Wirtism? Summer political crazies explained in history

August 30, 2009

Santayana’s Ghost has been restless these past two months.  Now we know why:  Summer 2009 replayed summer 1934.

Micheal Hiltzik explained it in a column in the Los Angeles Times:

To me they’re merely the latest examples of a phenomenon that might be called Wirtism.

If you find the term unfamiliar, that’s because I just coined it to honor the memory of William A. Wirt. Wirt’s day in the sun came back in 1934, when the obscure Midwestern blowhard placed himself at the center of a political maelstrom by “discovering” a plot by members of Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust to launch a Bolshevik takeover of the United States.

That Wirt’s yarn was transparently absurd didn’t keep it from being taken seriously on the front pages of newspapers coast to coast, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. He gave speeches, wrote a book and went to Washington to give personal testimony at a standing-room-only congressional hearing.

If that reminds you of the overly solicitous treatment given by the press, cable news programs and Republican office holders to purveyors of such lurid claptrap as the Obama birth certificate story or the fantasy of healthcare “death panels,” now you know why it pays to study history.

How did it end?  Not soon enough, or well enough, but it ended:

“Roosevelt is only the Kerensky of this revolution,” he quoted them. (Kerensky was the provisional leader of Russia just before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.) The hoodwinked president would be permitted to stay in office, they said, “until we are ready to supplant him with a Stalin.”

Those words caused an immediate sensation. Wirt hedged on naming the treasonous “Brain Trusters” — which only intensified the public mania. Into the vacuum of information poured supposition masquerading as fact (certainly a familiar phenomenon today). This newspaper, then a pillar of Republicanism, gave Wirt the benefit of the doubt on the grounds that “the activities of the ‘brain trust’ during the past year fit neatly into the Communistic scheme” he described — a reminder that the most potent fabrications are those that confirm what the listener wants to believe.

For that’s what Wirt’s story was — a fabrication. Hauled before Congress, he said he heard of the plot during a party at a friend’s home in Virginia. The other guests, mostly low-level government employees without any connection to the Brain Trust, subsequently testified that none of them could have mentioned Kerensky or Stalin even if they wished, because Wirt monopolized the dinner-table conversation with a four-hour harangue about monetary policy.

Now you know.  So don’t act stupidly.


Bathtub reading, mortuary, cemetery, restaurant and airport version

August 30, 2009

Family funerals combine bitter and sweet.  A long life well-lived, the grief over loss, getting together with family and friends from eight decades — and then it’s back to work in a jolt.

Trying to stay caught up:

Outrageous insult to Darwin and Constitution in Missouri: Were the parents concerned about the quality of the brass section in the band, or did they really object to a humorous depiction of “the evolution of brass” in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth?

They deserve to have their brasses kicked, but the innocent kids don’t.

P. Z. Myers caught the grossest tragedy:

Band parent Sherry Melby, who is a teacher in the district, stands behind Pollitt’s decision. Melby said she associated the image on the T-shirt with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

She doesn’t want her school associated with evolution?  How about associating the school with the Taliban of Afghanistan?  How about associating her school with Homer Simpson’s stupider brother?  How about associating her school with backwards thinking, 16th century bad science?  How about associating her school with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the sort of stupidity that leads religiously-based violence?

Ray Mummert probably got the call to help Sedalia out, and he’s organizing to fight the forces of smart and intelligent people.  Comments from residents of Sedalia are shocking in their lack of information, and depressing.

Kids, pay attention in science class: A proud science teacher in Minnesota, and probably some proud parents, tooTip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula on this one.

Anybody who complains about this deserves to get their tail kicked with Tom Delay and every Republican who redistricted Texas last time around. (Sen. Ted Kennedy suggested the Massachusetts legislature should allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement to represent the state in the U.S. Senate in the event of a vacancy, until a special election can be held.)

First Amendment wins again: Kentucky had a law that said the state could be safe from al Quaeda attack only by the grace of God.  A judge, noting that it will take a lot of work by a lot of dedicated Kentuckians who deserve credit, and that it’s illegal to make such a claim in law, overturned the law.

