Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Elections for sale (part 3)

I'm not beating a dead horse. I'm beating the drum for more sanity in our democratic elections. So far in the current presidential primary season, more than $53 million has been spent for political advertising, much of it of the slimy-innuendo-sandwiched-between-half-truths-and-hate variety. The bulk of that colossal disgusting total has been spent by Super PACs that are largely funded by shadowy people and organizations with way too much money.

Just take half a minute to think about the impact of this huge, horribly legal spending of very wealthy Americans who are trying to buy acceptance for their point of view.

When they "put their money where their mouths are," they do it in a big way, much bigger than almost everyone else can manage.

The flood of cash from the rich, the few and the furious doesn't take away your vote. It swamps your vote and drowns out your voice and puts in office too many politicians who aren't inclined to listen to you after they take office.

They hear the sound of money and a drum beat that I don't like to hear. How about you?

More than $53 million spent so far, says Wash Post

More on elections for sale

...and a little more on elections for sale

Monday, January 30, 2012

We should pay higher taxes...

I'm willing to say it right up front: I'm willing to pay higher taxes to get the things I want, like better roads and bridge repair, better education, better research on alternative energy sources, better mass transit, you name it…

Your list likely has some different items on it, but every single one of us uses or enjoys infrastructure and services, including many "public goods," that only "society" (i.e., all of us) can provide because no individual can do it and no private organization will do it.

Bridges will not be magically repaired if we cut taxes and cut government spending.

Sure, I strongly support cutting wasteful government spending…but that doesn't repair bridges or improve public education.

And crowd-pleasing, partisan calls to "cut taxes" as a political party platform (whether by Democrats or Republicans) are blind to the very destructive current and future effects of doing so.

A Washington Post editorial on the Bush tax cuts

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The wisdom of Aristotle

"We are what we repeatedly do.
              Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."
Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Chew on that one for a while…

The wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, January 27, 2012

Somebody, anybody, tell the truth please...

This isn't a partisan complaint, Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty, so I won't even mention any of the Republican presidential candidates by name when I take note that one of them is "correcting" his financial disclosures to show an "overlooked" $252,000 salary and another candidate is making "minor technical" revisions to show about two dozen investment funds or accounts that are missing or reported inconsistently on different disclosure forms. If the political status quo were reversed, I have no doubt that very wealthy Democratic contenders would be doing more or less the same thing.

Fuller disclosure, part 1
Fuller disclosure, part 2

I have heard no suggestion, and I do not believe, that any of the four multi-millionaire GOP candidates got their money by illicit means. That is not the issue.

The issue is too much money and its impact on our ideal concepts of "one man, one vote" and representative democracy. The primary campaigning is being distorted, dominated and made ugly by too much money, in too few hands, with too little restraint, being used for too much pettifoggery.

Obscene wealth inequality is a big problem in politics, it's getting bigger, and it doesn't stop there.

My previous comments on elections for sale

More comments on elections for sale

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Elections For Sale? (part 2)

"Another $5 million," just like cutting another piece of pie…..

See "Another $5 million"...  Some rich folks in Las Vegas decided to dump another $5 million into the Florida Republican presidential primary, to pay for pro-Newt Gingrich ads that might just happen to say a few nasty things about Romney and the other candidates, and to support campaign infrastructure for Gingrich, all within the sleazy dictates of the Supreme Court decision allowing the monstrous "Super PACs" and similar organizations to try to buy this election.

Here's a recap of some sentiments I posted earlier:

If you care about freely determined election outcomes, and if you care about openness and accessibility in the political process, and if you care about the implication of our commitment to "one man, one vote," then you should take a moment to think about the impact of the huge spending of very wealthy Americans who are trying to buy acceptance for their point of view.

When they "put their money where their mouths are," they do it in a big way, much bigger than almost everyone else can manage.
That's the problem with unlimited personal and organization and corporate spending on political campaigns. It distorts and destroys the American ideal of "one man, one vote" because it greases the campaigns and facilitates the success of ideologically driven and ideologically enthralled candidates. It greases the campaigns and contributes to the success of candidates who are willing to take a lot of money from a few people—is their motive hard to figure out? Is it hard to understand the voting records of such elected representatives? Is it hard to figure out who they represent?

