Monday, July 29, 2013

The climate "debate" again

I don't need to waste space here on the absurdly thin gruel that passes for content of the Courier's weekend "point-counterpoint" on climate change. What I will focus on is the editorial choices that created it.
     Whether humans are causing catastrophically rapid change in our climate is a question that can only be answered by good science. Assuming the editors are not complete idiots, they know this. Yet to present the data on this question, which is vital to every human and every living thing on the planet, the editors choose Dennis Duvall and Glenn Helm.
     Neither of these worthy men claims any qualification to opine on climate science. I don't know more about Mr Helm, but Mr Duvall is locally famous as a peace activist who takes it to the limit, and for that he has a reputation among the local non-hippies as a nut. Neither argument includes any new idea, or new angle, or even readable prose. Neither addresses the argument of the other, as usual. Both are bumpy rides on personal hobbyhorses.
     The resulting pair of rants amount to a discussion of the issue based on a little media coverage, personal issues, and, from the uncommitted reader's standpoint, a lot of dubious faith. From your imagined seat behind the editor's desk, why in the world would you waste most of your Sunday op-ed page on nonsense no more informative than a Three Stooges short?
     I'm not one to easily ascribe malice where incompetence will do, but the level of incompetence required to achieve this level of quackery strains imagination. It has to be intentional, I'm afraid, and the intent is ugly.
     To get to this I can only infer that the editors mean to undercut the credibility of the question itself, saying in essence that the people talking about climate change are idiots and thinking about the issue is a waste of time. This goes far beyond editorial bias to something far darker and more subversive.
      Don't fall for it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Editorial: Quit starving the schools

Is the editor correct that the Legislature should follow state law and provide inflation adjustments on school funding? Yes. Could he say it in a way that's simple and direct enough for the legislators to understand? One would think so. So why doesn't he? Why, whenever he's compelled to criticize Republicans, does he resort to this mealy-mouthed we'll-see crap?

Williams: Whining is the New Manly

Buz achieves a new low for trivial bunkum on the opinion page, it must be noted with the full support of the Courier editors, in his white-knight defense of Sarah Palin, set up as the innocent damsel of the "conservative" movement, against the dragon of the Angry Left in the person of mean old Bill Maher.
     In the first graf we get the gist, and we have to wonder how Buz imagines that he can predict the actions of people he doesn't know working in institutions whose missions he doesn't understand. From there you just know the path will have to be a bit crookedy.
     Buz is outraged that Maher would say mean things about Palin on a comedy show that's primarily about making fun of Republicans. He extends his mock chivalry further to other women and black "conservatives."
     With this he seems to mean to lance progressives for the hypocrisy of demanding equal treatment of people and then treating them equally as targets of scorn.
     There's no funnier moment in the piece than where he attempts to instruct on "the logical fallacy known as 'poisoning the well,'" as if Buz has ever paid the slightest attention to logic.
     As I stand back a bit and take the big picture of what Buz is saying, consciously and unconsciously, I'm struck by the white-male paternalism that motivates him to place Palin, Bachmann, Cain and Thomas behind his mighty white shield (for in Buz's world, women and nonwhite men are weak, second-class humans). His understanding of why they have become jokes ends at his own frame on them as "conservative" and nonwhite or female. Anything they've done to elicit public criticism is of course immaterial.


Buz imagines how Palin might abuse Maher's nose in person, but I find it funnier to imagine how Palin might react to Buz telling her she needs his protection.
     Since we're talking hypocrisy, I have to wonder where Buz was when his teammates were gleefully photoshopping the President as a bone-through-the-nose Hollywood witch doctor, or insulting Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton for years in the crudest terms, or slut-shaming Sandra Fluke.
     Here's a clue, Buz: If you hope to hold the high moral ground, drive the snakes from your own nest first.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Editorial: Prescott is not Detroit. Duh.