Private insurance failed this woman; Medicare would pay for the treatment under some circumstances, but there is no lie opponents to health care reform won’t tell in order to scare people away from the facts. They claim the woman couldn’t be treated under government care, but Medicare pays for the expensive drug in question.  Can’t they at least tell the truth?

This is getting depressing.  I’m going to go look at mountains.


Where’s a conspiracy theorist when you need one?

August 30, 2009

1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…”

While Tom Delay dances with the starlets, and Jack Abramoff actually does time, isn’t anyone curious about who organizes all the protests against health care reform?

(Lookie here, P. Z. — Christians doing good.  Of course it’s not justification for the faith.  It’s one hopeful sign in the Sea of Hamhovind idiocy.)

You may also want to see:


Hey, parents: School’s in; do you know where your kids are?

August 30, 2009

School’s in.  Most of the students are in class.

But where are their parents?

Education success often depends on the involvement of parents; a friend in Oregon alerted me to this opposite-editorial piece by Aki Mori, a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.  Notice the comments, too (do they just grow commenters stronger in Oregon?) and Mori’s getting into the discussion.

Inter alia, he wrote:

When I spent a high school year abroad in Japan in 1986, I found myself to be nothing but a minor leaguer trying to play in the big leagues when it came to math and science — a real blow to my pride since I’d always been a first-team all-star back home in the United States. On the other hand, not a single teacher in that highly competitive school left any impression on me in terms of his or her teaching skills.

I was equally underwhelmed last summer when I was among 50 teachers from around the world who were invited to Japan to visit Japanese schools and learn about their educational system. The shocking truth is, on the basis of pure teaching talent, American teachers are superior to those in Japan. Whereas Japanese teachers are by and large more knowledgeable and stronger generalists than American teachers, they do not possess key qualities that are essential for succeeding in the American classroom such as creativity, resourcefulness and compassion.

And,

In the famous story of the little Dutch boy, a child was able to save his country from disaster when he called upon others to help plug up leaks until sufficient repairs to the structure could be made. Our American system of education is leaking in many places — how serious you feel is the threat depends largely on your location along the dike. But it is clear to me that teachers and schools cannot fix the problem alone. For better or for worse, we will always end up exactly with the system of education that we as a society deserve. Perhaps in the future enough of us will work together to deserve better than what we have today.

Discuss (in comments).


U.S. Boy Scouts join UN and NBA to fight malaria

August 28, 2009

Press release from the malaria-fighting group Nothing But Nets:

Nothing But Nets Teams Up With Boy Scouts of America to Fight Malaria

Boy Scouts of America Celebrate 100 Years of Service by Extending Reach Outside Nation’s Borders; Millions of Scouts Across the U.S., including Distinguished Eagle Scout Bill Gates Sr., Spread the Word on Malaria Prevention.

Detroit, MI (Vocus/PRWEB ) August 28, 2009 — The United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets, a grassroots campaign to prevent malaria by sending long-lasting insecticide-treated nets to families in Africa, announced today that the Boy Scouts of America has joined the malaria-prevention campaign as part of its 100th Anniversary Celebration. Throughout the year, Scouts from around the country will work within their communities to raise awareness about malaria, a leading killer in Africa.

BSA Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca and Nothing But Nets Director Adrianna Logalbo launched the life-saving partnership today during a malaria workshop at Detroit Edison Public School Academy. Bill Gates Sr., Distinguished Eagle Scout and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Honorable Dave Bing, Mayor of Detroit and Deron Washington of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, joined Mazzuca and Logalbo at the workshop to teach more than 65 local Scouts about malaria and how to help prevent the deadly disease.

“Every single day, in almost every community across the nation, Scouts are doing their part to make this world a better place by becoming good citizens. But our concern for others doesn’t stop at our borders. We are global citizens,” Mazzuca said. “Even during a challenging economic recession, it’s hard to imagine that nearly 3,000 people die every day from a preventable disease like malaria. We’re pleased to work with the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign to help make a positive difference for the children in Africa.”

