Saturday, August 21, 2010

The New Culture Wars

Remember the old conservative culture wars? Abortion, flag-burning, school prayer, gun rights and the Ten Commandments in government buildings? It kind of makes one yearn for the good old days. Promises were made to the religious right by conservatives, but the conservatives couldn't deliver. The above conservative culture issues seemed to have gone away because they aren't as effective in getting votes as they used to be.

Now we have culture wars II. The new culture war is based on the premise that you have to be afraid of the people who aren't like you, usually brown people. Immigrant anchor babies, immigrant terrorist babies, Mosque construction at ground zero by terrorist supporting muslims, and the double whammy of having a President who is not only a muslim, but wasn't even born in the USA.

And, instead of proposing new Constitutional amendments to ban flag-burning and make abortion illegal, the conservatives are now proposing that we repeal some of the Bill of Rights.

This is identity politics at it's worst. Be afraid. Be very afraid (usually of dark skinned people). The white Christians in the USA are being persecuted. Vote for us before it's too late and the muslims take over. Being in the middle of a severe economic crisis doesn't help. Someone needs to be blamed. How about blaming the guy who is a muslim and wasn't born in the USA.

This strategy is effective and will garner votes for the the short term.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doug Hoffman, Castro, and Michael Moore

I saw Doug Hoffman in the Blue Moon Cafe this morning discussing strategy with a little weird guy. Couldn't really hear what they were saying but I did hear three words clearly. "Democrats", "Castro" and "Michael Moore". Hmmmm, an anti-HealthCare ad or an ad about how democrats hate capitalism? Just can't decide.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just a quick question for Republican women

Are Republican women embarrassed at all that Sharon Angle, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin seem to be the best the GOP has to offer in female politicians?

Fox News and the Republican Party

Anyone with half a brain has known that Fox News has been an advertising arm for the Republican party for years. Now, Fox News (News Corp)has decided they would come clean today. BTW, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is Fox's No. 2 shareholder, so I hope he gets his share of influence in the GOP.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Dunning-Kruger effect

Bertrand Russell wrote The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Charles Darwin wrote Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. Russell and Darwin had noticed what's now called the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias. It's why many incompetent people are very confident but their very incompetence denies them the capacity to realize their mistakes.

Dunning and Kruger put it this way: Overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."

My interest in this phenomenon is due to comments to a recent article in the ADE concerning Bill McKibben's talk about climate change at Paul Smiths College.

The climate change "deniers" (skeptics?) seem to be 100% certain that humans are not responsible for recent warming trends. It's a conspiracy, it's the Sun, it's always happened, it's volcano's, man is too puny etc. etc. etc. Forget the scientific evidence, forget that most of their "explanations" have been investigated and found not to be contributing to the warming trend.

Am I 100% certain the climate is warming? Well, it's rare in science to be 100% certain about anything, so of course there are doubts. But all sorts of scientific evidence point to a warming trend due to increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Until there is good evidence that shows this is not the case, I guess I'll stick with the climate is changing crowd.

George Carlin, one of my favorites, once said something like: Imagine the average American...half of them are dumber than that. I'm afraid when it comes to certain scientific theories, it's a bit more than half.

You can read more about the Dunning-Kruger effect in this NY Times science article.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

There's Nothing to Fear.......or is there?

It's been a long hot summer. In fact, it's likely to be the hottest summer, if not the hottest year on record. But not only the temperature made this summer hot. We've had lots of fear-mongering about brown people. A white hating Ag department official, Arizona going to hell in a hand basket due to Hispanic looking persons, the New Black Panthers are plotting revolution against whites, beheadings in Arizona, anchor babies, terrorist babies, evil dangerous mosques being built on the 911 site in NYC etc. Will this be known as the Summer of Fear Mongering?

But do you want to hear something that actually should scare you a little? How about the discovery of a new antibiotic resistance gene that makes almost all beta-lactam antibiotics obsolete?

Beta-lactam antibiotics are antibiotics that contain a beta-lactam nucleus in their molecular structure, eg. penicillin and its derivatives, cephalosporins, and carbapenems.

Beta-lactam antibiotics are resistant to beta-lactamase, an enzyme produced by some bacterial strains which can break open the beta-lactam ring and render the antibiotic useless.

Carbapenems are a group of beta-lactam antibiotics that are highly resistant to beta-lactamase and is the last drug of choice to treat some bacterial infections. But now we have a brand new bacterial antibiotic resistance enzyme encoded by the New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) gene.

The appearance of the gene was first seen in New Delhi about a year ago. In the last year it has been isolated from bacteria in the UK, USA, and Africa. There are no current antibiotics to combat bacteria containing the NDM-1 gene. And, the gene is rapidly spreading via horizontal gene transfer.

Here is a nice quote from a recent paper Lancet paper: "Enterobacteriaceae with NDM-1 carbapenemases are highly resistant to many antibiotic classes and potentially herald the end of treatment with β-lactams, fluoroquinolones, and aminoglycosides—the main antibiotic classes for the treatment of Gram-negative infections."

So, if we are really unlucky, we might have real problems to deal with in the near future.