Bachmann Gets Spain Wrong

Representative Michele Bachmann has herself a new friendly outlet for her views. The Washington News Observer has taken for its mission:


to provide fair coverage of news through broadcast quality sound bites, interviews, and event coverage

If you look at what they’re doing, this means providing footage of smiling Republicans and awkward Democrats to news outlets. They’re not very professional yet, as you can see in this clip. It’s terribly cute to watch the young “interviewer” try to keep the mike close enough to Bachmann while staying out of the picture.

Now, it’s obvious that Bachmann had the warning to prepare for her camera time. It’s a true pity, though, that she didn’t use that time to study.

After a decade in which per capita income doubled – and household debt tripled – the Spanish economic fiesta is well and truly over. More than 40,000 workers are losing their jobs each week, a far higher rate than elsewhere in Europe. Unemployment is at 2.99 million, a 12-year record of 12.8 per cent of the workforce and the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone. [...]

And underpinning it all is the Spanish construction industry, which accounts for 9 per cent of GDP. It has collapsed. After those years of boom, more than 150 property companies have gone bust so far this year, going into administration as debts mounted and they were unable to pay back creditors. [...]

Even when Spain begins to emerge from the crisis, deep problems will remain. Productivity grew by an average of only 0.3 per cent a year between 1990 and 1997, according to figures from the Oorganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It estimated that between 1998 and 2006, total productivity fell by 0.2 per cent annually.

There are more than one million unsold new homes – enough for four to five years of sales at current levels – and bad loans that could triple to 9 per cent of outstanding debt by 2010, according to Credit Suisse.

Education levels are consistently low. One in three secondary pupils drops out. There has also been a brain-drain as the most talented Spaniards seek higher-paying jobs abroad.

Yes, Spain is seeing record unemployment. Why? For exactly the same reasons that the American economy is in trouble: consumer debt leading to a housing collapse, economic growth that wasn’t based on production, and poor education stifling innovation.

So what about the rest of Bachmann’s figures? They come from one widely touted study by Gabriel Calzada Alverez. They are alarming heard on their own. They become somewhat less impressive when Media Matters puts them in context.

She did not note that Calzada is reportedly a founding member of the Prague Network, which, according to Radio Prague, is “an international grouping of institutions aimed at countering panic connected with global warming,” or that Calzada is reportedly a fellow at the Centre for the New Europe, an organization that has reportedly received funding from ExxonMobil.

This isn’t your average peer-reviewed academic study. It’s a document put out by someone active in global warming denialism. Of course, that’s not as important as the fact that it contradicts the results seen elsewhere.

Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the Solar Industry Energies Association, said that 440,000 permanent jobs have been created in the U.S. as a result of expansion of the industry.

“This study has not been peer reviewed,” she said. “So I can’t comment on the veracity of it. But what we’ve seen is incredible – we’ve created 24.3 new jobs for every megawatt installed.”

A September 2008 study by independent consultant Navigant shows that jobs would be created if Congress extended the solar tax credits. Lawmakers agreed to extend the credits, investing $2.5 billion in the industry during the next 10 years.

Most telling, though, is the fact that while Fox News has been busy pushing the Calzada study, News Corporation is pursuing green initiatives of their own.

News Corporation has launched an initiative to reduce the carbon impact of its operations and become carbon-neutral by 2010, an effort involving more than 60,000 employees that also reaches out to the company’s readers, viewers and Web users around the world. The company opened up a dialogue with the DVD industry that eliminated 20,000 tons of carbon emissions and turned out to be cost-neutral.

When even they disagree with you, Michele, it’s time to rethink.

A Child’s Choice

Daniel, one of eight children, has asserted that treatment would violate his religious beliefs. The teenager filed an affidavit saying that he is a medicine man and church elder in the Nemenhah, an American Indian religious organization that his parents joined 18 years ago (though they don’t claim to be Indians).