The Boy Scouts of America joined the Nothing But Nets campaign as part of its newly launched A Year of Celebration, A Century of Making a Difference program, one of eight major engagement programs the organization is undertaking as part of its 100th Anniversary Celebration. A Year of Celebration is a recognition program that rewards Scouts, leaders, and BSA alumni for devotion to five of Scouting’s core values: leadership, character, community service, achievement, and the outdoors. For the Year of Celebration service award, Scouts can choose to participate in the Nothing But Nets service project.

“We are pleased to partner with the Boy Scouts of America and see hundreds of youth leaders work together to raise malaria awareness and spread the message of how simple it is to prevent the disease,” Logalbo said. “This initiative is powered by passionate people, and we are grateful to have the Boy Scouts help us build support to prevent malaria in Africa.”

Through this partnership with Nothing But Nets, Scouts will help build awareness about malaria and prevention by conducting service projects such as removing standing water in parks–a breeding ground for mosquitoes–and creating educational tools and activities that illustrate the impact of malaria on the global community.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a partner of the UN Foundation and its Nothing But Nets campaign since 2006 and is dedicated to eliminating malaria deaths. “It is wonderful to watch the Scouts reach out to help other young children in Africa,” Bill Gates Sr. said. “I am proud of the Boy Scouts’ dedication to service and welcome another great partner in the fight against malaria.”

Long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets are an easy and cost-effective method to help prevent malaria. Bed nets prevent malaria transmission by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when the vast majority of transmissions occur. For more information about Nothing But Nets, visit www.NothingButNets.net.

About Nothing But Nets:
Nothing But Nets is a global, grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, a leading killer of children in Africa. Inspired by sports columnist Rick Reilly, more than 100,000 people have joined the campaign that was created by the United Nations Foundation in 2006. Founding campaign partners include the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, the people of The United Methodist Church, and Sports Illustrated. It costs just $10 to provide a long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed net to prevent this deadly disease. Visit www.NothingButNets.net to send a net and save a life.

About the Boy Scouts of America:
Serving nearly 4.1 million youth between the ages of 7 and 20, with more than 300 councils throughout the United States and its territories, the BSA is the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. The Scouting movement is composed of 1.2 million volunteers, whose dedication of time and resources has enabled the BSA to remain the nation’s leading youth-service organization. For more information on the BSA, please visit www.scouting.org.

More information about 100 Years of Scouting can be found at www.scouting.org/100years.

Press Contacts:
For media inquiries regarding the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets, contact:
Amy DiElsi
Communications Director, Children’s Health
(o) 202-419-3230 (c) 202-492-3078

For media inquiries regarding the Boy Scouts of America, contact
Nicole Selinger
(o) 314-982-0573 (c) 314-805-2165


Hubble Deep Field , 3-D animation

August 28, 2009

Here’s something that will make the Texas State Board of Education cringe and cower under their desks; watch it in good health:

Tip of the old scrub brush to DVice.


David Horsey can’t draw that, can he?

August 27, 2009

Sometimes the only bastion of sanity on the editorial pages is the editorial cartoon.  David Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has good one’s all the time, and especially over the past few weeks of the Congressional recess.

But, did the P-I actually print* this one?

Cartoon by David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, copyright 2009

Cartoon by David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, copyright 2009; August 22, 2009

Well, of course they didn’t actually print it . . . publish?  post?  release?


Slow posting

August 27, 2009

Dear Reader,

My apologies.  Posting is slow — as it always is when the new school year begins.  But this year is complicated by a death in the family.

Find a thread and comment.

How are things at your school this year, so far?


Ted Kennedy is dead, but “the dream shall never die”

August 26, 2009

Now we know why Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts wrote the state’s governor to urge a change in law to allow a quick appointment of a caretaking successor — Kennedy’s vote could be crucial to legislation in the next few weeks.

Kennedy died last night, felled by brain cancer.

He served longer in the U.S. Senate than all but five other people.  His legislative history on civil rights alone maks him one of the top four or five legislators ever to serve in America — and that ignores his legislation on voting, health care, labor issues, environment, and other places.

There will be tributes to Kennedy over the next few days.  Electronic media being what it is, there will be too many jeers of Kennedy, too.

It’s worth remembering that Kennedy was a gracious man, and that even in defeat himself he could rally others to victory and inspiration.  His speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention ranks as one of the 100 best speeches in American history, and it is fitting now.

