Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lucky we live Maui

Since I live in Maui, where weather forecasts have only slight utility and I don't often look at them, I was unaware until today (hat tip: Little Green Footballs) that there are malicious weather sites that, apparently, bamboozle and frighten the bejabbers out of millions of people.

Why? The story does not really explain why, although the subject running the hoaxes seems to share a number of characteristics with sovereign citizen and Tea Party types.

Nut graf:

 False weather forecasts do real harm to the public as they degrade trust in trained meteorologists who produce valid, accurate forecasts. When the public sees a hoax about a major hurricane or catastrophic blizzard that doesn't exist, the vast majority of readers don't think to corroborate it with other sources and check the validity of the article in question. They take the hoax for face value, blame real meteorologists when it doesn't pan out, and their trust in scientific forecasts drops. Kevin Martin is at the forefront of the hoaxer movement, and his actions are single-handedly responsible for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people receiving false weather information on numerous occasions.
What, people read nonsense on the Internet and swallow it whole? Say it ain't so! (Although, if you recast that paragraph from meteorology to climatology and make the false claim the one that we are having more and bigger storms, then the heartfelt plea on behalf of scientific integrity loses its oomph.)

Well, there are lots of crazy people out there, and while RtO most often points at the rightwing ones, it is well to remember that there are other, even crazier kooks out there.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I went to the post office to mail a box of rocks (no, really). As I left, a respectably dressed man about my age held the door for me, announcing a "free doorman service." He seemed a little unclear on the concept: I could have used a doorman as I walked in with the rocks but didn't need it going out emptyhanded. But the reason became apparent.

He was one of a small group of protesters? activists? patriots? something or other? offering to recruit me to a mighty movement to forestall the coming war between America and the BRIC states (Brazil, Russia, China, India). I hadn't even heard we were going to war.

A label on his placard explained all (well, much): Are they still a thing? Apparently they are.

"I think you're crazy," I told him, and, pointing to the label, "and I know he is."

"You're crazy," he said.

It was a standoff.

As I drove off, I saw his compadre's sidewalk display, with posters indicating that Obama is another Bush (and I thought Jeb was the other one) but offering hope if America would turn to the 3-point program of LaRouche. The first two points escape me, but the third was "nuclear fusion."

Is that still a thing?

It's difficult to label the LaRouche movement. It is fascist in its embrace of the fuhrerprinzip, but unlike conventional fascists not in Catholicism or monarchicalism. So it is not left, but I would not call it rightist either.

But for sure crazy.

Oops! Democrats can count backwards

The line this a.m. on the talk shows was that Sen. Joni Ernst had avoided the curse of the State of the Union response speech and, while she did not ignite her tinder-dry base, at least avoided embarrassing herself.

The pundits spoke too soon. In fact, Ernst's lie about wearing breadbags over her one pair of shoes was subjected to merciless mockery by the leisured Democrats class, who noted that during Ernst's girlhood the president was not Franklin Roosevelt but -- wait for it! -- R. Reagan.

Few, if any of the mockers, though, had any experience of either living on a farm or living in Iowa during the Reagan paradise. So, as sometimes happens, instead of restating the obvious, I will have to reveal it, de novo as it were.

In fact, the Reagan years were terrible for Iowa farmers and the much more numerous members of the UAW, who were losing their jobs, homes, farms and, too often, their lives (by suicide) during those golden years. (It was a bad time, too, for slaughterhouse workers and residents of small towns generally. But it was a golden opportunity for the gaudier class of con artists. My favorite was the one who claimed to represent a Saudi shiekh who wished to give struggling Iowa farmers loans of a million dollars each -- which did not have to be repaid! -- and the con artist could arrange to deliver this loan for an upfront fee of only $30,000. A good many of those struggling farmers found the money even if they did not love their little girls enough to buy them shoes.)

So, I can believe that the Ernst family could have been under financial stress when she was a schoolgirl. But I cannot simultaneously believe she was also castrating pigs in her one pair of shoes, unless she was wearing bread bags then, too.

Ernst really did step in it. As one commenter said, everywhere she goes from now on, protesters in bread bags will follow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

You read it here first

Ebola subsided rapidly in Liberia, primarily because people change their behavior when experiencing a deadly epidemic that spreads rapidly -- something they do not do with slowly-developing infections like AIDS.

