Notes and Comment Blog


Ranking the leagues

Sep 4th, 2017 5:53 pm | By

I found this by accident – via a discussion of the annoying stereotypes on The Big Bang Theory that was in my Twitter feed. I follow about half the population of Earth on Twitter so it’s always very random what I see – this time I happened to see a discussion of the annoying stereotypes on The Big Bang Theory. One of the discussers linked to a ScienceBlogs post from 2007, about a trailer for the show, which hadn’t made its debut yet. What’s entertaining about it is that the post got Bill Prady’s attention – he’s the co-creator – and he put quite a lot of effort into explaining and defending it in comments.

Confession first: I agree that the show is full of annoying stereotypes and that it’s sexist as fuck, but at the same time for the first few years I found it pretty funny and somewhat touching. That always did baffle me, given the involvement of Chuck Lorre whose previous masterpiece was that dire thing with Charlie Sheen in it, which even an accidental second of while flicking through the channels would make me want to scream with anguish – it baffled me but so it was. Mind you, I thought the subordinate characters were awful, and that the subordinate women they added later were even worse, which is why I stopped watching even now and then. But with that background, along with longstanding interest in how popular culture shapes how we think about women, scientists, intellectuals, loudmouth real estate promoters, etc, I find Prady’s comments interesting.

He explains a little of the background, and gets a lot of responses, most of them challenging. (What makes the whole thing intriguing of course is that nobody in the conversation knew the show was going to be a hit. Most new tv shows bomb.)

Bill Prady: To clarify, there is no character based on Richard Feynman. His books were just one influence as we wrote. The greatest influence were my former colleagues from my previous career as a software engineer. People like Hawking and Wozniak and my friend Rebecca’s father who’s an astrophysicist at Harvard were an inspiration. My father-in-law who is one of the country’s leading pediatric rheumatologists was an inspiration.

I must say I have never before received such criticism for work that has not been seen by the critics.

My son is six months old. I hope you’ll give him a chance to grow up before you call him an offensive loud-mouthed crotchety drunk.

(By the way, were the paleontologists this upset when Ross on “Friends” was depicted as hapless and unlucky at love?)

A bunch more comments, then

Zuska:

This whole long comment thread has made obvious to me once again just how very taboo it is for women to point out even the most minor manifestations of sexism in everyday life. We are meant to choke it down and keep moving, day after day, year after year, without a word of complaint, without even a sign that we are aware of its existence. Point it out and we get told: no, that’s not what you think it is, and why are you so upset, and besides you are focusing on the wrong thing, and you shouldn’t be talking about this, you should be talking about that, and you can’t hope to address this unless you address these 10 other things, and why are you concerned about that if you don’t care about these other things which are really much more important, and I really care about your issues but in this case you are wrong, and….blah blah blah.

Later again –

Prady:

For the record, I’ll set down the chain of events that has led us here. Years ago, I was a software engineer. I had a few good friends who were brilliant — off the charts — but were painfully socially awkward. (And if you knew me at the time, you would have discovered that my skills weren’t much better.)

The best projects, I think, come when the writer is fond of his main characters and I was (and am) very fond of my friends. I decided to explore the theme that extreme intelligence doesn’t give a person an advantage in a social situation over average folk (and, some might say, is actually a disadvantage).

So I and my partner created a piece featuring characters based on the guys I knew (and me to a great extent). We then wondered what would happen if one of these guys fell hopeless[ly] in love with a woman who was “out of his league.” Now let’s be clear here: I am not saying that this woman is “out of the league of smart people,” I am saying that she’s out of this particular character’s league.

[It’s interesting that he doesn’t even notice what he’s saying, even when talking to this crowd. “Out of his league”? How? Because she’s hot. Not in other ways – she has a working stiff job, she’s from Nebraska, she has no money. She’s not stupid but she’s undereducated. The sole sense in which she’s out of his league is that she would win a gorgeosity contest. Anyway.]

Then we wondered what journey we might give this woman. We decided on an attractive woman who has always been objectified by men. Our feeling is that our character, who failed to learn the Cro-Magnon approach to women, is going to be the first man this woman encounters who actually treats her like a person, responds to her potential and ultimately allows her to shake off the self-image that’s been imposed on her sociologically.

[Says the guy who just objectified her himself in explaining her to hostile critics. Hmmm.]

Now remember, this is a sitcom — so this movement will happen very, very slowly. Remember how annoying the Frank Burns character was on M*A*S*H was after he got “nice”?

For most of the development process, the characters were software engineers like the people they were based on. Unfortunately, programming is a difficult occupation to photograph in a four-camera proscenium sitcom; the biggest challenge is how to light for film faces that are turned down and facing monitors. After deciding we didn’t want years of being yelled at by our director of photography (the guy who hangs the lights), we changed their profession. Because my partner and I are science geeks, we made them physicists.

