Monday, May 30, 2016

Thrones and Crowns

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh God of mercy when?
The people, Lord, the people
Not thrones and crowns, but men.

-- "Save the People" from Godspell

This week's featured post is "The Election is About the Country, Not the Candidates". I also wrote a column about Humanism for UU World.

This week everybody was talking about the presidential race

The Inspector General for the State Department put out a report on the Clinton email affair. I had a hard time finding an article that I thought put the proper importance on this story, neither overblowing it nor completely writing it off. I found myself more-or-less on the same page as The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza:

So this scandal is like so many that have dogged the Clintons: while it’s more molehill than mountain, it does genuinely revolve around a serious issue (Clinton’s commitment to transparency); her initial response was less than forthcoming; and the critics exaggerating the degree of wrongdoing have demonstrated more interest in damaging her politically than fixing the underlying government-wide problem that the e-mail imbroglio has revealed.

Two polls of the California Democratic Party came out last Monday: PPIC had Clinton up by 2%, 46%-44%. SurveyUSA had Clinton up by 18%, 57%-39%. The close-race poll makes a better headline than the it's-not-close poll, so that's the one that got all the attention.

Of course both polls were before the inspector general's report on Clinton's emails, which can't have done her any good.

In North Dakota Thursday, Trump laid out his energy policy, which is all fossil fuels all the time, including coal.

He did not explicitly address the scientific legitimacy of human-caused climate change, but said, “We’re going to deal with real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been hearing about. ... Regulations that shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and block the construction of new ones — how stupid is that?"

He also pledged to restart the Keystone XL pipeline project, cancel the Paris climate agreement, and stop the Obama/Clinton policy of foreign aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. (Just to give one example, by 2050 rising seas are expected to drive about 18 million Bangladeshis from their homes. Where will they go?)

It's hard for me to get excited about the climate-policy differences between Clinton and Sanders when Trump is sounding like a Bond villain.

The biggest non-story of the week was the Trump/Sanders debate, which took over the news cycle for two whole days, even though it should have been completely obvious that Trump would never do it.

It got covered as Trump-and-Sanders-will-gang-up-on-Hillary, but that's not where Bernie was headed, and probably wouldn't have done him any good anyway. Sanders' closing argument is that he's the better candidate to run against Trump, so that's what he would have been trying to prove. Agreeing with Trump about "crooked Hillary" would have turned off more Democratic voters than it attracted.

Trump, conversely, had nothing to gain. Sanders would be trying out liberal anti-Trump arguments, letting Clinton see how Trump handles them. And even if Trump managed a smashing victory, he would just have been scoring points against somebody he wouldn't run against anyway.

Of course, Trump would accept the initial challenge, because that's the image he wants to project. But just as obviously, he'd make up conditions that couldn't be met so that he could back out. And that's what happened.

Even Rachel Maddow, who ought to be smarter than this, devoted half of a 20-minute segment to this topic Thursday, and got all whipped up about it.

Violence between pro-Trump and anti-Trump people broke out outside Trump's San Diego rally Friday night. There had previously been protests outside Trump's Fresno rally.

If anti-Trump protests are going to be a thing -- and it looks like they are -- it seems likely that there will be more fights and arrests and so forth. No matter who is actually at fault, I suspect the anti-Trump people will get blamed.

That's why I'm hoping that Clinton will distance herself from the anti-Trump protests, and denounce any violence in strong terms. Something like: "If you want to protest peacefully against Donald Trump, that's your right as an American. But don't do it on my account. If you want to work for my campaign, we have lots of more useful jobs for you to do."

Jonathan Weisman describes how he became a social-media target of Trump-supporting anti-Semites. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray reports on the excitement Trump has raised at the white-nationalist American Renaissance conference. That's not to claim that Trump is actively anti-Semitic or a white nationalist himself. But at some point you do have a responsibility to notice and comment on the things that are being done in your name.

Something Trump himself did do is use 12 minutes of a public rally to bash by name the judge who presides over the San Diego version of the Trump University fraud suit. (There's a separate New York suit. Neither will go to trial before the election.) Trump described the judge as a "Mexican" and a "hater".

I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK?

On and on like that for 12 minutes.

James Fallows makes the historical comparison:

When the results of an established process turn against them, presidents and presidential aspirants must defend the process. That’s the difference between rule-of-law and rule-of-men. Richard Nixon disagreed with the Supreme Court’s rulings against him but did not question their legitimacy or say he would try to get back at the Justices. Al Gore had far better logical and jurisprudential grounds for questioning the ruling in Bush v. Gore, but while he made clear that he bitterly disagreed, he of course complied. He did not mention the ethnicity of the Justices or say that they should be “looked into.”

I'll take that a step farther: When you're talking to a room filled with your rabid fans, and your speech is likely to get covered on national TV, how hard is it to imagine one lunatic deciding to impress you by doing something about that hater judge?

Vox' Liz Plank takes on Trump's talk about Hillary's "woman card", when he went on to say: "We're petrified to speak to women any more." She lists a number of things that women might be afraid of, like, say, rape, or having their concerns ignored by a Congress that is 80% male.

But yeah, men's fear of being labeled as sexist when they clearly say things that are definitely sexist ... definitely trumps the very well documented systemic sexism that women face every day.

and you might also be interested in

Obama went to Hiroshima and said this:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

It's been great, these last seven years, to have a president I can take pride in.

One of those simple stats that speaks volumes: Home ownership is at its lowest rate since 1967. The millennial generation's path through life is going to be different than previous generations.

Thursday, health officials announced the first incidence in the U.S. of a bacterial infection that is immune to all known antibiotics. This has been coming for a long time, but now it's here.

Venezuela is spiraling downward.

An important lesson in structural racism: A Pro Publica investigation shows that a widely used algorithm to predict whether criminals will commit more crimes -- producing "risk scores" that judges and parole boards use to decide on sentences -- is biased against blacks. It over-estimates the risk that blacks will commit future crimes, and under-estimates the risk that whites will.

There's no evidence that anybody did this intentionally, but factors that seem to make sense on an individual basis have the effect of reproducing the culture of mass incarceration.

Race is not one of the questions. The survey asks defendants such things as: “Was one of your parents ever sent to jail or prison?” “How many of your friends/acquaintances are taking drugs illegally?” and “How often did you get in fights while at school?” The questionnaire also asks people to agree or disagree with statements such as “A hungry person has a right to steal” and “If people make me angry or lose my temper, I can be dangerous.”

Since blacks are imprisoned at much higher rates than whites, their children will have worse risk scores. If you attend a bad public school, with lots of violence and drugs, it will count against you. And so on.

Due to some really bad reporting, a lot of people now believe that scientists have shown at long last that cellphones cause cancer. Vox' Brad Palmer does the kind of careful science reporting that is too boring for most media outlets.

So here's what happened, more or less: Researchers bombarded some rats with more cellphone radiation than any human is likely to be exposed to, and they did get more tumors of two particular types in those rats than in the control group. On the other hand, we've been conducting an unofficial experiment by having lots of humans use cellphones, and we're not seeing the kinds of increases in cancer that we would if there were a large effect. (And BTW: the irradiated mice on average lived longer than the control group.)

In short, it's the kind of study that should make people go "Hmmm", not "OMG, we're all going to die!"

Look: Science moves slowly. Individual studies are often wrong, and it's rare for one paper to completely upend everything we know about a topic. There are very few genuinely "game-changing" studies. And reporters need to do a better job of putting this incrementalism in context — rather than preying on people's fears for clicks.

and let's close with something cute

At the end of a long day, Momma Raccoon makes sure all the kids get home safe.

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