I'm sure many Courier readers are relieved to read that Prescott isn't like Detroit, so we shouldn't worry about falling into bankruptcy. Similarly, Prescott isn't like Neptune, so we shouldn't worry about how to calculate tides with 14 moons or how to breathe methane.
     It's truly comical to see how the editor's thinking is led and framed by teevee headlines. The idea that the experience of Detroit is in any way parallel to that of Prescott is beyond ridiculous. Detroit at its peak was well over forty times larger than Prescott. It is an international trade port, built for the export of timber, mineral and agricultural resources and expanding on broad-based industrial infrastructure and large-scale manufacturing. It anchors an industrial region spreading into four states and southern Ontario. No, it's not like Prescott.

This ...

      Where Detroit drives Michigan's economy, Prescott is subject to Arizona's whims. The industry that built Prescott is long gone, and today it depends on money earned elsewhere, spent by retirees, tourists and entrepreneurs. To operate the City depends heavily on state-controlled revenue sharing and sales taxes. Our prosperity (for yes, our town is a prosperous one) relies on the desires of people elsewhere to live here, or at least wander through and gawk.
     The editor fails to note the one instructive commonality that might have made his point — that Prescott, like Detroit did, has become complacent and backward-looking, failing to understand the implications of change or undertake a coherent vision for adapting to it.
... is not this.
      The editor's assertion that Prescott is doing well because "Arizona governments understand the balancing act of budgets" would be funny enough without his example of pawning our state buildings, as stupid a budgeting move as I have ever seen. His headline hints at proactivity, but he delivers nothing to support the idea, and anyone watching the legislative process over the past decade has to admit quite the opposite, that we have allowed reactivity and magical thinking to dominate.
     We can expect our retired population to grow in the short term, but we can also expect it to begin shrinking again within a couple of decades. Our population growth is in conflict with the quality of life that supports it. Our water input is gradually diminishing against that growth. Our industrial base is very thin, and our infrastructure for 21st-century industry is entirely lacking. These are soluble problems, but solving them will take higher-caliber thinking and longer-term goals.
     Vision is what voters should be looking for in its Council candidates as the election approaches. It's time for us to stop reacting, usually badly, to change and start embracing and leading it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Editorial: The upside of the surveillance state

Pity the poor Courier editor. Ed Snowden forced him to think about the increasing electronic surveillance of Americans since the Patriot Act, but now he can't quite decide whether Snowden is a traitor or whether all this e-snooping is a good thing, crippling him with so much confusion that he's forced to write an editorial.
     The only opinion I can detect in the piece is this: "there may be a bright side to Americans drawing away from this obsession that every detail of every minute of life just has to be posted, ...," which I translate as, "it's a good thing they're watching us, as maybe we won't say so much in public," a rather odd position for any member of the fourth estate to take.
     But it clearly illustrates the frog-on-simmer thinking that has held sway in this country for over a decade, where the populace greets each new insult with an oh-well at its inevitability, much as the editor shrugs though his column today, complacent with the idea that whatever the NSA spooks are doing, they're not after him, so all's well.
     Noodging I-told-you-sos from those of us who warned about the creeping surveillance state years ago do no real good. What we need now is to use the Snowden incident to raise the question, what kind of country do you want to live in? I can't imagine anyone answering sincerely that we like being electronically strip-searched daily, cowering and sniveling in fear of phantom threats, while fat corporations rob us blind. Yet that's what the editor seems to be embracing.

Note to editor: as you apparently missed it, here's the first rule of writing anything: have something to say.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Did he really say that?

Sen McCain seems to be saying that the AZ Legislature should review our "stand your ground" law. I'll bet that'll be very popular among our high priests of crazy down there.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A formidable reporter

RIP Helen Thomas

Local candidate forums

The paper lists the schedule here for panel talks and meets with the Prescott Council candidates. Go, be better informed, ask better questions if you can, then vote. A few hundred votes can make a huge difference in this election. It's important.

Editorial: Drunk on kool-aid again

The editor thinks it's silly to be fighting over whether people should be required to show proof of citizenship to vote. To him and his fans it seems like a no-brainer, so he appropriately offers up a no-brain approach and no-brain solutions.