A lot has been made in this thread over the fact that these men aren’t women, or that women are not depicted as scientists. My response is two-fold. First, when we go with them to their workplace we will see other scientists. They will be men and women, they will they will be of many ethnic persuasions (because we cast color-blind [which is why those men in that clip weren’t all white — go look again]). There are no women scientists in the first episode (and, consequentially in the clips that have been released because only the first episode has been shot). Second, this is a story about these three people. They happen to have the jobs and genders that they have. As I noted earlier, when ER fails to show male nurses, I don’t believe they are making the statement that men cannot be nurses, I simply believe they don’t have any characters that are male nurses (there was one once, I think).

I sign off wishing you all the best. I believe the battles you fight against are worth fighting. I firmly hope that my daughter grows up in a world where she believes that all career opportunities are open to her — including and especially science. I simply wish you had been more open to dialogue. I think this community would have been a great resource as we proceeded with the series.

Alas.

Interesting. Ten years on, I wish Bill Prady’s daughter were growing up in a world where men didn’t judge which “league” she was in by how hot she is and nothing else…but alas, I know she isn’t, and I know even her own father doesn’t get it.

Alas.



Wrong question

Sep 4th, 2017 4:12 pm | By

Shermer is trolling again.

Which is worse, Alt-Right or Alt-Left, Neo-Nazis or Antifa? Wrong question. Is violence a practical or moral means of social change? No.

Wrong question according to whom, bub? In what conversation? In order to discuss what issue?

Of course it’s not the wrong question. It’s a goddam urgent question right now, with Mr “on many sides, on many sides” in the White House. Racism is worse than anti-racism, even when some anti-racists get violent. Resistance to racism and fascism is better than racism and fascism even though many of the resisters are bullies and egotists. You can’t have a large political movement with no assholes in it, that’s just not an option, but you can still know the difference between decent goals and horrific ones.



He chose shellfish

Sep 4th, 2017 3:23 pm | By

Image result for could have banned slavery or shellfish



And do you know what she said to him about them?

Sep 4th, 2017 12:45 pm | By

The EPA press release attacking the AP reporters is also, in addition to the authoritarian aspect and the lying aspect, strikingly amateurish. It does not read like something you would expect to see from a federal agency staffed by grownups.

I mean really –

Good afternoon –

Yesterday, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker wrote an incredibly misleading story about toxic land sites that are under water.

That sounds like a couple of teenagers gossiping, not a civil servant informing the public about emergency pollution management.

Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.

Says the deeply political appointee in charge of a federal agency that should be all about the science but was hijacked by political fanatics.

Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story. Earlier this summer, he made-up a meeting that Administrator Pruitt had, and then deliberately discarded information that refuted his inaccurate story – ultimately prompting a nation-wide correction. Additionally, the Oklahoman took him to task for sensationalized reporting.

Where are the adults??



EPA joins Trump in maligning journalists

Sep 4th, 2017 11:58 am | By

More authoritarian excess:

President Donald Trump’s habit of singling out reporters for attacks is being adopted by his federal agencies, with the Environmental Protection Agency excoriating an Associated Press reporter in unusually personal terms on Sunday after the reporter wrote a story that cast the agency in an unfavorable light.

“Yesterday, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker wrote an incredibly misleading story about toxic land sites that are under water,” the statement began. “Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.”

The audacity? That’s a frightening word for a government agency to use about a news story. It implies a violation, a trespassing over boundaries, of a kind that a strong leader might decide to suppress. In short it resembles a threat.

Also? The reporter was not in Washington, or in comfort.

The article in question, which was written by Biesecker and his AP colleague, Jason Dearen, noted that seven toxic Superfund sites around Houston had been flooded during Hurricane Harvey. The Saturday report also noted that the “EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites,” which the EPA confirmed, arguing the sites were not accessible.

Dearen appears to have reported from on the ground in Texas, and he was not singled out by the EPA statement.

The statement went on to say that “state agencies worked with responsible parties to secure Superfund sites before the hurricane hit.”

It then continued the attacks on Biesecker, saying he “has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story” and noting that a July story he wrote inaccurately characterized an interaction between EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris. Biesecker’s story, based on EPA schedules, initially said the two met for half an hour at a Houston hotel.

The meeting was canceled, the two met only for a few minutes, the AP issued a correction.

The bulk of Sunday’s EPA statement was unsigned. It did, however, include one portion attributable to associate administrator Liz Bowman.

“Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey,” Bowman’s statement said. “Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”

The statement did not point to any specific factual inaccuracies in Saturday’s story, besides accusing Biesecker of leaving out information about the EPA’s other efforts to monitor the toxic land sites, and the AP has not offered any corrections on the piece.

