequilibrium and must expend capital to overcome the distortions.
When I was in grad school none of this made sense but I could not articulate why. The interesting thing is that neither could my teacher. His assumptions were so great as to be foolish. I passed the class by regurgitating what I was fed but only later did I understand that this kind of foolishness is what contributed to the unemployment of the Great Depression.
As is so often the problem the assumption is that government spending is magic so any deeper analysis is unnecessary.
Welcome back to the past.
Posted by: DickF at October 28, 2008 05:06 AM
Now, I could obviously and easily attack the fundamental assumptions about the roots of poverty and the reasons for homelessness. One of the virtues of living in a welfare state - which Canada is, to a degree - is seeing to what degree such assumptions have in terms of predictive value. The answer is - "more than a socialist would expect" and "far less than a Reganite would insist."

But in point of fact, while it's wise to consider the net social impact of spending dollars for stimulus and target them as effectively as possible to leverage improvements and an expansion of the tax base that will make it possible to pay off the inevitable debt, the immediate response to DickF is this: "Who cares?"

I happen to believe that DickF is wrong in general about the poor and homeless. The poor and homeless I have known have been disadvantaged, unlucky, addicted in many cases, but in general, not absolutely stupid and useless. But even if they are and do immediately blow their food stamps on brie and boxed wine - we don't care. Whether they spend it wisely or foolishly has absolutely no effect whatsoever in the area of our concern. And frankly, it would probably be better to simply give money. The food stamp program has tremendous overheads designed to "prevent fraud and waste." If they are in keeping with most other US welfare programs, the overhead waste is actually far higher than the level of fraud and the potential recovery would justify. And remember - to a certain extent, we don't actually CARE if there is a degree of fraud, so long as that fraud accomplishes what the honest program would have.

So I'd reform "welfare reform." I would look at the poor as means to inject capital directly into the areas that need it most, using the velocity of money to kickstart the economies that cannot currently support higher levels of employment.

I suggest that the experiences and records of countries that do have robust social safety nets would tend to underscore how well this approach works - and that the results are all the more important to consider because they do not actually support socialist or progressive presumptions all that well, either.

The reason this approach does work and actually works rather well is that it advantages human nature and starts the money out at maximum velocity - each dollar makes several transactions possible before it gets stuck into a bank or an investment vehicle.

This leads me to think about ways in which the effect could be broadened and intelligence as well as necessity applied. For instance - what about giving everyone a small sum every month (replacing welfare entirely) and then clawing it back at the end of the year - with some form of competition/prize involved for maximizing return on investment, social impact, or whatever you wish? The vast majority of people would see this as mad-money. Some would donate it to charity - and that would zero it from their taxes. Some would invest it - in which case, taxes vary, depending. Some would use it to invest in small green firms that the Fed is unlikely to know about. That could be the most important effect - and it's worth thinking about it.

You see, the most important resource of a nation is it's people. Getting them to work towards a common goal is the sine qua non of leadership. Then there's the dimension of morale.

Unfortunately, the vicious feelings about the poor are well represented in congress and government, so I doubt anything sensible will occur.


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