Blogs

Gift Ideas For The Atheist, Part 1: Bumper Stickers!

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 3:47 PM EST

Not sure what to get the godless on your holiday shopping list? Some suggestions:

"Fine…I evolved. You didn't" bumper sticker.

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Also Available:
"I'm the Atheist Your Pastor Warned You About"
bumper sticker.

"Top 10 Reasons Beer is Better Than Jesus" beer mug:

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For atheists and beer-lovers alike.

Jesus Action Figure

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Bonus: Also works as an un-ironic gift for religious friends.

Happy shopping, heathens!

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The Final Frontier

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 2:20 PM EST

THE FINAL FRONTIER....Hmmm. Speaking of czars, apparently NASA administrator Mike Griffin thinks he's the space czar, one whose word is not to be questioned by meddling usurpers:

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads [Barack Obama's] space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency's moon program, sources said.

....When team members arrived three weeks ago, they asked the agency, among other things, to quantify how much could be saved by canceling Ares I. Though they also asked what it would take to accelerate the program, the fact that the team could even consider scrapping the program was enough to spur Griffin and his supporters into action

According to industry officials, Griffin started calling heads of companies working for NASA, demanding that they either tell the Obama team that they support Constellation or refrain from talking about alternatives.

....Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation...."Mike, I don't understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood," Garver said.

"If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar," Griffin replied. "Because it means you don't trust what I say is under the hood.

This whole thing is bizarre. In six weeks Obama's team will take over and they're going to be able to tear the hood to shreds and dump its contents on the floor if they feel like it. What on earth does Griffin think he's accomplishing with this kind of Mayberry Machiavelli stuff? Via Tapped.

*Czars

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 1:56 PM EST

CZARS....Hilzoy is pleased by one of Barack Obama's recent decisions:

I was absolutely thrilled by one fact in this post: the claim that Obama and his team do not plan to use the word 'czar'.

Thank heavens. We've had drug czars, energy czars; we may yet get a car czar. I'm tired of czars. And why czars, anyways?

Hmmm. Where did this whole czar business come from, anyway? My first recollection of it is Richard Nixon appointing an "energy czar" — in response to oil production peaking in the United States, by the way, not the Arab oil embargo — but a quick glance through Nexis shows several earlier uses. The first one I found was in 1969, when New York City controller Abraham Beame apparently decided the city needed to appoint a "construction czar" to get schools built more quickly. If Nexis went back further, I'd probably find earlier examples.

The usage is pretty obvious — a czar is a ruthless, absolute monarch who can shred the bureaucracy and get things done — but when did it first pop into use to describe a political appointee of some kind? Anyone have examples from earlier than 1969?

Would You Pay $10,000 for Sarah Palin's Emails?

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 1:32 PM EST

How much would you pay for access to the emails Sarah Palin has sent and received as governor of Alaska? Would you part with $10,000 for them? That's basically what her office is asking.

During the general election, I filed an open records act request for all emails that had gone to and from Palin in her official capacity. And Alaska citizen watchdog Andrée McLeod, who had long been peppering Palin's office with similar requests, did the same. At a time when Palin was on the hot seat as Senator John McCain's vice presidential running mate, her office replied that it would cost over $65,000 to round up all of Palin's emails and that Mother Jones would have to cover this cost.

The problem: Palin had used at least two nonofficial email accounts (such as a Yahoo account) to conduct her state business. Given that the governor's office did not have access to those accounts, its information specialists had concluded that the only way to gather all her emails would be to search the state email accounts for about 70 people who worked within the executive offices of the governor and look for emails to and from Palin's nonofficial email accounts. Palin's office estimated it would cost almost a thousand dollars for each search of these 70 or so official accounts.