“I am opposed to chemotherapy because it is self-destructive and poisonous,” he told the court. “I want to live a virtuous life, in the eyes of my creator, not just a long life.” He also filed a “spiritual path declaration” that said: “I am a medicine man. Some times we teach, and some times we perform. Now, I am doing both. I will lead by example.”

Right. May I remind you that he’s thirteen? This is the point in life when kids tell you they want to grow up to be professional wrestlers, when their best friends are determined by age and physical proximity instead of any real affinity, when they may or may not be old enough to be left alone for long stretches without a babysitter. We don’t let thirteen-year-olds drink, vote or drive. We don’t even let them set their own bedtime on school nights.

Why is anyone asking this child his opinion of decisions that will affect his health, much less his life expectancy?

I have a post up at Quiche Moraine discussing why a local thirteen-year-old boy is not competent to decide whether to substitute “alternative healing practices” for his chemotherapy and radiation. There’s already some substantive disagreement in the comments. Feel free to weigh in.

Rattle My Bones

According to Twitter and the blog, Dr. Isis is burning the candle at both ends again. Here’s a little tunage I’ve been saving for her for just such an occasion. The Suburbs are a Twin Cities band that had their heyday in the eighties. Whether you’ve ever heard of them outside Minnesota completely depends on how “indy” a radio station you listened to.

Dr. Isis, hopefully this will keep your morning shaking, sleep or no sleep.

Rattle My Bones

The floor starts to shake. The blood starts to boil and the bones start to break.

A Little Too Alive

Rick pointed me at this video, a hand-cranked automaton of the “Don’t tase me, bro” guy. I expected it to be funny. It almost was–the first time. After that, it just got more disturbing. Seeing how the gears work made it even more so.

The artist, Jon Haddock, seems to specialize in rendering violence (including metaphoric violence, like his sculpture of the 107th Congress voting for the Patriot Act) in cartoonish ways. Some of his work actually is cartoons. Some of it just simplified, isolated in time or with pieces missing. Somehow, though, the extra work required to fully understand what you’re seeing just makes it worse.

This video of another automaton, titled Testimony of Sgt. Cortez (This Kind of Monster), is a case in point. It begins with watching a set of noise-makers. You never see what makes the noise. Only the perpetrators of the crime are ever seen. The victims are not. It doesn’t help.

Bachmann Gloats…and Slimes

One of the joys of being on Twitter is being able to do things like follow Michele Bachmann. (Yes, I really do follow her. No, not for the joy. So you don’t have to.) I get to find out where she’ll be making her public appearances and characteristically wrong statements. I also get to find out when she’s posted something new to her blog at Townhall.

Today, it’s about the charges against ACORN.

My amendment would keep organizations that are under indictment for voter fraud or other criminal activities, or that employ people indicted for such crimes, from accessing billions of your tax dollars. Groups such as ACORN are repeatedly charged with violating the law and the public trust, yet they continue to access taxpayer funds. The threshold for gaining taxpayer funding should not be so low.

Interestingly, the Associated Press reported Monday that Nevada authorities filed criminal charges against ACORN and two former employees for voter registration fraud.

This is fascinating in that it both gets things more right than Bachmann usually does (not that she writes her own blog) and is stupendously misleading at the same time. Note that in the top paragraph, she refers to “voter fraud,” and in the bottom, it’s “voter registration fraud.” Adam Serwer at Tapped explains why the difference is important.

Interestingly enough, included in Miller’s statement is an explanation that registration fraud, which includes filling out registration forms with false names is distinct from voter fraud, in which individuals cast fraudulent ballots.

It’s important to keep in mind that this was a case of registration fraud, not voter fraud. … The investigation and subsequent charges that have now been filed demonstrate the effectiveness of the safeguards in our system designed to prevent voter fraud. I’ve been clear from the outset of my administration that we would be aggressive in our pursuit and prosecution of any fraudulent activity that might threaten the integrity of our electoral process. This investigation is the direct result of our aggressive response to those safeguards.

