Masterful Bait and Switch

Rolling Stone did a profile on Rachel Maddow a few issues back. The thing about Maddow is that she’s a polemicists polemic. She utilizes thought-judo like a good Socratic thinker, realizing that bludgeoning political enemies won’t help your cause. If you really want to convince someone, you walk them all the way over to your side with small points that they all agree with. Cognitive dissonance studies suggest that while that method does not immediately sway a person’s opinion, it plants seeds that eventually grow into very disruptive tumors of cognitive dissonance (this is because a lot of cognitive theory suggests we personify our ideas, that is, we don’t have ideas, we meld our selves with our ideas, so that changing an idea about, say, climate change, involves more than just accepting facts, it has to do with self-image as an anti-climate change truther, for example). For more on that, read Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”, I couldn’t pull the exact quote because I only have the audio book version. (FN1)

Here’s how RS summed up Maddow’s style:

Bill O’Reilly, on Fox News, is a combatant and a champion. Maddow is a guide. O’Reilly’s show says, Look at me. Maddow’s says, Picture this.

The perfect Maddow segment, he says, begins with some obscure image from the fringes – “a bird covered in oil in 1979,” say – and then slowly winds its way into the heart of the political debate. “Eventually, you realize that the story of that bird is all about Mitt Romney,” he says, “and it fucking blows your mind.”

This kind of indirection – starting with the obscure and working toward the headlines – goes against the most basic rules of television, but for Maddow it can have a rare seductive power. “It’s really important that in the top third of the segment you don’t say ‘Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,’ or ‘military tribunal,’ or ‘Guantánamo,‘” Maddow says. “Because as soon as you say those things, people think they know what the story is. If you don’t edit mercilessly to keep out all of the words that make people leap to conclusions about what you’re going to say, you’ll never persuade people that you’re going to tell them something they don’t already know.*

I personally had my head blown right off this morning. This clip is worth your time. It’s an opening segment, a long political essay in RS’s words, and unconventional for televised punditry. If you haven’t been seduced by Maddow’s inimitable style, this will surely do it:

Video: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/49309746#49309746

(FN1) Although, of course, if you found it disagreeable that I told you to read Sam Harris’ book because of your own opinions about Sam Harris, you’ve just proved my point and really don’t need to bother going to read Sam Harris anyhow. Since you don’t disagree with him on this point at least.

*My emphasis.

Misleading Math in the Liberal News

Today, this story ran on NPR’s Morning Edition. In it, a high-paid and self-admitted overworked emergency room doctor that exclusively works overnight shifts bemoaned the potential impact of the Busa era tax cuts expiring. NPR avoided talking openly about the math and went for a dumbed-down story that presents the issue in a misleading way.

Doctor Hamilton Lempert works 40-70 hours a week, in the ER, on the overnight shift. For our purposes we can assume he’s well-paid and recieves bonuses on top of his regular pay because of overtime and incentive pay for both the ER and overnight shift.

This is how NPR covered his taxes:

When he runs his financial information through an online calculator to figure out how his tax bill would change if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire, he gets a shock.

Lempert would take about a $20,000 tax hit.

That seems like a lot. But given the doctor’s information and what we know about the Bush tax cuts we can assume he earns more than the average American family – more than $250,000.00. We also know the Bush tax cuts range around three to five percent.

So we divide $20,000.00 by .03 and .05 (the range of the tax rate) to estimate his income.

That means Dr. Lempert earns between $400,000.00 (if his taxes increase by five percent) and $666,667.00 (if his taxes increase by three percent).

Which presentation of the data is more reasonable? Does the doctor seem underpaid or overpaid? Yes, $20,000.00 is a lot of money. But so are $400,000.00 and $600,000.00 dollars. Maybe the doctor didn’t want to give his income, but NPR could easily have surmised a range for his income.

Instead, they scrub the income. That’s tantamount to reporting how outrageous Mitt Romney’s taxes would increase if his went from 15 percent to where most Americans pay around 23 percent. The presidential candidate would face an increase of $1.6 million on his taxes, or if you prefer zeros: $1,600,000.00.

Boo-fucking-hoo. Let’s hear him whine about putting off vacation or a new car like the good doctor.

In fairness, NPR reached out to a tax expert who put a nice cap on it, although I don’t think this is anywhere near as clear as just stating his income.

Virtually everyone in his income category will see their taxes rise in average about $14,000,” says Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “That’s about a 5 percent reduction in their after-tax income, and 5 percent is something that even at that income level [is] noticeable.

http://www.npr.org/2012/10/01/162056898/for-high-earners-expiring-tax-cuts-would-hit-hard

The Nazi Defense for Child Molestation

Yesterday, Monsignor Lynn of the Philadelphia archdiocese was sentenced to a minimum of three years in prison before he can be reviewed for parole. His sentence may last a maximum of six years.