Well it’s great that while Houston pickles in a stew of acids the EPA has plenty of time to issue press releases attacking journalists.

Bowman later followed up with an additional email to POLITICO.

“We understand you are very focused on our press release; we hope you will apply the same focus to the facts, which include that a national reporter from a wire service publishing [sic] inaccurate and misleading stories about the agency and it’s [sic] staff on the ground,” Bowman wrote. “We think that is more important than who drafted a press release.”

The Associated Press on Sunday evening pushed back on the EPA’s claims.

“AP’s exclusive story was the result of on-the-ground reporting at Superfund sites in and around Houston, as well as AP’s strong knowledge of these sites and EPA practices,” it said in a statement. “We object to the EPA’s attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completed solely from ‘the comforts of Washington’ and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story.”

Any bets on how soon the EPA will be tweeting about FAKE NEWS?



By arguing that the president has the authority

Sep 4th, 2017 11:34 am | By

Here’s a foundational question. From a piece by Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider that discusses Trump’s lawyer’s badgering of her over her reporting of That Letter:

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump’s legal team was trying to fend off an obstruction-of-justice charge from Mueller’s investigators by arguing that the president has the authority to fire whomever he wants, and that Comey is an unreliable witness.

My question is this: what’s their point? Or, what difference does that make? Or, what is the relevance? It can be the case that a president has the authority to fire anyone he wants and still also be the case that a particular firing is evidence of obstruction of justice.

Maybe it’s a pointless question, because they’re his lawyers so they’ll argue anything that won’t get them disbarred…but in the larger scheme of things it isn’t, because obviously one major part of the Trump Problem is that he’s a narcissist and an authoritarian who is determined to abuse the authorities allotted to him as much as he possibly can, and more. (“And more” because he may think he can but find out that he can’t.)

So one would hope that even though a president has broad powers, that doesn’t mean they are absolute.

One would hope.



Oh no, an agenda

Sep 3rd, 2017 5:44 pm | By

Houston’s always been soggy. It probably wasn’t a very good place to build an enormous city, when you get right down to it.

No city could have withstood Harvey without serious harm, but Houston made itself more vulnerable than necessary. Paving over the saw-grass prairie reduced the ground’s capacity to absorb rainfall. Flood-control reservoirs were too small. Building codes were inadequate. Roads became rivers, so while hospitals were open, it was almost impossible to reach them by car.

Harvey is a humanitarian disaster. Ordinary Texans were defenseless against rising waters contaminated by sewage and dotted with floating colonies of fire ants. The confirmed death toll, 20 as of Aug. 30, is expected to rise as rescuers discover more bodies. Residents will return to damaged homes vulnerable to the spread of mold. Much of the damage, which could run to $100 billion or more by one estimate, is uninsured. “This will be the worst natural disaster in American history” in financial terms, Joel Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather, predicted in an Aug. 29 statement.

Sprawling Houston is a can-do city whose attitude is grow first, ask questions later. It’s the only major U.S. city without a zoning code saying what types of buildings can go where, so skyscrapers sometimes sprout next to split-levels. Voters have repeatedly opposed enacting a zoning law.

No to zoning law, but yes to public money after a disaster.

Houston is suffering now from the lack of an effective plan to deal with chronic flooding.

Attitude is partly to blame. Michael Talbott spent 35 years with the Harris County Flood Control District trying to protect Houston, mainly by seeking funds for widening drainage channels and bayous. But he resisted the notion that more drastic measures such as preserving green space and managing growth were required. Shortly before retiring as executive director in 2016, Talbott gave an interview to ProPublica and the Texas Tribune in which he disputed the effect of global warming and said conservationists were antidevelopment. “They have an agenda … their agenda to protect the environment overrides common sense,” he said.

Wait. Protecting the environment – the one we all depend on for survival – is “an agenda” but unrestricted building with no thought for the environment that we all depend on for survival is not? How does that work exactly?

Why do people insist on portraying “the environment” as some kind of whimsical luxury dreamed up by latte-sipping Gwyneth Paltrows? Without “the environment” we have no food, no water, no breathable air, no survivable temperature, no anything. There’s no such thing as doing without “the environment,” but there is such a thing as environmental degradation so extreme that only insects can survive. If city and state and federal officials don’t have “an agenda” of preserving a livable environment then we’re all in big big trouble.

The fight in Texas is a microcosm of a national battle. The International Code Council, a Washington nonprofit made up of government officials and industry representatives, updates its model codes every three years, inviting state and local governments to adopt them. Last year the National Association of Home Builders boasted of its prowess at stopping codes for 2018 that it didn’t like. “Only 6 percent of the proposals that NAHB opposed made it through the committee hearings intact,” the association wrote on its blog. The homebuilders demonstrated their power again this year, when President Donald Trump reversed an Obama initiative restricting federally funded building projects in flood plains. “This is a huge victory for NAHB and its members,” the association blogged.