The flood of cash from the rich, the few and the furious doesn't take away your vote. It swamps your vote and drowns out your voice and puts in office too many politicians who aren't prepared to listen to you after they take office.

They hear the sound of money. It's not a tune I like to hear. How about you?

Elections for sale (part 1)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The wisdom of Abraham Lincoln

"To sin by silence when they should protest
                                                  makes cowards of men."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th President of the United States

'Nuff said. Reminds me of another one:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
                                                is that good men do nothing."
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Irish statesman, Member of Parliament 

Old Abe on Wikipedia

More quotes from Edmund Burke

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Like, Omigaw!? Water torture, 2012 style…

Remember when one of your parents would yell "Turn off that faucet while you're brushing your teeth!"? Well, here's another reason to do it:

Seems that a gentleman who lived alone in Port Colbourne, Ontario, Canada, died whilst the water was running in his bathroom sink. He was found three weeks later. Yup, the water ran for three whole weeks.

The town fathers have unblinkingly sent the family of the deceased a $600 water bill after refusing to waive the charge in these, um, exceptional circumstances. I can well imagine the clerk in the Port Colbourne Water Bureau righteously declaring, "Ma'am, if we do it for your dead father, we'd have to do it for everybody's dead father."

About 19,000 people live in Port Colbourne. It would cost them about 3 cents each to forgive this unusual bill and ease the minds of the gent's family.

I'm no dummy. I've already updated my "Last Wishes Regarding My Death" document in case I am found dead in any circumstances that include plumbing connected to any municipal water supply, thus:

"If I am found in an apparent state of death, it is my wish that someone should call 911 immediately and then check to make sure that all water faucets are turned off, and remember to check the basement sink and also the backyard hose spigot."

You make your own decision about what you want to do.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The wisdom of Mark Twain

"Suppose you were an idiot.. and suppose you were a member of Congress…but then, I'm repeating myself."

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Yaaasss, Mr. Clemens was most wonderfully a storyteller of the 19th century, but in some ways, he was ahead of his time…

Now, since we're talking about Mark Twain… if you haven't read "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"  or "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras_County"  recently, then do yourself a favor and grab one of 'em…and, well, if you can't say "book" without saying "Kindle" or "iPad," I guess you could find a free download, but I'm thinking you really should be using a good old-fashioned, somewhat worn and perhaps just a tiny bit musty, honest-to-goodness book with a little stain on the cover and "Elizabeth Keckley 1911, Miss Brandt's School" delicately inscribed on the flyleaf. Give that a try.

 Wikipedia's take on Mark Twain

Mark Twain on PBS

More on the good old Congress from Will Rogers:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Iowa caucuses: A very few more of the people have spoken...

Yawn. OK, now we know sort of for sure. Santorum/Romney won the Republican Iowa caucuses on January 3. (But wait! it doesn't really mean anything…)

Rick Santorum sort of officially beat Mitt Romney in the state-wide voting by 34 votes, according to Iowa state GOP officials. It would be even more official if those same officials could find the vote tallies from 8 of their 1,774 voting precincts…seems the mostly volunteer staff who conducted the voting sort of lost some records or went on vacation before reporting or something…

Anyway, it really doesn't make any difference. Both of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination got about 30,000 votes -- that's about ONE-HUNDREDTH OF ONE PERCENT of the estimated 230 million Americans who will be eligible to vote for the next president in November. Santorum's sort of final margin of victory is so small it would be tedious to write it out in words or decimal places….

...and anyway, the political nomination process in Iowa is not based on a winner-take-all statewide vote count, it's based on precinct delegate winners going to county conventions where delegates are selected to go to the Iowa state party convention. This newly revised vote total doesn't change anything about how many delegates Santorum and Romney are going to get from Iowa.

These two guys finished in a dead heat on January 3, and the updated result is still a dead heat by any reasonable reckoning. It is political bamboozlery of the first order to say anything else about it.

So I won't. I pretty sure someone else will.

My previous posts about the Iowa caucuses:

A very few, the first time...