Hysteria about cases increasing either linearly or exponentially in West Africa or rapidly in America or Europe was silly. Knowledge of past epidemics (which could have been obtained by reading RtO) would have damped down the panic.

Unless, of course, there was a political motive for scaring the citizenry.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another rightwing lie

One of the many things that rightwingers believe that isn't so is that the Great Society programs were a failure.

Now, Mitt Romney is not as far right as some in the Republican Party, but he's on board here. In the Washington Post, he is quoted as saying
 As with others in his party, he raised the issue of social mobility and the difficulty of those at the bottom from rising into the middle class. He cited former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty half a century ago. Johnson’s intentions were good, he said, but his policies had not worked. He argued that Republicans must persuade voters that conservative policies can “end the scourge of poverty” in America.
Let's forget for a moment that just two years ago Romney's sympathies for the downtrodden were invisible -- moochers, he thought of them. Takers.

Mitt and I are the same age but have had different experiences. Mitt was a rich kid in the richest part of the Midwest, prep school and all that. I was a  lower middle class kid in the Deep South. I suppose Romney may have passed by poor people, but he never saw them. I did. I lived and worked alongside them. I knew people -- adults -- who had little education raising families on minimum wage jobs (another rightwing lie -- minimum wage jobs were only for schoolkids).

And there were other people that I did not work alongside who were much worse off. They worked for far less than minimum wage, and not often, had next to no education. I could see them. I talked with them sometimes.

There are still people like that, but millions of their children escaped. Went to college. Got hired for good jobs that don't require college, like selling cars. The Great Society was a big success. It did not succeed everywhere with everyone, but all you have to do is walk through an airport terminal  and look at the travelers and you can tell -- if you remember what that scene would have been like 50 years ago -- that the American economic success fable is now reality for many more people than it used to be.

It wasn't trickle down economics that did it. In fact, the residue of intractable poverty in our great cities is due mostly to the offshoring of the steppingstone jobs that launched generations of Americans -- native or immigrant -- toward the suburbs and (for rightwingers) self-satisfied narratives of their own superiority.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An obscure, revealing story of gun nuttery

You haven't seen this story. It did not make the national news, no one got shot and no one was harmed, at least not physically. It will not show up in any statistics regarding gun crime, gun injuries or gun deaths.

But it proves, beyond argument, that there is no such thing as a responsible gun owner.

It happened in Tomball (which the locals call Tom-ball, not Tomb-all) Texas Saturday, but it started somewhat earlier (this account derives from the report by Cindy Horswell in the Houston Chronicle, which does not say exactly when the initial event occurred).

That was an uncommon medical event: a 28-year-old man had a big stroke and was placed on life support at a hospital in Tomball. Doctors had no hope he could recover.

On Saturday, the man's father, George Pickering, angry about the nursing care his son was getting (it is not clear whether this anger was justified but it seems other members of his family did not share his opinion), pulled a gun and threatened to kill a nurse.

"According to witnesses, Pickering was standing by his ill son's bedside with another adult son, his ex-wife and a nurse when everything spun out of control without warning.
"Pickering, who is unemployed, allegedly pulled out a 9 mm handgun, waved it around and yelled, 'I'll kill all of you,' Hammond said.
" 'He was very distraught. As you well know, people handle stress differently. You never can say what it will take to hit such a serious trigger mechanism,' Hammond said."
No, you can't but doesn't having a gun handy improve the moment? And, no, I don't think police investigator Hammond was making a pun.

The son "jumped" his father and got the gun out of the room. The ex-wife (it is not clear whether she is the mother of the brothers) and the nurse left when Pickering said, "You don't think that's the only weapon I got."

Indeed not. Police checked records, discovered that Pickering had numerous gun permits and was known  to keep guns "all over his Pinehurst home." So they rolled the SWAT team and locked down the hospital, which could not have been good for the patients, especially the ones in the critical care unit where Pickering stood them off for four hours. All those very sick people were moved, and for the four hours nobody in Tomball who needed hospital care could get it.

(It is not clear that if Pickering had had the same number of guns but had not bothered to get permits -- something easy to achieve -- and create records that the police would have reacted so strongly. On Monday, when the Legislature opened its session in Austin, gun nuts who oppose any system of permitting threatened lawmakers and demonstrated how using a 3-D printer could create an untraceable gun, which they consider a very good thing.)