Not all homebuilders are OK with the organization’s antiregulatory bent. Ron Jones, a member of the NAHB board who builds houses in Colorado, says that while the first priority now is helping the victims, he hopes the storm will force new thinking. “There’s no sort of national leadership involved,” he says. “For them it’s just, ‘Hell, we’ll rebuild these houses as many times as you’ll pay us to do it.’ ”

Let’s not do it that way. That’s a bad way.



Asking the perp for help

Sep 3rd, 2017 2:41 pm | By

Some wonky thinking here.

President Donald Trump met with leaders of the Christian community in the Oval Office and urged the nation to pray for the survivors of Hurricane Harvey and for the response and recovery efforts on Sunday. He also pledged $1 million of his personal money to help victims in Texas and Louisiana.

“From the beginning of our nation, Americans have joined together in prayer during times of great need to ask for God’s blessing and God’s guidance,” President Trump told the christian leaders Friday. “When we look across Texas and Louisiana, we see the American spirit of service embodied by countless men and women.”

But we also see a fuck-ton of water, and ruined houses, schools, hospitals, roads, parks, farms, neighborhoods, cities…

And if we’re asking for God’s blessing and God’s guidance…can we also ask God why God did this to us in the first place? By which I really mean why the fuck are we flattering “God” and requesting favors when “God” didn’t see fit to divert the hurricane or weaken it or abort it? Why are we babbling about God’s blessing and God’s guidance when God is the perp? Why do we keep doing this? If God can help, God could have prevented. If God did this to us, God is not a friend and not an entity to admire and praise and grovel to.

At least 44 people have died in incidents related to Hurricane Harvey, while 32,000 people have been forced into shelters, according to officials.

“We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members and friends, and for those who are suffering from this great crisis,” Trump said.

Why? What for? If a gang comes to your house and burns everything up and tortures you and throws poison into your well, then that gang intends harm toward you. That gang is not someone you should be petitioning or sucking up to.

“And behind me, we have faith-based people who are highly respected, and especially so in their communities where they’re not only respected, but they’re loved — evangelical leaders, Christian leaders — many people of faith. And I just want to thank you all for being with us today because we’re going to be signing a Day of Prayer, and that will be on Sunday. It will be a very special day. And I don’t know when this was done last, but it’s been a longtime coming. It’s been a longtime coming.”

That’s so Trump. He has no idea what to say, so he talks about reputations. They’re respected, they’re loved – they’re famous, they’re huge. It’s all appearance with him; he doesn’t even know what substance is.

And if he doesn’t know when it was last done then how can he know “it’s been a longtime coming”?

He can’t, it’s just a stupid whiny culture war thing to say.

Meanwhile, Trump also promised to donate $1 million.

But he didn’t actually do it. He could have done it, but he didn’t – instead he “promised.” He’s broken all such promises in the past.



“Capitalism+atheism+feminism = sterility”

Sep 3rd, 2017 11:48 am | By

Julian Assange tweets:

https://twitter.com/JulianAssange/status/904006478616551425

Helen Lewis responds:



Bot misogyny

Sep 3rd, 2017 11:36 am | By

Hey if you’re going to write a piece attacking feminism in a major newspaper, at least get the author details right.

Serbia’s [well known] daily newspaper, Politika, has been accused of using made-up commentators to promote misogyny after publishing an anti-feminist article allegedly written by a scientist, but illustrated with the photograph of a German actor.

The commentary accused feminists of using the recent murders of two women at the hands of their ex-husbands to spread “propaganda”.

“Agressive feminists came to the fore in order to abuse the tragedies for their political agenda,” the article said, also reminding the readers that “almost all infanticides in the world are committed by women”.

The women in question were murdered at social centres where they were bringing their children to meet their fathers. In one horrifying case, the father murdered both child and mother.

The column in question was signed by “Dr Petar Velickovic”, but the accompanying photograph is that of a German actor, Andreas Kaufmann, who has since called the article “disgusting”.

Politika said oh oops sorry, Dr Velickovic sent the wrong photo, not our fault.

However, searches of the internet have yet to reveal a forensic psychiatrist under the name Petar Velickovic.

In the meantime, the Journalists’ Association of Serbia, has revealed another anti-feminist article in Politika, also attributed to a questionable scientific authority, using the photograph of a deceased person from Germany.

Milovan B Vucic, the alleged psychoanalyst from Los Angeles, wrote a comment entitled “Injustices of Feminist Judiciary“, published on May 5.