Much ado about the few

The few, the partisan

Spoofing democracy in the Iowa caucuses

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The wisdom of Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003)

I've always liked this pearl from Moynihan, seems like it should stop a lot of goofy arguments (and presidential candidates) cold in their tracks, but, alas, it doesn't…….

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To All Job Creators: Get To Work (part 3)

...where are the job creators when we need them?

Seems that Kraft Foods announced it's going to un-create 1,600 jobs in North America...

Seems that none of the job creators were announcing that they are creating 1,600 new jobs….or did I miss that?

Right now, taxes on businesses---including the elusively-defined small businesses---are the lowest they've been in decades.

We all know business taxes haven't been raised since the financial collapse more than three years ago.

We all know that doggone "uncertainty" has been steadily decreasing in recent years.

Memo to all job creators: What's stopping you? Create some of those jobs today! Let everybody know about it!

Some previous posts about the job creators:
Job Creators: Sound off!
Job Creators: Get To Work (part 2)
Job Creators: Get To Work (part 1)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The wisdom of "Herm Albright"

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems,
     but it will annoy enough people to make it worthwhile."

"Herm Albright, writer"

A luscious quote. Share it as you will.

An interesting thing about Herm Albright is that apparently no one knows who he is (or was). The breezy quote is attributed to him on about a million web sites, but there is no Wikipedia entry for "Herm Albright" or "Herman Albright" and I spent a solid 5 minutes using Bing and Google to find a bio on him without success. I put "Herm Albright, writer" in quotation marks to suggest an aura of anonymity.

So, thanks, Herm, whoever you are…

Monday, January 16, 2012

President Obama: the long view...

Here it is, a retrospective on President Obama's first term that offers some much-needed realpolitik context for what he's done and hasn't done.

Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Beast hits so many nails right on the head. The president of course has disappointed many of those who so enthusiastically voted for him in 2008 (including me), but we should rethink the pain…and if you backed McCain, at least give Sullivan a hearing, his column is a mostly thoughtful commentary, not a rant.

Cheers to Andrew Sullivan, this hits home!

Sullivan: "What liberals have never understood about Obama is that he practices a show-don’t-tell, long-game form of domestic politics. What matters to him is what he can get done, not what he can immediately take credit for."

I'm convinced that the reasons for my disappointment, mostly, can be traced to the partisan intransigence of far too many congresspersons from both political parties. Roughly speaking, Sullivan says that President Obama takes the long and consciously liberal/progressive view, while other power brokers on both sides of the aisle in Washington are hip-deep in politics as usual, short-term re-election concerns, selling their votes to lobbyists or the 1%, and baldly ignoring the communal welfare of most Americans.

The president doesn't get a bye for what he hasn't done, but I give him credit for what he has done and, importantly, what he's tried to do.

If the current political scene were less vile and tendentious, he might have been able to do more.

Four more years. That's the ticket.

Another source of some balanced political reporting

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book review: "The Financier" by Theodore Dreiser

First published 1912, Harper and Bros.

It's just amazing that Dreiser (1871-1945) wrote this gritty novel in 1912, before anyone even thought of derivatives, credit default swaps, sub-prime "liar loan" mortgages and no-fault (for bankers and brokers, that is) national financial meltdowns. Frank Cowperwood is the ethically-challenged "financier" whose star and fortunes rise so marvelously and then collapse with equal flare. He seems so absolutely convincingly contemporary that I had recurring transient episodes of reverse déjà vu as I followed his desperate ambition and burnout.

Frank is a first-rate villain. He burns his friends and enemies with equal disdain, he channels Gordon Gekko with suitably theatrical energy, and he is most deliciously unrepentant when his schemes go awry, his loans get called and his empire crashes around him.

I say "deliciously unrepentant" because, unlike his contemporary villainous free spirits of Wall Street, Frank promptly goes to jail for his crimes.

"The Financier" so obviously is the kind of novel that might be written by a baroque clone of Michael Lewis. If you'd like to work out a bit of the residual rage you feel about the man-made financial cesspool we've been wallowing in for the last few years, try this American classic.

Theodore Dreiser

Dreiser is an under-appreciated, not quite muckraking 20th century writer

"Greed is good" a la Gekko

"The Financier"

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2012 All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Political parties withering, not dead yet...

