The Republican Party’s con game

Last Friday, I said that the problem with the Democratic Party’s base is that they are too willing to accept at face value the statements of their party leaders and too quick to be satisfied with crumbs thrown their way in the form of victories on social or symbolic issues.

What is going on with the Republicans is more interesting than what is going on with the Democrats because the Republican base has become more feisty and less trusting of their own leadership and are showing signs of developing a healthy cynicism. The tea party rebellion was the result of the Republican Party faithful waking up to the fact that their own leadership was also manipulating them to advance an agenda that was not in their own interests. For a long time, the Republican Party leadership has managed to fool their followers in the same way that the Democrats do but their followers seem to have wised up earlier.
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God will not protect you from measles but vaccination will

Following up on the post about the fraudulent study about how the MMR vaccine may cause autism, I came across this sad report of 70 children dying of measles in Zimbabwe. They were part of a religious community that shunned vaccines because “it contradicts their belief in supernatural powers.”

The story illustrates what a deadly threat measles is, and how its threat escalates rapidly as the proportion of unvaccinated people in a population increases.

Arizona shooting

As the story of the tragic events in Arizona unfold, it is good to bear in mind that the immediate reports of events like this are often confused and contradictory and full of uniformed and misleading speculation about what actually happened and who did what and why.

It is best to suspend judgement for at least a few days until it becomes clear what the facts of the case are, based on the statements of people who are usually reliable sources (hospitals, local police officers, actual witnesses of events).

Our banking overlords get a rare setback

Recall all the speculation in housing that resulted in the crash that is currently causing large numbers of people to be foreclosed upon? That was due to mortgages being bundled together into huge slabs, sliced into small packages that were called SIVs (Structured or Special Investment Vehicles) and then traded like stock. (I did a series of posts explaining this debacle back in 2008 and the specific ones that dealt with this topic are #7 and #8.)

The result of this practice was that ownership of mortgages was diversified and it became unclear as to who the actual owner of any given property was, which enabled them to deny any responsibility for the upkeep of abandoned property as required by local ordinances. The blight on neighborhoods caused by this evasiveness was so bad that a Cleveland housing court judge got fed up and started levying penalties on whichever entity he could hold responsible.

But when it comes to selling off properties, the banks are not shy of claiming ownership. It turns out that banks, the very organizations that were instrumental in the crash, are now foreclosing on, and selling off, people’s property without proper documentation showing that they own the property. They decided they could just manufacture documents to show ownership.

Last fall, the banking industry’s foreclosure machine came under intense scrutiny with revelations that low-level employees called “robo signers” powered through hundreds of foreclosure affidavits a day without verifying a single sentence. At the time, analysts warned that the banks’ allegedly fraudulent document procedures could imperil their ability to prove that they owned the mortgages.

The Massachusetts State Supreme Court on Friday upheld a housing court judge’s ruling in that state that ordered a halt to two foreclosures unless the banks can properly documented their ownership. The history of that case can be read here.

To you and me, this would seem a perfectly reasonable requirement: you should not be able to sell something that you cannot prove that you own. But we live in a country in which banks have got used to thinking that normal rules don’t apply to them and these perfectly reasonable court rulings are being greeted with shock by the banking sector.

If this ruling is repeated in other states I wonder how long will it be before the banks demand of the Congressional and presidential clients that they pass special measures exempting them from the tedious business of carefully maintaining records that prove ownership?

The tide goes in, the tide goes out, so god exists

Watch the expression on the face of David Silverman (of the American Atheists) when Bill O’Reilly gives his argument for god’s existence.

Steven Colbert shows that O’Reilly seems to be very fond of this argument.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson oversimplifies his explanation for the tides by suggesting that it is entirely due to the moon’s gravitational pull that changes direction as the Earth rotates. That would explain only one ebb and flow a day. The effects of both the Sun and the moon are required to create the two daily tides.

Does O’Reilly really not know that we understand tides so well and that it is not an inexplicable mystery that requires god? Or is he, like some religious people, simply going through the motions of trying to find things to buttress a belief that he suspects deep down is insupportable, because is too scared to go against prevailing orthodoxy?

Pointless dedication

Take a look at this passage below and see if you notice anything unusual about it.

Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion; a man with boys and girls of his own; a man of so dominating and happy individuality that Youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl. It is a story about a small town. It is not a gossipy yarn; nor is it a dry, monotonous account, full of such customary “fill-ins” as “romantic moonlight casting murky shadows down a long, winding country road.” Nor will it say anything about tinklings lulling distant folds ; robins carolling at twilight, nor any “warm glow of lamplight” from a cabin window. No. It is an account of up-and-doing activity; a vivid portrayal of Youth as it is today; and a practical discarding of that worn out notion that “a child don’t know anything.”

Not notice anything, other than the author’s love affair with quotation marks? That is not a surprise because it is quite subtle. What is noteworthy is that passage does not contain the letter ‘E’ even though in normal English that letter is the most frequently used and occurs roughly 13% of the time. The above paragraph is taken from the 267-page 1939 novel Gadsby written by Ernest Vincent Wright where he avoided that letter entirely.

Such letter avoidance is not that unusual apparently. John R. Pierce in his book An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals, and Noise (1980, p. 48) gives other examples.

Gottlob Burmann, a German poet who lived from 1737 to 1805, wrote 130 poems, including a total of 20,000 words, without once its using the letter R. Further, during the last seventeen years of his or life, Burmann even omitted the letter from his daily conversation.

In each of five stories published by Alonso Alcala y Herrera in Lisbon in 1641 a different vowel was suppressed. Francisco Navarrete y Ribera (1659), Fernando Jacinto de Zurita y Haro (1654), and Manuel Lorenzo de Lizarazu y Berbuizana (1654) provided other examples.

When I read about such people, I have a reaction that wavers between admiration at the dedication and the single-mindedness that such acts require, and bemusement at the sheer pointlessness of it all. Since we knew in advance, in principle, that what they did could be done, there seems to be no reason to do these kinds of things other than to show that there exists someone somewhere willing to spend the time and effort to do it. The Guinness Book of Records seems to consist of a lot of items like this, making it a repository of human pointless dedication.

Government and media sleight-of-hand

Blog reader Mark made a good catch and sent me a link to this Reuters news report about a CIA official arrested for passing secrets to a New York Times reporter. The report says:

The arrest marked the latest case brought by the Obama administration charging current or former U.S. officials with leaking classified information to the news media.

It also has been investigating the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, for leaking hundreds of classified U.S. diplomatic cables that have embarrassed the White House.

Mark noticed the sleight-of-hand by the government and the Reuters reporter, observing that, “Neither the Times or the reporters are being prosecuted for leaking information. Then it compares Julian Assange to the leakers and why the government is seeking him. But they are so wrong. Julian is not the leaker he is the equivalent to the reporter or the Times.”

Exactly.

The Democratic Party’s con game

My social circle tends to be people who call themselves liberal and vote Democratic. Whenever we discuss politics, I am always struck by how their sources of information are restricted to the mainstream media and how much they reflect the thinking of the commentators in them. Their idea of a ‘liberal’ is someone like Thomas Friedman and someone on the ‘far left’ is Keith Olberman. They will proudly say that they subscribe to the New York Times and will express contempt for Fox News and its stable of propagandists. These are taken as signs of their impeccable liberal credentials,
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