   He shows the depth of his naivete about voter suppression in the third graf, writing that because slow progress has been made in the courts and legislatures and it's now against the law to discriminate, "These biases, of course, have disappeared with time."
   What strikes me about this piece is that you have to buy into four separate cracked premises to even get to this argument. You have to believe that non-citizens want to vote, that there is enough voter fraud going on by non-citizens to make a difference, that demanding ID from every voter would be effective in preventing fraud, and that there is negligible cost to citizens in requiring proof of citizenship.
   Extreme bunker mentalities really do believe that hordes from beyond the borders want to subvert our electoral process using illegal voting, and even that they are having some success with it. But the argument for motivation is preposterous on its face, and the evidence of actual fraud utterly nonexistent. With no problem to solve, the approach to solving it is a waste of energy, but if someone were motivated to cast an illegal vote, fake documents are easily produced and acquired. Finally, there really is cost to every voter, ranging from annoying bureaucratic procedures to full disenfranchisement, and we have the results to prove it, varying from heartbreaking individual stories of voters who have been prevented from registering and voting to statistical anomalies in voter turnout and electorate makeup where these laws are in effect. I've seen for myself unjust disenfranchisement and discouragement as a poll worker right here in Prescott, and in doing my lawful job I've had a direct hand in it.
   The editor has literally no idea what he's talking about, and appears to have no interest in learning.
   I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not motivated by conscious racism or political hegemony. He could easily be seeing the trumped-up BS on his teevee and soaking in the idea that if people seem to be worried about a thing, it must be worrisome. But that's not why it's an issue.
   The concern-trolling about voter fraud in the media and on the political stage came as a direct result and hard on the heels of the invented "immigration crisis," positing immense cost to society of inimical aliens bent on the subversion of the American way of life and stealing us blind (presumably by leaving the country by the millions). None of that is true either.
   As I've written before here and elsewhere, this issue is invented entirely to scare Americans into voting against their own interests, by appealing to their completely unjustified, parochial fears of The Other. It's the Southern Strategy all over again, and its authors are the same crew that Nixon used to win the South in '68.
   It's not working as well this time around, though, because voters born after the struggle for black civil rights are generally far less afraid and more likely to identify with those who are being hurt. That's why the darksiders have to continually up the ante with increasingly unhinged, reality-divorced rhetoric.
   This editorial carries a reasonable tone, but it is based entirely in the frightened, helpless flailing of the slow death of white supremacy and a crass and cynical political elite willing to do literally anything to extend its power. For them the editor is just a tool, and doing a good job at it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Williams: 'War on coal' hurts Heritage Foundation funders

Today Buz Williams, the regular Courier columnist with no writing or intellectual credentials who chooses to misspell his own nickname, rails against the President for an unreasonable "war" against the coal industry at the expense of the poor and middle classes. He has a point, if you're willing to ignore every good reason to move away from our dirtiest fuel and you're unable to comprehend basic economics.
   First, the idea of moving the country to cleaner energy resources did not originate with the President, nor would he likely have much interest in the political fight over it if not for the solid majority of Americans who recognize that the preferred fuel of the 19th century is hurting us in the 21st. Long before anyone but a few scientists knew anything about climate change, we recognized that coal emissions are the primary source of ill health and broad economic impairment due to air pollution.
   Remember the unbreathable air in LA in the '60s? (I'm sure Buz does.) Remember acid rain eating up concrete all over the Northeast? The automotive component was significant, but that was primarily coal. When Congress in the '70s began addressing those issues, we heard the same "war on coal" arguments and the same predictions of doom, from the same people. The sky didn't fall for the industry then, and much as we might prefer, it won't fall due to the President's current initiative, which I hasten to add is far from even passing its first legislative or bureaucratic hurdles, let alone having real effect.
   Buz's research for the piece is rooted entirely in the Heritage Foundation, an organization funded primarily and generously by the coal and oil industries, which anyone reading this likely already knows. But I'm perfectly willing to posit that yes, as we move away from burning coal for electricity, there will be fewer people employed in the industry, his core emotional point.
   Here's where basic economics come into the picture. As those people leave coal, employment demand is ramping up in cleaner industries. Nowhere is this clearer than in the awful fracking fad, which is drawing people directly from oil drilling to gas drilling. Somehow Buz misses that reducing energy from coal doesn't mean less energy, it means more of other kinds in younger industries that will employ more people than coal has.
   Cleaning up the mess from coal will displace workers, yes, but in aggregate it will put them into better jobs. The only people who will feel pain from this inevitable change are those who continue to bet their extensive riches on dirty fuels, like the funders of Heritage.
   I suppose I don't really need to remark on the childish petulance Buz expresses at the end of the piece, but in a way it opens a window on the emotional basis for the resistance to the kind of change that we must embrace for our economic and even species survival. The thing is, as we do embrace it, we'll find that we'll be happier and more prosperous. But I doubt that Buz and his ilk will ever be able to see it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Editorial: McCain saves the day