And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering, and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith.

May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.

And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:

“I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are –
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

We can hope.  We do hope.

Conservatives appear to love to criticize the man.  They are jealous that they had no one like him to carry their banner.

(Audio of the convention speech is here, at American Rhetoric.)


Poachers kill massive grizzly in Montana

August 24, 2009

Ralph Maughan’s Wildlife News reports that Maximus, an 800-pound grizzly bear thought to be Montana’s second largest, was illegally killed recently.

The poacher shot the bear about four weeks ago.  A reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the poacher.

Can you tell a grizzly from a brown bear?  Chart from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Can you tell a grizzly from a brown bear? Chart from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Update, 1-30-2010: The chart linked to above has disappeared in a website redesign.  Below is a crude representation of the chart I made from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife information sheet on grizzlies, here.

How to tell a grizzly from a black (.pdf download)

Grizzly bear/black bear identification chart, adapted from USFWS by Ed Darrell, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub

Grizzly bear/black bear identification chart, adapted from USFWS by Ed Darrell, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub


Why Republicans are going the way of the Whigs

August 23, 2009

It’s not that they’re losing the war of politics.  It’s that they’re losing a war with reality they should not be waging.

A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) illustrates the profound levels of ignorance that currently interfere with the debate over health care.

One question asked: “Do you think the government should stay out of Medicare?” Keep in mind that this is a logical impossibility, as Medicare is a government program, which was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, to provide guaranteed health care to the elderly.

As it turns out, 39% of voters think government should stay out of Medicare, compared to 46% who disagree.

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president; the party nominated a candidate in 1856, but was dead completely by 1860.  Bust of Vice President Millard Fillmore, by Robert Cushing, U.S. Senate Chamber -

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president; the party nominated a candidate in 1856, but was dead completely by 1860. Bust of Vice President Millard Fillmore, by Robert Cushing, U.S. Senate Chamber -

Among Republicans, 62% say the government should stay out of Medicare, compared to only 24% of Democrats and 31% of independents who agree.

Government should get out of Medicare?  Yeah, and the Supreme Court should take the Constitution and get out of law.  Farmers should get out of agriculture.  And God should get out of religion.

If you believe that, I have an island in the Hudson River to sell you, complete with bridges.  No wonder Republicans are so prone to voodoo history.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.


Does your washing machine serenade you?

August 23, 2009

From the years in consulting, I well recall the myriad articles about superior customer service in Japan, and then Korea.  “Delight the customer” philosophies bring people back to repeat purchase, goes the mantra.

So, the old Maytag started to sputter.  It may have been repairable, but it was an old machine when we bought it used about a dozen years ago.  Repair wouldn’t be cheap.  Money for repair might go a long way to purchase of a new machine.

Samsung VRT washer

Samsung VRT washer

Kathryn shopped hard.  Get a money-saver, an electricity-saver, a water saver.  We settled on a Samsung front-loader with “vibration reducing technology.”  It still cost more than my first two cars put together.

It uses a lot less water.  The cycles are longer, but gentler.  Clothes come out spun considerably drier than the upright, old Maytag, which means much less time in the dryer.  We’re saving electricity and water all the way around.

Remember customer delight?

The first load ended with three gentle bells to tell us — and then, as Kathryn immediately recognized, the opening notes of the theme from the 4th movement of Schubert’s “The Trout Quintet.”  The joys of modern technology.  Who was it came up with the idea to play Schubert?

We smile with every load.


End the hoaxes, part 4: When India’s health care beats the U.S., it’s time to change

August 23, 2009

Can’t see any reason to reform health care in the U.S.?  Read this letter to the editor of the Stockton (California) Record:

August 22, 2009

I recently returned from India with my partner (a Lodi resident, born and raised in Stockton), who had hip surgery there because he has inadequate health insurance and could not afford to have the surgery done here. He, by the way, had excellent care there at a fraction of the cost here, including travel.