It is possible to have some sympathy for George Pickering, a father who cared about his son, and wanted to do something for him (although it sounds as if that was not possible). He did not know how to help, but he was true to the gun nut creed -- when in doubt, pull it out. But it is not possible to argue that the Second Amendment improved his options, is it?

A hundred thousand times a year in America, the gun option is chosen over every other option. 30,000 times, someone dies, and in thousands of other instances someone is injured. Even when no one is physically hurt, people are terrorized.

In only a couple of dozen instances is the gun option better than some other available option. A well-regulated society would do something about it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The real estate spending curve

When I was working as a business reporter, I used to joke that (because of high costs) most people did not own their homes on Maui, but that (because of the ohana provision) everybody who did own a house owned two houses.

It was a somewhat bitter joke. The ohana law did not work out as intended, and you could argue it two ways: It encouraged middling-income Mauians who would not otherwise have become real estate developers to provide a large number of (for Maui) relatively accessible rentals, automatically mixing income classes so that we did not end up with segregation-by-bank account; or that it shifted tax and zoning advantages to the haves so that they could fatten their bank accounts on the have-nots, at the same time making it nearly impossible for ordinary working people with more than 2 children to find adequate housing.

One thing for sure, the ohana law did generate housing, which is more than you can say for the employee housing ordinance or the various iterations of the housing and finance authority.

And Maui does not have anything like the tent cities of Waianae or Thomas Square.

I bring this up because of a New York Times story about unoccupied real estate in New York City, and especially Manhattan, where the world's timorous capitalists are salting away multimillion-dollar boltholes against the time when their fellow countrymen decide to get rid of their kleptocrats.

(Other reports have stated that some districts in Europe -- one many Americans will have heard of is Mayfair -- are virtually empty, with all the apartments awaiting their Russian and Nigerian owners to come and hide out. This is not an entirely new phenomenon. During the London Blitz, George Orwell noted that although tens and hundreds of thousands of working class people had been bombed out in the East End [where the Luftwaffe targeted the Docklands] the mansions of the West End stood empty, their plutocratic owners either in the service or hiding out at their Downton Abbeys, but refusing to allow dirty Cockneys to sleep in them. England being England in those presocialist days, the Cockneys were required to sleep "rough," as the English say.)

Nut graf:

As for the data that has been uncovered, “it reflects the increasing level of income inequality in the city, that you can buy a relatively expensive condo and not have to occupy it all the time,” Mr. Beveridge said. “Housing has a strange spending curve. If you are poor, you spend a high proportion of your money on housing. Then as you get up into the middle class, people pay off their mortgages and you don’t see as much spending on housing. Then as you get really wealthy, the rich spend a lot on housing, but they do it by having a lot of homes.”

The global warming briar patch

Don't throw me in there!

It has been a long time since RtO has visited the question of global warming. In one sense nothing has changed -- claims about the amount of warming since the late 19th c. remain bogus because nobody knows what the temperature was then.

Some things more contemporary are not changing either, at least not in the way the alarmists promised.

More and worse storms. No hurricane has come ashore in Florida since Wilma in 2005.

Changes to growing seasons causing losses in agriculture. Let's see what the AP has to say today:

Farmers set corn and soybean records last year, harvesting the largest crops ever, thanks to a cool summer that made for mostly favorable conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday. Farmers harvested 14.2 billion bushels of corn, 3 percent more than in 2013, and 3.97 billion bushels of soybeans, up 18 percent.

UPDATE In further global warming news, it is snowing in Arabia and some Muslims have been condemned for making snowmen and snowcamels.

And, no, this is not a joke on any level.

SECOND UPDATE It turns out we don't know how much sea levels have risen, and for exactly the same reasons we don't know how much temperatures have risen:

Given that observers have been taking measurements at harbors for centuries, using devices called tide gauges, it might seem a simple problem to figure out how much the ocean has been rising. It is anything but simple, though: The tide-gauge record is plagued by gaps; the land to which many of the gauges are attached has itself moved over time; and factors like wind and ocean currents can cause variability of the sea level in particular locales. Moreover, the early harbor measurements were concentrated in Europe and the United States, leaving much of the world a blank.