That’s the Nevada Secretary of State making it clear that ACORN has been charged under a state statute about paying incentives for registering a targeted number of voters. The distinction is even more clear in the NY Times article on the charges.

So Bachmann can make the distinction. Unexpected, but so what? Well, the fact that she can tell the difference makes her reference to her amendment rather slimy. This is the amendment she offered to the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, and if she knows the difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud, why does she think her amendment will have anything to do with ACORN?

(e) Limitation on Distribution of Assistance-

(1) IN GENERAL- None of the amounts made available under this section shall be distributed to–

(A) any organization which has been indicted for a violation under Federal law relating to an election for Federal office; or

(B) any organization which employs applicable individuals.

(2) DEFINITION OF APPLICABLE INDIVIDUAL- In this subparagraph, the term ‘applicable individual’ means an individual who–

(A) is–

(i) employed by the organization in a permanent or temporary capacity;

(ii) contracted or retained by the organization; or

(iii) acting on behalf of, or with the express or apparent authority of, the organization; and

(B) has been indicted for a violation under Federal law relating to an election for Federal office.

The emphasis is mine. Bachmann’s amendment has absolutely nothing to say about the situation ACORN finds itself in, and her blog post contains all the information she requires to know that’s true. So why isn’t she pointing that out to anyone?

As an aside, just a couple of quick notes about the charges. Ben Smith at Politico has this statement from an ACORN spokesperson.

This recent attack by the Nevada Secretary of State and Attorney General is the latest in an ongoing assault designed to blame the victim and prioritize media grandstanding above the pursuit of justice.

From the time ACORN first suspected that some of its employees had tried to defraud ACORN by turning in bogus forms, ACORN repeatedly called its suspicions to the attention of election officials and requested that they investigate immediately.

Our policy all along has been to pay workers at an hourly rate and to not pay employees based on any bonus or incentive program. When it was discovered that an employee was offering bonuses linked to superior performance, that employee was ordered to stop immediately.

It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State can’t distinguish the victim from the villain.

This is consistent with what ACORN said about the raids in Nevada in November. It’s also consistent with what they said about situations in other states before the elections. None of those other situations led to charges against ACORN, or they would be included here.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. In the meantime, be aware of the sources of your news. Media Matters has documented a strong history of conservative news sites repeating lies about ACORN. That’s to be expected, yes, but if you look at their report, you’ll see those lies sometimes make their way into more mainstream markets.

Whatever you do, don’t believe Michele Bachmann.

M Is for…

It’s May, which means it’s margarita time again. I’m finishing off the first batch of spring. Kelly‘s included them in the final WebMage book (sorry, not for general readership until May 2010). Scribbler is prescribing. Greg keeps mentioning them. They’re everywhere, so it hardly seems fair to keep them to myself.

So, if you want your Perfect Margaritas, here‘s the place to go. Just promise me you’ll be careful with them. Please.

Exactly Wrong

I’m always fascinated by how “common sense” works. All too often, the first part (“common”) is presumed to imply the second (“sense”) when it does no such thing. I came across a great example today.

I was having brunch with Greg and Ben after today’s radio show, when Greg mentioned someone he’d recently heard go off on an anti-open source rant. “If I have a problem, I want the person helping me to be someone I’m paying, not some bunch of teen-aged geeks–“

“What?!?” I cut Greg off. I don’t do that to people often. Really. I did not actually put my face in my hands, but I was tempted.

Okay, here’s the problem. This guy, I’ll call him ClueBoy, was assuming that he’d get better service from the paid person than from the enthusiast because money would be a reward. That puts us in the realm of operant conditioning, a field about which most people know just enough to make psychologists cringe:

Behavior + Reward = Increased Behavior

Well, kind of. It is, like most things, a bit more complex than that. Some of those complications involve the kinds of behavior it’s possible to shape through operant conditioning. Others involve the effects of reinforcement on behavior that isn’t being reinforced. That’s where this guy’s “common sense” failed him.