“This practice by Politika is reminiscent of Slobodan Milosevic’s reign, when the newspaper published made-up letters of support to the regime,” the Journalists’ Association said in a press release.

Tamara Skrozza, from Serbia’s Press Council, said the views expressed in both articles constitute hate speech towards women and feminists, and should not be present in the media.

“It is truly terrible if Politika deliberately promotes discriminatory, chauvinist opinions,” Skrozza told BIRN.

 It’s not as if real people who talk that kind of bullshit are hard to find.


The bot-driven political scam

Sep 3rd, 2017 11:13 am | By

Stewart reports an item that’s not available in English yet:

[A] brief report on how Israeli/German satirical artist Shahak Shapira (whose work we’ve featured in the past) was involved in the takeover of 31 secret AfD Facebook groups.

Working with “Die Partei”, this was the culmination of an 11-month infiltration operation. After the infiltrators (using fake profiles) had gained the trust of the admins over many months, and had received admin privileges themselves, they staged a simultaneous coup, got rid of the “real” admins, exposed the groups’ content, including hate speech and fake news, to public view and posted a video by Shapira explaining to those members who were real the precise inner workings of the bot-driven political scam into which they’d been suckered. His bottom line was that if the AfD can’t run 31 secret Facebook groups without being overthrown, then they are also incapable of running a country (so vote for “Die Partei” instead).

Those with knowledge of German who want more can read this, which includes a link to Shapira’s video.

 



Piece by piece

Sep 3rd, 2017 10:35 am | By

Alt National Park Service on Facebook is reporting Trump’s destruction of the National Park Service as it happens.

Yesterday:

An unfolding crisis at a flooded chemical plant outside Houston on Thursday led to the prompt announcement of an investigation by a federal body that Trump would eliminate. The administration’s proposed budget would wind down funding(-100%) for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, a small, independent federal agency tasked with investigating chemical accidents. The board, which has a budget of $11 million and 40 staff, played a major part in investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and has conducted more than 130 investigations since its began operations in 1998. It originated as part of a set of 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act.

Image may contain: outdoor and water

Also yesterday, a few hours earlier:

ATTN: Fossil fuel officials take key spots on new Interior royalties committee. The new Interior Department committee designed to assess federal royalty policies for energy development on public land. Officials for ConocoPhillips Co., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., and Cloud Peak Energy will serve as primary members of the panel. The new royalties committee, which will hold its first meeting on Oct. 4, is set to advise the Interior Department on the industry impact of policy and regulatory changes related to energy production royalty rates on federal and tribal land.

The pattern is evident.



As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing

Sep 2nd, 2017 4:59 pm | By

The imbecile president went back to Houston today. He says everything’s great, people there are blissed out.

President Trump toured part of a cavernous Houston convention center on Saturday that has provided refuge to thousands of families displaced by flooding since Hurricane Harvey roared into the city a week ago.

Trump said he saw happiness among the people crowded into the NRG Center. Many have lost their homes, cars and possessions in the epic flooding.

“We saw a lot of happiness,” Trump told reporters traveling with him. “It’s been really nice. It’s been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing, I think even for the country to watch it, for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful.”

Yeah. It’s been great. The people who lost everything are so happy, it’s really nice, plus it’s great television. It’s beautiful. It’s just a fabulous fabulous thing all around.

Asked what people had said to him, Trump replied, “They’re really happy with what’s going on. It’s been something that’s been very well-received. Even by you guys [the media], it’s been well-received.”

Definitely. The hurricane was well-received, the flooding was well-received, the days in the shelter were well-received. The whole thing has been absolutely awesome.

Some of the adults did not sound particularly happy.

Devon Harris, 37, a construction worker, was skeptical about the impact of a presidential visit.

“Is he going to help? Can he help? I lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

Later, the Trumps put on plastic gloves and helped hand out lunch boxes — hot dogs, potato chips and applesauce.

Yum.

After Trump’s remarks on stage, he and Mrs. Trump went outside, where a line of cars was waiting to collect supplies. They loaded about a half-dozen cars and trucks.

“Hey can you handle this?” Trump said to the first recipient, a man in a pickup truck as the president handed him a plastic American Red Cross bucket.

“There’s a lot of stuff in here,” Trump said. “You’re all set,” he said after loading a few boxes in the flatbed and slapping the truck a couple of times.

“It’s good exercise,” Trump said as the man drove off.

Awesome.



A third of Superfund sites are in flood zones

Sep 2nd, 2017 4:18 pm | By

The AP reports that many Superfund sites in Houston are flooded, thus at risk of spreading contamination. It also reports that while its reporters have been able to take a look at the sites, the EPA has not.

The Associated Press surveyed seven Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water, in some cases many feet deep.