It is difficult to understand the paranoia of citizens who are blind to the obvious manipulation by politicians and insurance executives. Insurance companies, through their politician spokespeople, continue to succeed in duping Americans into believing they cannot trust the government, while they make decisions based primarily, if not solely, on huge profits. Certain politicians are willing to sell Americans down the river in the hopes of regaining some political ground.

Though the government may not be great at controlling costs, it does not make decisions based only on maximizing profits into private pockets, and it answers to us at election time. Is our faith in our system at so low an ebb that we alone among industrial nations cannot manage this? Insurance companies act only for themselves.

Me? I trust the government over insurance companies any day. Common sense tells us we need reform, we need it now, and it must address the inequalities of a system that is inherently untrustworthy due to greed and selfish motivation. A real, functional public option is key to meaningful reform.

Susan Amato
Lodi

Need health care?  Insurance company won’t authorize your treatment?  Just fly to India.

It’s the “India Option Plan” from Sen. Chuck Grassley. Claims that health care in the U.S. is the “best in the world” need to be qualified:  Best in the world for those fortunate enough to have insurance that will cover treatment, and which won’t drop them when the bills start coming in; for others, second-world and third-world coverage is reality.


End the hoaxes, part 3a: Government plans pay for cancer treatment, private insurance no better

August 23, 2009

Sad story out of Oregon, but a familiar story to anyone who has followed health care issues during any part of the past 40 years:  A woman gets cancer, her physician recommends a pharmaceutical or surgical procedure, but the insurance company denies coverage.

In this case, the story is being pushed by opponents to health care reform as a scare tactic.  ‘Health care reform means cancer-fighting drugs won’t be covered.’  The tenuous link to reality this argument has is this:  The woman is insured by Oregon’s public insurance alternative, a one-state effort to do what private insurance failed to do.  So, the critics reason, if she can’t get coverage under Oregon’s public plan, no one will get coverage under any government plan.

The pharmaceutical is a recently-developed cancer fighter, Tarceva.

It’s a crude bluff.  Reality is different.

  1. Medicare may pay for coverage of the drug in question, Tarceva. The Oregon public program has a rather high standard for coverage — 5% chance of survival for 5 months or more, established in clinical trials — but Medicare supplemental insurance plans, a federal program, will pay for Tarceva for non-small cell lung cancer treatments.  Oregon’s program may not be equivalent to the federal program proposed.
  2. Private insurance companies often deny coverage for cancer treatments. The story from Oregon shows the disparities in care, and it demonstrates well that rationing of health care is a key feature of the current system, a key reason to work for reform.  But denial of coverage occurs across the nation, and, I think statistics would show, more often from private insurance companies, often for less judicious reasons.  In Kansas, Mary Casey got the rejection from her private insurance company:  “But when Casey went to fill her Tarceva prescription at the pharmacy, her insurer, Coventry Health Care of Kansas, denied her coverage for the drug, saying it considered Tarceva experimental in her case, even though Tarceva is FDA approved for other lung and pancreatic cancers.”  There is no significant difference between private coverage and the Oregon public plan.
  3. Private insurance failed:  This woman is on the Oregon plan because private insurance didn’t provide any coverage for her.

Barabara Wagner’s story troubles anyone with a heart.  It’s not an argument against reforming health care and health care insurance, however, because Wagner wouldn’t be alive to this point without a government plan in Oregon, analogous to the public option proposed in the House bill; because private insurance does not differ significantly in its coverage of cancer victims; and because this woman is on a public program in the first place because private insurance simply failed to cover her at all.  Under private insurance, this woman would have been dead months ago, if not longer.

Other notes:


Happy birthday, Toni Novello

August 23, 2009

She looks stuffy in the photographs, but Toni Novello is one of the most genuine people and funniest women I’ve ever worked with — sometimes without intention.  When veterans of the old Senate Labor Committee chairman’s staff get together, we still laugh over Toni’s return from a weekend health care seminar raving about “Cahoon cooking.”

We were puzzled until somebody remembered the seminar she spoke at was in New Orleans.  In her Puerto Rican view, Cajun was just pronounced a little differently.

Brilliance packaged in a human exterior.

Today in Science History tells us Toni was born on August 23, 19√∞.  “Physician and public official, the first woman and the first Hispanic to serve as surgeon general of the United States.”


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