Money as a reward is interesting. First–and least relevant to this discussion–it’s not rewarding in itself, but is a proxy for other rewards. Second, it’s incredibly difficult to structure pay schedules in such a way that they correspond with effective reward schedules for desired behavior. In fact, in the case of piece work, it’s illegal under a lot of circumstances (think minimum wage laws). There are big careers and consultancies built out of trying to solve this problem.

So, in the case of your average tech support geek, let’s look at how money really functions as a reward. In fact, let’s take two geeks, both of whom are good at and really enjoy solving tech problems. GeekA gets himself a job for, say, Dell and starts getting paid for tech support. GeekB goes to work managing a server farm in corporate obscurity, but she checks in on the forums while she waits for processes to run at work. Neither one is all that challenged by the job.

GeekA, at the beginning of his new job, gets an extra reward, in the form of a paycheck, for this task he already loves to do. W00t! He gets more helpful. If ClueBoy calls him for help right now, he gets everything he thinks he should from the transaction–money-motivated super service. It takes a little time, but ClueBoy’s truly obscure problem gets tracked down and eradicated. Stomped flat.

Then GeekA has a little talk with his supervisor. That extra time it took to help ClueBoy? Yeah, that didn’t help GeekA’s productivity. It turns out that GeekA isn’t really being paid to help people like ClueBoy. His incentives are all structured to reward volume of work tickets closed. The money rewards ending transactions, not fixing difficult problems. GeekA’s helpful behavior drops.

But it gets better.

There’s a lovely little paradox that’s been demonstrated in operant conditioning, called a negative contrast effect. In short, adding an extrinsic reward for a behavior that a subject already finds intrinsically rewarding lessens the effect of the intrinsic reward. In terms of our scenario, this means that when it is made clear to GeekA that he’s not being paid to solve problems, his problem-solving behavior doesn’t just drop to pre-job levels. He actually gets less helpful than he was before he got paid.

If ClueBoy comes along now, what does he get? Let’s just say it’s not what he thinks he’s paying for.

GeekB, on the other hand, never gets money for her problem-solving. The currency of a forum is recognition and appreciation. Considering that she gets very little of that at work, much less the opportunity to indulge in problem-solving in the company’s conservative setup, that’s extremely rewarding. Assuming that ClueBoy doesn’t patronize her for her unpaid status, she’s going to be very motivated to find him a fix.

ClueBoy and his “common sense” had this one exactly backward. Then again, what do you expect from someone who really believes that cost equals value?

Atheists Talk–Genie Scott

Genie Scott, National Center for Science Education
Atheists Talk #0068, Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lynn Fellman will be quizzing anthropologists Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education and Greg Laden of the University of Minnesota on the subject of creationist attempts to weaken science education in K-12 education. Dr. Scott testified before the Texas State Board of Education as the board was considering how to rewrite the science standards. Texas is critical because of the number of pupils. Textbook publishers write their books to fit with the Texas standards, and if evolution is weakened at the whim of Texas creationists, it affects education in the rest of the states. Dr. Laden has been watching development of the Math and Science Standards for Minnesota and will provide some updates.

Greg and Genie will also be discussing the various approaches to religion in promoting and protecting science education. The NCSE is careful to assure religious leaders that science, properly done, is not necessarily dangerous to their faith (unless strict creationism is a cornerstone of their faith.) Many atheist scientists think that this is a dangerous approach because it dilutes science’s naturalistic methodology. They will discuss what the best approach may be, whether it is “New Atheism” or “Friendly Atheism.

“Atheists Talk” is produced by The Minnesota Atheists. Mike Haubrich, Director. Stephanie Zvan, Host.

Eugenie Scott

Greg Laden

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Listen to AM 950 KTNF on Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call the studio at 952-946-6205 or email us at [email protected].