On Saturday, hours after the AP published its first report, the EPA said it had reviewed aerial imagery confirming that 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm.

The statement confirmed the AP’s reporting that the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites, saying the sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.” EPA staff had checked on two Superfund sites in Corpus Christi on Thursday and found no significant damage.

AP journalists used a boat to document the condition of one flooded Houston-area Superfund site, but accessed others with a vehicle or on foot. The EPA did not immediately respond to questions about why its personnel had not yet been able to do so.

Because Trump and Pruitt have already depopulated the agency so thoroughly that there’s no one there to do so?

“Teams are in place to investigate possible damage to these sites as soon flood waters recede, and personnel are able to safely access the sites,” the EPA statement said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking with reporters at a news conference on Saturday after the AP report was published, said he wants the EPA “in town to address the situation.”

Turner said he didn’t know about the potential environmental concerns soon enough to discuss them with President Donald Trump.

Well I’m not sure discussing them with Trump would have done any good. He wants to destroy the EPA.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a priority, even as he has taken steps to roll back or delay rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to cut money for the Superfund program by 30 percent, though congressional Republicans are likely to approve a less severe reduction.

Like Trump, Pruitt has expressed skepticism about the predictions of climate scientists that warmer air and seas will produce stronger, more drenching storms.

And they’ll go right on doing that.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA conducted a nationwide assessment of the increased threat to Superfund sites posed by climate change, including rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. Of the more than 1,600 sites reviewed as part of the 2012 study, 521 were determined to be in 1-in-100 year and 1-in-500 year flood zones. Nearly 50 sites in coastal areas could also be vulnerable to rising sea levels.

The threats to human health and wildlife from rising waters that inundate Superfund sites vary widely depending on the specific contaminants and the concentrations involved. The EPA report specifically noted the risk that floodwaters might carry away and spread toxic materials over a wider area.

Yes but Trump and Pruitt don’t live in places like that so they don’t care.



Another genocide

Sep 2nd, 2017 1:22 pm | By

This is happening:

They stumble down muddy ravines and flooded creeks through miles of hills and jungle in Bangladesh, and thousands more come each day, in a line stretching to the monsoon-darkened horizon.

Some are gaunt and spent, already starving and carrying listless and dehydrated babies, with many miles to go before they reach any refugee camp.

They are tens of thousands of Rohingya, who arrive bearing accounts of massacre at the hands of the Myanmar security forces and allied mobs that started on Aug. 25, after Rohingya militants staged attacks against government forces.

The retaliation that followed was carried out in methodical assaults on villages, with helicopters raining down fire on civilians and front-line troops cutting off families’ escape. The villagers’ accounts all portray indiscriminate attacks against fleeing noncombatants, adding to a death toll that even in early estimates is high into the hundreds, and is probably vastly worse.

“There are no more villages left, none at all,” said Rashed Ahmed, a 46-year-old farmer from a hamlet in Maungdaw Township in Myanmar. He had already been walking for four days. “There are no more people left, either,” he said. “It is all gone.”

They’re a Muslim ethnic minority in Burma, where the majority is Buddhist. Is Buddhism teaching the majority not to commit genocide? Nope.

The exodus is full of perils itself.

They face another round of gunfire from Myanmar’s border guards, and miles of treacherous hill trails and flood-swollen streams and mud fields ahead before they reach crowded camps without enough food or medical help. Dozens were killed when their boats overturned, leaving the bodies of women and children washed up on river banks.

The term “war crime” seems inadequate:

After militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base on Aug. 25, killing more than a dozen, the Myanmar military began torching entire villages with helicopters and petrol bombs, aided by Buddhist vigilantes from the ethnic Rakhine group, those fleeing the violence said.

Person after person along the trail into Bangladesh told of how the security forces cordoned off Rohingya villages as the fire rained down, and then shot and stabbed civilians. Children were not exempt.

And the refugees are fleeing to Bangladesh, which is already poor and is under heavy flooding.

An international response to the crisis has started. On Wednesday, Britain arranged for a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the Rohingya emergency. The civilian government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has faced mounting global criticism for refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the military offensive on civilian Rohingya populations.

On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, rejected allegations from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration that international aid organizations were somehow complicit in aiding Rohingya militants.

Earlier this year, the United Nations set up a special commission to investigate another military onslaught that caused 85,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh over the course of the following months, following an ARSA attack on police posts in October. But Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has barred the United Nations team from Myanmar.

In an open letter to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, nearly a dozen of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates labeled last October’s military offensive “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide,” said the letter, signed by Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, among others. “It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies: Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.”

On Thursday and Friday, when thousands of refugees finally reached the village of Rezu Amtali, a five-hour trek through the hills from the border, there were no aid groups to meet them.