Just a quickie, here: the Gallup Poll reports that the percentage of Americans who self-identify as political "Independents" is at 40%, the highest figure tallied during the last six decades of Gallup polling.

The percentages of Americans claiming to be either Republican or Democrat are at the lowest levels in 23 years: 31% say they're Democrats, 27% say they're Republicans.

Gallup says Independents are increasing

The Pew Research Center says it doesn't matter if you are an Independent, Democrat or Republican – it's a good bet that you believe it's the politicians in Congress, not the political system, who are the problem. In all three categories, more than half say that it's the politicians who've screwed up.

Pew Research confirms voters distrust the pols

This general denigration is also reflected in the much-publicized fact that 9 out of 10 Americans disapprove of what our Congressional representatives are doing in Washington.

The putative "loyal base" of the parties, whether Dem or Repub, is shrinking. How many folks who claim to be adherents of one or the other are really satisfied with what their party stands for and what their party leaders and pols are actually doing, in the legislative halls and on the campaign trail?

Is it really meaningful to claim party loyalty in the current circus of fractious partisanship and anonymous fat cats who're trying to buy elections with negative advertising costing many millions? What if 80% of the electorate decided to switch their voting registration to "Independent"? What if "Independent" is becoming the new "base"?

I'm waiting for the cable news talking heads to dig into this one.

See this post on voter ignorance

GOP: the new Know-Nothing party...

New findings from the Pew Research Center suggest a new meaning for the 19th century "Know-Nothing" political label. Anybody can join the new "Know-Nothings," all you need to do to qualify is to prove that you don't know much about the Republican contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

The Pew Research Center report

If you qualify, you're not going to be lonely. Pew says only half of voters of any political persuasion know that Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts. In the Pew survey conducted in the first week of January, less than half of registered voters could say that South Carolina has the primary election following the one in New Hampshire. Less than half could identify the GOP candidate (Ron Paul) who opposes U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. To be fair, Tea Party adherents were twice as knowledgeable as other Republicans.

So, no big deal, you say? Well, sure. That's politics. Duh. But the obvious followup questions are: How many voters have effective knowledge of the policy platforms and policy positions that are associated with the major candidates? How many voters can realistically explain (or critique) Mitt's stance on taxes? Ron's position on entitlement reform? Newt's intentions for foreign policy? Santorum's philosophy on just about everything other than abortion and the sanctity of the family?

The cable news talking heads squawk endlessly about the "game," who's surging, who's projected to do well among red-headed left-handed former circus roustabouts, who's committed the latest sound-bite-ish You Tube-able gaffe, what the latest poll of "probable voters" reveals……we have precious little discussion of issues, and the modern Know-Nothings don't seem to mind.

I mind….and I hasten to state the obvious: if we had a Republican incumbent and a half dozen Democratic contenders in an endless procession of primary elections, the Pew Research Center almost certainly would be reporting similar results…..

Possible source of even-handed political reporting

FYI: The original Know-Nothing movement in the early 1850s was a short-lived, secretive, narrowly nativist, anti-immigrant faction that had some popular support….thank goodness we don't have any of this sort around anymore……

Britannica.com on 1850s Know-Nothings

Friday, January 13, 2012

The wisdom of William Shakespeare

"A light heart lives long."

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Ain't it the truth?! Lift up thine heart whene'er you can…

Wikipedia's this and that about Shakespeare

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mitt isn't it...yet

FLASH: Mitt Romney didn't win the Republican nomination for president yet.

Yup, Romney won "big" in New Hampshire yesterday, despite the fact that almost 60% of registered Republicans didn't vote for him. In fact, almost 87% of all registered voters in New Hampshire didn't vote for Romney, and about 92% of them didn't vote for Ron Paul. I won't get into Rick Perry's numbers…

In fact, Romney received about 96,000 votes, and Paul got roughly 55,000.

I am very definitely NOT saying the New Hampshire primary results are somehow invalid or without meaning simply because of the small numbers…. New Hampshire is a small state, not densely populated, there are more people living in Philadelphia than in New Hampshire…

The Star Tribune gives some Granite State political stats

I am VERY definitely saying that only FOUR HUNDREDTHS OF ONE PERCENT of the voting age population of the United States cast their ballots for Mitt Romney yesterday. The New Hampshire primary results are a very small slice of the action, based on the politics and beliefs and desires and energy of the kind of folks who live in New Hampshire, and those folks are very definitely not a typical slice of America.