Honestly, sometimes the editor's ability to turn real life into Bizarro World takes my breath away.

Here "saving the day" means preserving the ability of Senate Republicans to permanently obstruct any kind of legislative progress without doing a lick of work. He gives McCain credit for high diplomacy for standing in front of his criminal gang and saying, "OK, we'll let you get a couple of small things done if you don't shoot us all in the head."

News you won't find in the Courier, episode 117

We can look forward to similar savings here if our Legislature gets out of the way.

NYT:  Health Plan Cost for New Yorkers Set to Fall 50%

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trippy bug

Be glad it's not some cute puppy.

Editorial: Surprise! The whiter guy wins!

The editor's headline sets the properly comic tone, perhaps unintended, for his unsurprising expression of confidence in the law as the guy who killed the unarmed teen walks. This caps off the Trial of the Summer, an annual media event designed to keep viewers engaged with their teevees during the rerun/baseball season.

I have to think that he meant to put a comma in the head, i.e. "Legal system worked, as always," setting up his confident, ain't-we-the-greatest-country-in-the-world column. But he left it out, and for those of us with enough hashmarks to recall exactly how the legal system has historically worked for black folk in this country, it speaks more truth than the editor knows.

There's another angle to it, though, another blind irony, in that the law certainly worked as the Florida legislature intended when it passed its ALEC-dictated "stand your ground" law. They designed it to make it very hard to convict anyone who uses a gun to "defend" anything, anywhere, anytime from anyone they consider a threat. The person at the wrong end of the gun doesn't have to actually be a threat, of course. Now it's all so much simpler than the traditional lynching party.

Everyone seems to agree that both parties did stupid things, granted. But only one died, and only one had the tool for killing, and that is enough to put the killer in jail long-term in most of the developed world. Not in Florida, though, where juries must receive explicit instructions that if the guy with the gun is afraid, it's okay for him to kill.

True to form, the editor doesn't even think through the elements of the story as he writes them. Like the rest of white America, he's only looking for comfort. Justice? Not so much.

I'm sure it would utterly surprise him to learn that in most similar cases under similar laws where the person with the gun was black, the legal system still "works as always."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Williams: Defending his right to be hateful

Buz trolls concern about campus codes against hate speech, but he doesn't call it hate speech, he calls it "debate."

He wants to be able to say racist things about the President and be protected (by whom, I wonder?) from being called on it.

The bottom line is that teaching kids to use accurate descriptions of people rather than demeaning slurs and epithets improves debate. Discouraging hateful and demeaning language against others is how we help ensure that everyone can safely participate, and it's always been what adults do.

Buz argues only for the poor downtrodden assholes who believe that the Bill of Rights is a Bill of Licenses to do whatever they want, whenever and to whom they want. This is nothing more than another spasm of nostalgia for the days of the unquestioned social supremacy of the white Protestant male, and no one should have any doubts about the exclusivity of that club.

If you want to argue that rights are impaired, you have to show the impairment. Buz doesn't bother, of course, as then we'd be talking about facts, which is just too hard for him.

Some commenters want to set him up as a martyr in a tricorn hat. The Americans who actually wore those tricorn hats would never have tolerated the boorish behavior he advocates outside the beer hall. Perhaps the whites-only, male-only beer hall is Mr Williams' idea of utopia.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Whose rights are they, anyway?