Sympathetic villagers offered some drinking water and packets of snacks, while autorickshaw drivers ferried families to the sprawl of makeshift settlements that surround the Kutupalong camp. Most had to walk hours more, through torrential downpours, to reach the refugee shantytown.

So there’s that.



He is guaranteed fawning media coverage

Sep 2nd, 2017 11:30 am | By

Fox News, on the other hand, considers all this fuss about concussions to be more “political correctness.” Ok…so conservatives just power through their brain damage? It’s only sissies who find CTE to be an obstacle to normal functioning?

Did you know who Ed Cunningham is? Probably not. Cunningham, a college football analyst for ESPN, was unknown to all but hardcore football fans. But by tying himself closely to a politically correct cause – in this case, resigning his position Wednesday, in a protest over concussions in football – he is guaranteed fawning media coverage.  The New York Times is leading the Cunningham canonization.

Right? I bet he drinks lattes, and thinks racism is bad. What a pussy.

With the new college football season for most teams starting this weekend, the resignation seems timed for maximum attention.  But the politically correct movement seems much more focused on opposing what is uniquely American than where players actually face the greatest risks of concussion.

That’s right! It’s treason, is what it is.

The opinionator, John Lott, goes on to say soccer football is more concussion prone. Then that’s a reason to fix that problem too – it’s not a reason to jeer at the idea that football is dangerous for players.



That cheerleader’s spot

Sep 2nd, 2017 11:15 am | By

It’s football season! Woo-hoo!

But one tv football commentator and former player has quit his commentator gig.

[Ed] Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.

“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”

Football has seen high-profile N.F.L. players retire early, even pre-emptively, out of concern about their long-term health, with particular worry for the brain. But Cunningham may be the first leading broadcaster to step away from football for a related reason — because it felt wrong to be such a close witness to the carnage, profiting from a sport that he knows is killing some of its participants.

And killing them in a particularly nasty way.

As a color analyst, primarily providing commentary between plays, Cunningham built a reputation among college football fans, and even coaches, for his pointed criticism toward what he thought were reckless hits and irresponsible coaching decisions that endangered the health of athletes. His strong opinions often got him denounced on fan message boards and earned him angry calls from coaches and administrators.

Because football is so much more important than some guy’s brain.

At first, Cunningham told ESPN executives that he was leaving to spend more time with his sons, ages 3 and 5, and because of his workload as a film and television producer. He was a producer for “Undefeated,” a documentary about an urban high school football team, and has a string of projects lined up.

“Those are two of the issues,” Cunningham said. He waited weeks before he revealed the third. “The big one was my ethical concerns.”

A football broadcaster leaving a job because of concerns over the game’s safety appears to have no precedent.

“I’ve been in the business 20 years and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anything like that,” Fitting said. “But this is the world we live in now. More and more players are stepping away in a given season or a given year, and who knows. Are there other announcers out there who have been afraid to do this? I don’t know. Is he going to be a pioneer in this small niche? I don’t know. Who knows what the future holds.”

I on the other hand find it pretty amazing that football just rolls on regardless, despite the growing evidence that it’s a very brain-trauma-prone sport.

If nothing else, Cunningham’s decision could prompt some self-examination among those who watch, promote, coach or otherwise participate in football without actually playing it.

Al Michaels, the veteran broadcaster who does play-by-play for NBC’s Sunday night N.F.L. broadcasts, said he did not see his role in the booth as an ethical dilemma.

“I don’t feel that my being part of covering the National Football League is perpetuating danger,” he said in a phone interview. “If it’s not me, somebody else is going to do this. There are too many good things about football, too many things I enjoy about it. I can understand maybe somebody feeling that way, but I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody else in my business who would make that decision.”

Yeah, that – that level of thoughtlessness surprises me. Yes, sure, let’s go on promoting football and cheering it on and advertising it and broadcasting it, so that more generations of players can end up with destroyed brains and slow miserable deaths.



Millions suffering

Sep 2nd, 2017 10:17 am | By

Taslima on the floods in India and Bangladesh:



Its angry, meandering tone was problematic

Sep 1st, 2017 5:56 pm | By

About that letter that’s today’s boom, the one that Trump and Miller cobbled together on a rainy day at Bedminster to explain why Trump hates Comey and was going to fire him, and that is now in Mueller’s hands – apparently it looks bad for Rosenstein. It means he knew all along that Trump wanted to fire Comey because of the Russia investigation, and sheds a harsh light on his failure to recuse himself. I gather this from reading Benjamin Wittes on Twitter.

The Times:

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has obtained a letter drafted by President Trump and a top political aide that offered an unvarnished view of Mr. Trump’s thinking in the days before the president fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey.

The circumstances and reasons for the firing are believed to be a significant element of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which includes whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey.