Healthcare Day

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 1:10 PM EST

HEALTHCARE DAY....This is sort of anticlimactic, but Barack Obama officially announced today that Tom Daschle would be both his nominee to head up Health and Human Services and his healthcare czar. Ezra Klein reports that Obama was quite clear about pushing through reform quickly:

Key words: "This year." Obviously, he doesn't mean in 2008. But that does suggest a year one commitment, which syncs with Obama's previous statement that he'd like to send a bill to Congress by March or April. Given the financial emergency, that might prove optimistic. But Obama made a point during the presser of arguing that the two are connected. "This has to be interwoven into our economic recovery program," he said "This can't be put off because we're in an emergency. This is the emergency!"

Jon Cohn agrees:

In response to the final question, the only one on health care, he said "the time is now to solve this problem. I met too many families in this campaing, even before the economic downturn, who were desperate." He then mentioned the role health care costs played in personal bankruptcies and employer struggles, and reiterated that "this has to be intimiately woven into our economic recovery program. It's not something we can put off because we're in an emergency. This is part of the emergency. We want to make sure the strategy reflects that truth."

So: good news. The only cautionary note I'd add is that it doesn't sound like Obama has made any commitments yet about what kind of reform he plans to focus on right out of the gate. If it's the full-blown plan he proposed during the campaign, that's great. If it's expansion of SCHIP and a push to automate medical records — well, that's good stuff too, but not exactly the change we've been waiting for. I'm pretty optimistic that he's talking about the former, but obviously we'll have to wait and see.

The Rest of the World

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 12:57 PM EST

THE REST OF THE WORLD....Marc Ambinder says that Barack Obama's economics team is really, really worried about a genuine collapse of the global economy. But he wonders if they're worried enough about the collapse of individual countries:

To be sure, Pakistan is nearly broke, and U.S. policy makers seem to be aware of that; but a worldwide demand crisis could lead to social unrest in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore, the Ukraine, Japan, Turkey or Egypt....The question: what's the administration's policy in this area? Which countries can we afford to let fail? Which unstable states would concern us the most? Is there something the U.S. can do, in advance, should do, in advance, to forestall the collapse of other economies?

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Palin Delusion at the Weekly Standard

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 11:47 AM EST

The conservative magazine The Weekly Standard let the founder of a Sarah Palin advocacy group called "Team Sarah" write an article about the state of Palin's image in America, which is an awful lot like commissioning the head of GM to write an unbiased evaluation of the auto industry bailout. And in a real shock, the Standard writer concludes Palin's "popularity is undimmed." In fact, she compares Palin to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Despite the best efforts of the media, left-of-center feminists, and a brigade of political elites, including more than a few Beltway Republicans, to write obituaries for Palin's national political career, she continues to be the second biggest phenomenon of the 2008 election cycle, behind only the president-elect....
Some of the most eloquent [Palin supporters] are women ecstatic over the new brand of feminism Palin represents: populist and pro-life. There is no other woman on the national political stage like her--and hasn't been in recent times. To whom could she be compared--Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein? She doesn't begin to fit this cookie-cutter model of pro-choice, pro-gender-quota woman in politics that left-feminism has served up.
But Palin has forebears in American politics. She looks a lot more like the early suffragists than anyone on the national stage now, especially in her pro-life stance. Susan B. Anthony, for whom my organization is named, for instance, called abortion "child murder." Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it a sickening symptom of women's mistreatment: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women to treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

(The writer also notes that part of Palin's appeal is that "she likes being a woman." This is an important point because, as you know, all female feminists on the left hate themselves.)

Of course, this is the sort of article you would get from an admitted Palin supporter whose only reporting appears to have been talking to or observing other Palin supporters. It gets the state of Palin's national popularity exactly wrong. It is not "undimmed." A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while Palin is popular among this country's diminishing set of self-identifying Republicans (73%-13% approval vs. disapproval rating), Palin's overall popularity rating is a net negative, 35%-45%. You know what that means? Palin's popularity is in fact very, very dimmed among Democrats and independents.