Today we have another of those letters that seem to come in every other week on the same old subjects, making the same old arguments in the same old eye-crossing ways and drawing the same old tail-chasing comments. Perhaps the reader will indulge me a comment in hopes of a slightly different perspective.

Carl Fishel wants the world to understand, if I may paraphrase, that our rights as Americans came from the imagination of his version of the Supreme Being, and our Founders only took dictation, presumably from some celestial speakerphone at Independence Hall that has since vanished with the original shorthand.

These screeds inevitably cite the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which of course has no standing in law, but has entered the sacred canon somewhere between Judges and Ruth, beside the Second Amendment, as the Received Word of Gad rather than Mr Jefferson and his buddies.

Like most of the stories Xtians revere, this version of history takes a pretty firm push on the self-delusion lever to hang together. The argument against it isn't difficult, but it requires some basic understanding of historical context.

With the Declaration, the 13 vassal colonies of George III set out to build a system of self-government, a concept that ought not to be controversial now. Then, it was a new idea. As such, in declaring independence, the Founders had to build a legal argument for it that would convince the world outside merry old Blighty to recognize them.

The idea of self-government was every bit as new and frightening in Germany, Italy, France and Spain as it was in Britain, so the argument had to not only furnish evidence of the justice of our cause, but show to a paternalistic and superstitious world that the new States we were creating would act in an adult manner.

Every feudal monarchy since time began justified its claim to power as coming directly from a supreme being, just as the churches did. So regardless of the religious views or divine inspiration of the Founders, reference to a supreme being would be obligatory in this context. The other governments simply wouldn't have taken seriously anything other than an appeal to the only power higher than the English king, who up to that moment legally owned us.

(Tangent: If we posit that gad did grant rights, why would he single out a gaggle of irregular little backwaters on the wrong side of the planet when His Truth Had Been Marching On for over a thousand years in Europe, over the backs of serfs, peasants and various other cannon fodder who never had a right to anything other than endless poverty and death in squalor? Why didn't they get the rights too? Do the dominionists imagine that the Declaration was equivalent to Luther's leaflet and the founders started their own religion called America? That must be hard given how our proto-republic was received by the churches. [hint: not well])

What bothers me most about this ridiculous gad-given argument is that it minimizes the accomplishments of the Founders in embracing a set of radical ideas and seeing them through.

The most radical of those ideas is that human beings are not only all equal in principle, but simply by existing we own ourselves and our dignity. That idea alone is enough to smash the bonds of class and strip the aristocracy of all legitimacy. These men were expressly moving away from the world of superstition and into one of new, more rational social structures, and doing it at great risk and cost to themselves.

They agreed that it didn't matter how we individually believe we came to exist, rather it was existence itself  that endows us with human rights.

Finally, notice that when it came down to defining those rights and structuring this new society, in writing the Constitution they dispensed with supernatural references and expressly forbade us for ever from operating our government on superstition.

How much evidence do you really need?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Barnes: Society needs more right-brain thinkers

It fascinated me how quickly and savagely the trolls have targeted Ron Barnes. In today's column he discusses how the future needs a different kind of thinking, an idea that's painfully obvious to anyone who's attempted any real thinking at all, and there's no hint of political divisiveness or judgment in it. Yet because they see Ron as an adversary, nothing he says can be right.

What's most ironic here is that commenters who have demonstrated publicly for years a desperate aversion to logic and fact in forming their opinions are insisting on identifying themselves with left-brain thinking, and concluding that Ron would doom them to the dustbin of history.

Perhaps Ron might have incurred less trollish wrath had he used other terms than the left-right dichotomy, which some people will always see (unthinkingly) as political. But the possible alternatives — holistic, intuitive, comprehensive, integrative — just as easily trigger the embedded aversion to hippie-dippiness.