The cable news talking heads very definitely should be reporting the results of the primary in the Granite State… but projecting those results for national handicapping of the candidates or to rank/categorize the candidates—as in "Romney is the front runner"—is unverifiable, foolish and deceptive.

The Iowa caucuses were a very small, unrepresentative sample of the voting intentions of Americans. The New Hampshire primary was a very small, unrepresentative sample of the voting intentions of Americans. The results are real information. But they are not useful as predictions of the ultimate GOP nominee. Let's just let the primary sequence play out and see who we end up with. We don't have to know the ultimate winner right now.

A couple of my previous posts on:

Iowa caucuses: a very few have spoken

Ames Straw Poll: this ain't democracy

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The muscular factions, those poor babies...

It's a new low for George Will. His January 6 column in the Washington Post on "Government: The redistributionist behemoth" basically says that the 99% have lured the 1% to take control and take a great big chunk of nearly everything. Big government is the terrible magnet, says George, and it's all the fault of the liberals. "Drat," those muscular factions at the top must be muttering, "they got us."

Liberal ready to trap a "faction"

Here's George's opening salvo: "Liberals have a rendezvous with regret. Their largest achievement is today’s redistributionist government. But such government is inherently regressive: It tends to distribute power and money to the strong, including itself. Government becomes big by having big ambitions for supplanting markets as society’s primary allocator of wealth and opportunity. Therefore it becomes a magnet for factions muscular enough, in money or numbers or both, to bend government to their advantage."

George Will's entire column

Nicely said, George, of course, you are a wordsmith. But wait a minute, George, you say it's all really OUR fault? It's the Liberals who created "redistributionist government" that attracted all those "muscular factions" that have the cash and power to "bend government to their advantage"? Sorry, George, ALL governments attract those evil muscular factions, or, more fundamentally, ALL those evil muscular factions take control of ALL governments. It seems like it's liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, but underneath it's just the horrid game of politics and power.

Liberal enforcer

George, this disingenuous column could've been written by a schoolboy, but you wrote it. One way to read it is the way you wrote it.

The other way to read it is: "the 99% have blindly and contemptibly made it possible for the 1% to take control and take more than their share." That smells bad, George. Please admit that what you wrote isn't simply an innocent mistake.

More of my comments on the 99%

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Movie review: "Crazy Heart" with Jeff Bridges

2009 Rated R 1 hr 52 mins
Directed by Scott Cooper
Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean Craddock
The country tunes in this film are pretty good

You can see some of the popular "Crazy Heart" movie reviews below.
 Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a genuine country singer that some folks have forgotten.

Technically, I guess, Blake is not a loser: he is a celebrity performer, he has CDs to sell, he can write killer country lyrics, he opens for a hot current star, and he's mostly honest with himself. But he loses: loses his wives, loses touch with his son, lets drinking run him off the road to opportunity, loses his relationship with the woman that, finally, he loves in a way that makes his life livable and worth living….

It's tempting to say that "Crazy Heart" is a film about the flaws and successes of a man striving for redemption, but I don't really see it that way.

I see Bad Blake as a man who knows what he is, knows what he can be, finally knows what he wants, and ultimately has to accept solitary self-renewal instead of salvation in Jean's arms….ultimately, and poignantly, he admits to himself and confirms to Jean that all he has left is to live "one day at a time"…..

There is a lot of heart in those words, but a lot of heart has already drained out of them.

Review on  imdb.com
Review on Rotten Tomatoes

A few of my previous movie reviews:
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
"Hard Times"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Movie review: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" with Gary Oldman

2011     Rated R    2 hrs 8 mins
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by John le Carre, based on his book

OK, I've read some of the reviews, differing opinions make the world go 'round…

For me, this British spy biggie is a class act. It's atmospheric, tense, obviously dark…….and a great mystery to me.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) got it, but I didn't get it. The bad spy is outed in the movie's climax, but not because of any clues that got through to me.