I previously wrote about this here: http://wp.me/pGXU1-Bh

Below is the Nazi defense for raping children:

After the sentencing, Ann Casey, a friend of Monsignor Lynn for 36 years, said she believed he was a scapegoat and a victim of his intense faith in the archdiocese’s leaders. “It was his vow of obedience to the church that landed him this morning in jail,” she said.

Can you see the “I was obeying orders” in that?

Source = http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/25/us/philadelphia-church-official-to-be-sentenced-in-abuse-case.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Bullet-Proof Contact Sports

“We’re seeing evidence, in football and hockey especially, of the risk of brain degeneration following repetitive concussions,” said Dr. Charles Tator, a brain surgeon at Toronto Western Hospital and an expert on concussions. “This is serious, because we don’t have a treatment for it, or even a test to diagnose it during life. We don’t even know why this tau protein accumulates in the brain.”

In typical American fashion, Wired reports that the head of a Kevlar bullet-proof armor company, Unequal Technologies, is offering their product to solve the NFL and NHLs epidemic of concussions and traumatic brain injury. A problem that did not exist before the arms race of better padding and increasingly unrealistic television interest in the blood lust of sport.

The entire article can be summed up by those two points. This rise in concussions comes from two factors. Players are getting bigger and padding is getting stronger. Kevlar’s promise to make the padding better, according to those rules, fundamentally seems unable to address the problem. So far, evidence bears this out:

“Kevlar has come up at some of our meetings, but nothing substantial,” said Dr. Henry Feur, a member of the NFL’s Head Neck and Spine Committee and a team physician for the Indianapolis Colts. “Reducing the G-forces in a collision may help with concussions, but it has yet to be proven. I don’t think Kevlar is going to address the ultimate problem, which is the brain crashing against the skull.

Source http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/07/kevlar/all/

Wall Street and the Mafia

This piece by Matt Taibbi is one of those multi-page journalistic pieces that makes the form inescapably crucial. The conclusion of the piece, the defense given by the defense lawyers, is amazing in a revelatory kind of way. If you still find yourself scratching your head at just how the hell no one has gone to jail yet, maybe this piece will solve it for you.

Source

Bonus bit: Over at Matt Taibbi’s blog, there’s a little bit more information on the bid rigging scandal described in the linked story above.

The Significance of the Roberts Schism

Andrew Sullivan waxes poetic on the potential future this spells for the conservative movement. The essay itself is remarkably quotable however, despite a couple squishy lines of pointless romance. For example:

Roberts upheld a form of conservatism that is not synonymous with the interests of the Republican party at any given moment.

And if you think about it, that just doesn’t happen.

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/07/the-first-elite-conservative-to-say-enough.html

Boom!

[youtube http://youtu.be/OHji-Imifkw]

The Economist nicely tackled the whole right-wing heckling-slash-most-disrespectful-thing-in-modern-US-politics-since-the-last-time-a-right-winger-shouted-you-lie-or-shoved-their-finger-up-his-nose very well. Look, I’ve been very good about editing my ridiculous thoughts in a separate piece of writing which I will not dignify these places by publishing just yet. You’ll just have to deal with that.

Anyways, some blogger made a counter-argument that the unanimous and bi-partisan respect for the office argument and the Economist rightly put him down. I don’t think O’Reilly was condemning the You Lie guy or Gov. Brewer when they got uppity, if you’ll allow me to borrow that phrase from the KKK.

Without some kind of restraints to hold back the flood of tribal animosity, democratic politics gravitate towards slapfightsscrums and impeachment proceedings.

The above quote from the Economist is why I say Boom. It just doesn’t get any better than the sense of total agreement, a smug agreement where you smile, close your eyelids and nod and think to yourself “Yes, very sensible.” Then, miliseconds later think, oh wait.

Source (Hot tip from Mr. Baham)

The Major Big Pharma Talking Points

This discussion hit a lot of the big themes we talk about when we talk about health.

Problems with over medicating. The intentions of pharmaceutical companies in getting drugs to patients who may not need them. The merits of diet and exercise.

The big hits against using medication to treat high cholesterol before trying diet and exercise are especially damning.

I know this sounds boring, but really, try this out. The themes under this conversation are deeply ingrained in our culture.

Give it a listen.

Memorial Day

Vice President Joe Biden shares some of his personal history and advises soldiers on stepping back from the brink of suicide.

[youtube http://youtu.be/fLSjrS0bb08]

Damnit – Enjoy Your Solar Eclipse

At least we’ve got the Atlantic Ocean and shit… man. This is for Sunday, by the way, but it’d be a dick move for me to publish it Sunday, so here you go.

Source

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