We have an old cultural bias in favor of concepts like logic, hard evidence, system and method, instilled in the centuries since the Enlightenment brought us out of bondage to superstition and gave us the sciences and the scientific method, which in part led to the material wealth we enjoy today. (The most important part was slave labor, of course.) These are obviously extremely useful modes of thought and action, and despite the knee-jerks of his critics, nowhere does Ron say that we don't need them anymore.

The alternatives to linear thinking are not limited to a return to superstition. What Ron means to point up is the developing need for the ability to grasp complex systems in their entirety and work with both the big picture and the microcosm simultaneously — systems like economics, climate, big data, urban engineering, quantum physics and sustainable agriculture. We are coming to recognize the deep interdependence of the system services that support our survival and prosperity, but the numbers of variables are exploding to the point where linear thinking becomes a drag on understanding them.

This is not an original idea, of course. Many forward thinkers have advanced it, from Alvin Toffler to Bill Mollinson to John Muir (the VW mechanic, not the naturalist) and many more besides. I expect Ron was teaching it at Prescott College in the '70s. Again, it's obvious if you look.

As the conservatives of the Enlightenment chose to persecute Galileo rather than look at his results, and as those of the Industrial Revolution chose to retreat into dead-end agrarian utopias, will the conservatives of today resist the need to think bigger? Of course they will. But they're only fooling themselves when they choose to think they're being logical about it.

Neither political team can claim an edge in either linear or nonlinear thought. As Ron points out, everyone uses both. What we must be most aware of is that when we aspire to intuitive success, we risk seeing only what we want to see, intensifying the political divide. It really is a skill we need to develop as a species, and as (or, sadly, if) we begin to achieve it, we'll be surprised that it doesn't look anything like we imagine it now.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Editorial: Silly is as silly does

So for the unnamed editor the silly story of a teevee personality getting caught saying the N word is a "saga"?

After building up this person in repeated royal terms, he attempts some Rodney King language at the end, in which he equates racist hate speech with schoolyard taunts.

The inadvertent self-satire here is inescapable.

Could he really be this misinformed?

Prescott Councilman and frequent letter-writer Jim Lamerson tries to challenge Tom Cantlon on the facts, and just can't seem to find one.

Lamerson writes, "To begin with, it is difficult indeed to attack the facts of the "Fast and Furious" debacle, in which our government, under President Obama, armed foreign drug cartels, an act which cost the life of at least one American Law Enforcement Officer, Brian Terry."

Well, it's not all that difficult. Our government, under President Bush, tried to trace weapons routes by selling them, and it didn't go well. When Obama found out about it, he stopped it. Just fact.

Lamerson describes the Benghazi attack as "grievous incompetence or sickening self-interest on the part of President Obama's administration," of course presenting no facts at all. The facts are that it was a surprise attack on an unlikely target. Blaming Obama for that is desperately silly.

In naming "the IRS, spying on American citizens" the Councilman manages to conflate the IRS non-scandal with NSA data-mining against American citizens. The facts: the IRS investigation of nonprofit status covered more progressive and politically neutral groups than it did conservative groups, and no conservative group was impeded from conducting political activity in any way. The NSA programs are rooted in the Patriot Act, which Lamerson happily supported when the Bush Administration imposed it on us.

Finally, Jim's misfiring killshot is that "President Obama, along with his supporters in Congress, passed an ordinance declaring governmental supremacy over individual choice for healthcare." (An ordinance?) The fact: Congress passed and the administration has instituted a program that changes nothing about your existing health-care coverage and offers the choice of coverage to millions of us who could never access it before.

Could this community leader really be so completely misinformed about these issues? What does it say about his ability to evaluate information related to the issues he addresses as a Councilman? What does it say about our media pandering to people who are similarly, aggressively misinformed?

Yarnell Hill fire and local coverage

The Yarnell fire story poses a special challenge for our local news providers, including the Courier. With national media covering the ongoing story, our local reporters will be pressured to step up their games and dig out the details that only local connections and knowledge can reveal. For the editors it's an opportunity to prove the paper's relevance and competence with the sort of "real" life-and-death news that they don't often face.

Our hearts go out to the residents of Yarnell and the families and comrades of the firefighters for their grave losses.