John le Carre

Many years ago I started watching the "original" 1979 series with Alec Guinness, I recall that my wife and I gave up on that one pretty quickly.

I guess I'm just a sequential plot lover. I'm happy when the story begins, builds step by step to the climax, and then, if possible, I get the very slightly exotic denouement to cap a pleasant dramatic experience.

Perhaps I expect too little from a film. I can live with that.

"Tinker, Tailor…" is a class act, give it a try, maybe you can figure it out…

"Tinker, Tailor.." on imdb.com
Ditto on Rotten Tomatoes

Gary Oldman bio

Some reviews of “Tinker, Tailor….
From washingtonpost.com:
New York Times review

Friday, January 6, 2012

Objective political reporting about primary politics?...

I am very cautious about using the word “objective’ in any sentence that includes the words “political” and “reporting” and “politics”………caveat lector

This seems to be a potentially interesting web site:   Politics In Stereo   it features reporters and bloggers in the states with imminent primary elections.

The setup is pretty obvious:
From The Left, Non-Partisan, and From The Right, with the views and opinions of folks who more or less fit those categories.

The current offerings are a rather eclectic collection of posts on politicos and primary sound bites in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

You can sign up for email alerts. I did.

From the web site:
“Nathan Gonzales is Founder and Publisher of Politics in Stereo. He’s also Deputy Editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a well-respected non-partisan newsletter that covers campaigns and elections.”

Gawd knows, we need more non-partisan newsletters!

Check it out, see for yourself, make your own judgment.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The wisdom of Linus Pauling

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas."

Linus Carl Pauling (1901-1994)

A noted biochemist, he won the Nobel prize for chemistry. As a peace activist, he won the Nobel peace prize.

…and good ways to have lots of ideas are to, well, think (!) about something for more than 10 seconds and also to be willing to welcome and recognize ideas from other people and all sources…….having only one good idea may lead to a narrowed outlook, a biased confidence, and the temptation to defend it at all costs….

Wikipedia has the Linus Pauling story

The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The wisdom of Jean Cocteau

          "Of course I believe in luck.
 How otherwise to explain the success of some people you detest?"
 Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (1889-1963)

A writer, poet, librettist, filmmaker, bon vivant.....Cocteau was one of  the celebrated figures in the Bohemian culture of Europe.

His somewhat wry comment on the human condition is a comfort, I guess…..but not every time

Wikipedia's riff on Jean_Cocteau

A Jean Cocteau web site

Iowa caucuses: a very few of the people have spoken...

OK, now we know. Romney/Santorum won the Republican Iowa caucuses.

It looks like a mere 122,00 of the GOP faithful (and maybe a few ringers) went to their Iowa precinct meetings last night and put---you take your pick: Mitt Romney, 30,015 votes or Rick Santorum, 30,007 votes---in the lead for the Republican presidential nomination. Onward to New Hampshire, right? No one knows if the Iowa results have any meaning for New Hampshire or for the coming November election.

Just to make it easier, let's say "Romney won."

(You can read "Santorum won" if it makes you feel better).

Washington Post reports "Romney edges Santorum"

It makes me queasy to think that the TV talking heads are off and running with their lead story about "Romney on the way for GOP nomination," based on the ballots cast last night by about ONE-HUNDREDTH OF ONE PERCENT of Americans who are old enough to vote.

This ain't no shining moment in a display of how U.S. politics and representative democracy ideally are supposed to work.

There are about 650,000 registered Republicans in Iowa. Last night about 122,000 of them played the quadrennial game called the Iowa presidential caucus.

Politico.com on the Iowa results  The news media are breathlessly saying that 30,015 of them voted for Romney. Another way to think about this is to say that 1.3% of the voting age population of Iowa voted for Romney, and 98.7% didn't. It's a reverse landslide for Romney, folks.

Let's forget for the moment that the Iowa caucuses have a poor track record of identifying the ultimate nominees…Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Republican caucus in 2008---remember him?

If Romney turns out to be the Republican nominee, imagine that he could win the presidency with a similar degree of support at the national level. That is to say, imagine that Romney succeeded to the Oval Office with only 3 million votes nationwide, out of 230 million potential voters. Who thinks that would be a good example of representative democracy in action?