Polls Suggest Obama Insulated From Blago Situation

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 11:04 AM EST

New poll numbers suggest that America is solidly behind Obama as he takes office — more so than previous presidents-elect. MSNBC's First Read postulates that, as a result, Obama will be able to (1) withstand distractions like the Blagojevich situation without seeing his honeymoon coming to end, and (2) be more aggressive in his initial policy initiatives.

Obama is enjoying a bigger honeymoon than his recent predecessors ever did. Just consider these numbers in the latest NBC/WSJ poll: 67% say they're pleased with Obama's early appointments, 75% believe that the level of his involvement in making policy has been exactly right, and his fav/unfav rating is 67%-16%. By comparison, a month after their initial presidential victories, Bush's rating was 48%-35% and Clinton's was 60%-19%. These scores -- combined with the fact that nearly 80% believe Obama will face bigger challenges than other recent presidents have, and 90% who say the nation's economy has gotten worse over the past 12 months -- seem to have given Obama some leeway with the American public. "We're seeing a president who has been given a longer leash by the American public," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). "This is not a traditional start of a presidency where people give you just a couple of months." For Obama that means, potentially, he has the opportunity to throw the long ball in his first year in office, as well as withstand an early setback or two.

Clean Air

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 1:58 AM EST

CLEAN AIR....Here's some unexpected good news. The Bush administration has decided to back down on its last-minute efforts to loosen a pair of environmental regulations:

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday abandoned its push to revise two air-pollution rules in ways that environmentalists had long opposed, abruptly dropping measures that the Bush administration had spent years preparing.

....The proposal on parks would have changed the rules for new plants being built nearby....Clean-air advocates had protested that this might allow parks such as Virginia's Shenandoah — where the famous mountaintop views are already obscured by smog and haze — to become even dirtier on certain days.

....The other rule dealt with the agency's New Source Review process, which dictates when existing power plants must implement additional pollution-control measures....John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the rule would have allowed plants to operate for longer hours and produce more overall pollution.

"I am stunned. I've been fighting these dirty rules for years," Walke said. "And within the span of an hour," he said, both were suddenly moot.

It's not clear what prompted this about face. But it's welcome news regardless.

And Now For Something Completely Different

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 12:19 AM EST

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT....Yesterday I posted a chart that plotted the frequency of prayer vs. partisan affiliation. It came from Razib Khan, who created it using data from the University of Chicago's General Social Survey. Today, although he was happy that a few blogs linked to it, he lamented that "alas, the practice of looking to the GSS to test some intuition or CW hasn't spread like wildfire."

Well. That's like catnip around here. I myself have never done this for a simple reason: I didn't know I could. But it turns out that some fine folks at Berkeley have built a simple web interface for the GSS and several other big databases (here), and anyone who feels like poking around can do so. So I did.

The interface lists all the questions that the GSS asks and allows you to plot variables against each other to see what pops out. I did that for a while, generating nothing of any value, until I finally discovered something of vital importance: one of the questions on the 2006 GSS was, "How many people named Kevin are you acquainted with?" And there was even a followup question: "How many of those people named Kevin do you trust?"

I had to find out. Now, I could have plotted this against anything I wanted — age, sex, religious attendance, zodiac sign (really) — but this is a political blog, so I plotted it against party affiliation. The results are on the right, and they're a little disturbing. Eyeballing the numbers, people appear to know an average of two Kevins each, but they only trust about half a Kevin each. So on average, people only trust about 25% of all the Kevins they know.

That's a little deflating, isn't it? But interesting! If you're named Kevin, that is. You can check out results for your own name, but only if your name is Kevin, Karen, Shawn, Brenda, Keith, Rachel, Mark, Linda, Jose, or Maria. Your guess is as good as mine about why they chose those ten.

You can also do other stuff, of course, and that includes mining the data and abusing the results to produce results you find pleasing. And then blogging about it. You can probably expect some of that in the future. Until then, have fun.