The letter, drafted in May, was met with opposition from Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, who believed that its angry, meandering tone was problematic, according to interviews with a dozen administration officials and others briefed on the matter. Among Mr. McGahn’s concerns were references to private conversations the president had with Mr. Comey, including times when the F.B.I. director told Mr. Trump he was not under investigation in the F.B.I.’s continuing Russia inquiry.

Mr. McGahn successfully blocked the president from sending the letter — which Mr. Trump had composed with Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top political advisers — to Mr. Comey. But a copy was given to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who then drafted his own letter. Mr. Rosenstein’s letter was ultimately used as the Trump administration’s public rationale for Mr. Comey’s firing, which was that Mr. Comey had mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

So that kind of means Rosenstein aided a deception – he crafted a bogus explanation for why Trump was firing Comey, and put it out there in his capacity as the acting Attorney General (since Sessions was recused). It was always a matter of speculation whether or not Rosenstein knew his letter was a smoke screen, and the fact that he saw the draft letter means he did know.

Mr. Rosenstein is overseeing Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt last year’s presidential election, as well as whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

He’s…overseeing it after having meddled in it, on behalf of the chief suspect. In his capacity as head of the Justice Department. Erm. That doesn’t look good.

Mr. Trump was angry that Mr. Comey had privately told him three times that he was not under investigation, yet would not clear his name publicly. Mr. Comey later confirmed in testimony to Congress in June that he had told the president that he was not under investigation, but said he did not make it public because the situation might change.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Kushner both told the president that weekend that they were in favor of firing Mr. Comey.

Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Miller to draft a letter, and dictated his unfettered thoughts. Several people who saw Mr. Miller’s multi-page draft described it as a “screed.”

Sounds like Trump.

Mr. McGahn arranged for the president to meet in the Oval Office that day with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein, whom he knew had been pursuing separate efforts to fire Mr. Comey. The two men were particularly angry about testimony Mr. Comey had given to the Senate Judiciary Committee the previous week, when he said “it makes me mildly nauseous” to think his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation might have had an impact on the 2016 election.

Mr. Comey’s conduct during the hearing added to concerns of Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein that the F.B.I. director had botched the Clinton investigation and had overstepped the boundaries of his job. Shortly after that hearing, Mr. Rosenstein expressed his concerns about Mr. Comey to a White House lawyer, who relayed details of the conversation to his bosses at the White House.

During the May 8 Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Rosenstein was given a copy of the original letter and agreed to write a separate memo for Mr. Trump about why Mr. Comey should be fired.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo arrived at the White House the next day. The lengthy diatribe Mr. Miller had written had been replaced by a simpler rationale — that Mr. Comey should be dismissed because of his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Unlike Mr. Trump’s letter, it made no mention of the times Mr. Comey had told the president he was not under investigation.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo became the foundation for the terse termination letter that Mr. Trump had an aide attempt to deliver late on the afternoon of May 9 to F.B.I. headquarters in Washington. The White House made one significant revision, adding a point that was personally important to Mr. Trump: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” the letter said.

Rosenstein acted like Trump’s personal lawyer as opposed to a top official of the Justice Department. That seems all wrong.



Will he?

Sep 1st, 2017 4:08 pm | By

Trump says he’s going to donate a million dollars to the victims of Harvey. I’ll believe it when he actually does it. He has a history of saying he’s going to do things like that and then not doing them, and he does not have a history of doing things like that. Put the two together and you get a hard time believing he’ll actually do what he said he was going to do. He’s not a kind man, or a generous man, or a compassionate man. He’s a man who gets two scoops when everyone else gets one.

President Trump has pledged to donate $1 million from his personal fortune to storm victims in Texas and Louisiana.

“He would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we’ve seen across this country do,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Thursday during her daily briefing at the White House.

Ms. Sanders said the president has not decided when or where he will send the donation.

Yeah I bet he hasn’t, and he’ll still be mulling over it next week and next month and next year.

Mr. Trump’s pledge is one of the largest financial commitments made by a sitting president to a charitable cause. Ms. Huckabee, pressed by reporters, said she wasn’t sure whether the donation would come from Mr. Trump’s foundation or his own bank account, saying only that it would come from the president’s “personal” funds.

His foundation isn’t his personal funds. He’s not supposed to use it to pay for portraits of himself, and I doubt that he’s supposed to use it to make donations from himself personally. If the donation comes from his “foundation,” in other words, it’s not a personal donation and he doesn’t get to call it that.

Trump reportedly donates far less of his income and assets than many of his ultra wealthy peers, and this donation comes with questions attached. In the past, he has failed to follow through on promised donations from his nonprofit foundation.

Quite so. He wouldn’t even comp his facilities for a charity event one of his sons put on.