The Iowa caucuses: the few, the partisan, the hype, the extravagant TV coverage, the endless mind-numbing "analysis," the tens of millions of dollars for disgustingly inaccurate political ads, the 1 out of 5 Republicans who bothered to show up….

Much too much ado about the few…….and no one knows whether it signifies anything at all.

My previous posts on goofy Iowa politics:

Much ado about the few
The few, the partisan...
Spoofing democracy in Iowa caucuses
Iowa Ames Poll: democracy or barbecue?
Ames Poll: democracy it ain't

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Iowa caucuses: much ado about the few, the partisan

A small minority of voting age Iowans are going to caucus tonight and vote for the Republican presidential candidates of their choice. The Iowa caucuses attract something like one-seventh of one percent of Americans who can vote. The news media and TV talking heads will invest great importance in what they do. The candidates will spin it. If you don't live in Iowa, how much do you care?

I am not breathless waiting for the results. The Iowa caucuses have only infrequently identified the ultimate nominees in past presidential races. If you had to pay to get the actual results, would you?

My previous comments on presidential political shenanigans in Iowa:
Iowa caucuses:  the few, the partisan, the hype

Spoofing democracy in Iowa

The Iowa Ames Poll: the party's over

The Iowa Ames Poll: democracy it ain't

Silence is not golden...why aren't doctors speaking up?

Here's the short version: a sizable chunk of the medical research that gets reported in peer-reviewed journals is wrong, lots of folks know it's wrong, and yet your doctor may still be treating you based on bad information. Did you hear any of the cable TV talking heads mention this recently?

I just spotted this story in "The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011," edited by Mary Roach, and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011. This is a mini book review pointing to one piece in this collection.

The annual "Best American" series never disappoints, especially the "American Essays" and "American Short Stories" collections. Find them here: "Best American......" series

You'll probably happily recognize a few of the offerings in each collection, and you'll find many unfamiliar nuggets that are worth reading and re-reading.

Among the 2011 Science and Nature Writing gems is "Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science" by David H. Freedman, originally published in The Atlantic in November 2010. Original story here in Atlantic online

Freedman reports on the work of Professor John P. A. Ioannidis, a meta-researcher whose team has analyzed peer-reviewed medical research for two decades at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece.

A brief Wikipedia entry on John Ioannidis

Broadly referring to a wide range of errors in published health research, Ioannidis says "the studies were biased. Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there." Freedman says we like to think that scientific research is objective. I hasten to note that research is done by human beings, and the concept of Rational Man has been partially debunked in many ways.

Ioannidis: "At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded. There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded."

For example, the Greek researcher looked at 45 highly regarded and widely cited research findings published during a 13-year-period. Among this group, 14 of the claimed discoveries of "effective interventions" had already been proved wrong or "significantly exaggerated."

Ioannidis lectures widely and his work has been published repeatedly, in the Journal of the American Medical Association and other respectable journals. Apparently he hasn't generated a substantial fuss yet. You should hope that your doctor isn't reading or relying on research that ain't true.

What's the rub? It's not too difficult to imagine some of the explanation. Ioannidis says "even when the evidence shows that a particular research idea is wrong, if you have thousands of scientists who have invested their careers in it, they'll continue to publish papers on it."

Freedman observes that the validity of scientific research is based in part on the assumption that scientists can and do test and re-test the work of others—but Ioannidis finds that re-testing often is weak or non-existent. Of the 45 studies mentioned above, 11 had never been independently re-tested. Ioannidis uncovered one prominent health study that had been soundly refuted, and yet the original finding was still being cited in published work 13 years after it was proved faulty.

Finally, Ioannidis worries about discrediting medical research to the extent that research funding might start drying up and minimizing the pipeline of work on "breakthrough" cures and health care improvements.

Ioannidis again: "Science is a noble endeavor, but it's also a low-yield endeavor. I'm not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with that fact."

And patients, and doctors and the government agencies and non-profit benefactors who fund health care research should demand more rigorous research and mandatory independent verification. Silence about the shortcomings of medical research is not golden.

Jan 4, 2012 -- Here are some additional resources I collected after this post was published:

More data wanted on clinical trials
Drug company payments to doctors
Short research papers have errors