Obama and the earthquake

Posted by a FB friend of Dahlia Lithwick– I loved this…

Here’s my favorite quake joke, though (sorry, Prez — I really love you):  “There was just a 5.9 earthquake in Washington. Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.9, so he compromised.”

For what it’s worth, about 1/3 of my class said they felt it, but nobody was sure enough to raise the issue before we had the class break 30 minutes later.  I had no idea.  Kim said she felt it at home.  The most sobering aspect was the many of my FB friends back in the DC area who initially feared this was a man-made, not natural, event.

Parasites that hijack brains

I think one of the coolest (and most disturbing) things out there in the animal world is that there are parasites that basically hijack the brains of their victims to make them act in ways beneficial to the parasite.  Here’s the latest on a parasite that draws rats to cats:

For obvious reasons, rats normally avoid cats. In the presence of cat urine they become very timid — unless they’re infected with Toxoplasma. Research over the past 10 years has shown that infected rats drop their normal fearful “freezing” response, and instead go exploring. They even approach the cat smell.

Bad news for the rats, but very good news for the parasite, because Toxoplasma reproduces sexually only in cats. Parasite infects rat. Cat eats rat. Parasite reproduces.

The parasite can also infect all sorts of other animals, including humans, in which it causes toxoplasmosis — one of many good reasons to avoid contact with cat droppings. But outside of cats, its reproductive cycle cannot be completed.

If this puppet-master behavior were not strange enough, scientists have now found out how the parasite may change rat behavior.

Toxoplasma infection activates a part of the rat’s brain normally engaged in sexual attraction. The smell of cat urine revs up this set of neurons like the presence of a sexually receptive female rat normally would.

The neurons that trigger the rat’s normal “freezing” reaction to cats continue to fire. But their message may get swamped by the overactive sexual attraction signaling, the researchers suspect.

Yowza!  I also recall reading about a parasite that makes insects drown themselves so it can get to the water to reproduce.  Kind of makes you wonder if there’s some parasite out there exerting mind control on us that we haven’t discovered yet.  Might explain the popularity of Justin Bieber.

When does Grover Norquist favor a tax increase?

Why, when it is largely on lower income Americans, of course.  Greg Sargent:

Paging Grover Norquist: Over the weekend, the Associated Presspublished a much-discussed piece arguing that by the GOP’s own lights, Republican opposition to Obama’s demand for a payroll tax cut extension constitutes support for a tax hike:

News flash: Congressional Republicans want to raise your taxes.

Impossible, right? GOP lawmakers are so virulently anti-tax, surely they will fight to prevent a payroll tax increase on virtually every wage-earner starting Jan. 1, right?

Apparently not.

Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tong to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different “temporary” tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.

The tax break extension they oppose is sought by President Barack Obama. Unlike proposed changes in the income tax, this policy helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a “payroll tax” on practically every dime they earn…

In other words, in the eyes of the fearsome Norquist and his Almighty Pledge, even a failure to extend tax cuts temporarily amounts to a tax increase.

I’ve asked a spokesman for Norquist where he stands on GOP opposition to the payroll tax cut extension, and I’ll update you when I get a response.

Seriously– this is just so transparent and completely puts the lie to Republican tax policy preferences.  There is simply no doubt that the over-riding policy concern of the Republican Party is low taxes for rich people.  Everything else is secondary.  And lower taxes for average working Americans?  Not actually a priority at all.  Just a way to sometimes buy off Democrats to get the coveted tax cuts for rich people.

Climategate. Or not.

Now,as for all those people convinced that global warming is a hoax dreamed up by researcher because some of them complained about the doubters in whiny emails, we now have the latest conclusion that there was not a thing wrong with the science.  Joe Romm:

NSF Inspector General:  “Finding no research misconduct or other matter raised by the various regulations and laws discussed above, this case is closed.”… [emphasis in original]

And so after countless investigations — 3 in the U.K., 2 by Penn State, the EPA, the NOAA IG — that have all unanimously found the allegations against climate scientists and their research conclusions based on the hacked “ClimateGate” emails to be wholly unsubstantiated, a top GOP presidential candidate backed by the fossil fuel industry still gives voice to the Texas-sized lie (see “Denier Rick Perry Takes $11 Million from Big Oil, Then Claims Climate Scientists ‘Manipulated Data’ For Money“).

Real men read literary fiction

How refreshing that President Obama reads actual thought-provoking fiction, rather than just non-fiction and genre fiction.   The Reuters story suggests Obama needs a break from reality.  Meanwhile, I actually found this story via some moron at National Review who criticized him for being out of touch with reality for reading fiction.  Please!  Maybe Troy (and the Reuters author) should venture beyond political thrillers or whatever he reads and try something genuinely enlightening  like Cutting for Stone.   I presume I don’t need to explain to the readers of this blog why good fiction is not an escape from reality.


Interesting post in TPM about how Raleigh’s own Public Policy Polling has become Democrats go-to pollster and received tons of attention for their off-the-wall polls. Tom Jensen, who basically runs the show, was definitely among the more interesting guest speakers I’ve ever had in class.  They don’t do things the traditional way, but its hard to argue with the results.


What the Tea Party is really  about

Really important Op-Ed in the Times last week that I certainly should have gotten two early.  A couple of Political Scientists, David Campbell and Robert Putnam have some great panel data in which they are able to assess the views of Tea Party members from 2006, well before there was a Tea Party.  short version: the Tea Party is much more about mixing Christianity and politics and less about the economy then people (including me) have realized.  Of course, this, in part, shows the degree to which the Christian right has adopted the economic agenda of big business.  Among the more interesting analyses, they basically looked at what features of the respondents in 2006 made them most likely to end up as a Tea Party supporter.  #1– Republican.  #2– Christian conservative.   Anyway, here’s some of the good bits:

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics

The authors go on to present evidence that this is a deeply unpopular view among most of the public.  The Tea Party has fallen dramatically in popularity.  It seems that for most Americans, to know the Tea Party is to dislike the Tea Party.

Definitely read the whole thing– it’s short, with a ton of good info packed in there.  But, let’s end on this note.  Now, the Tea Party is not “racist,” but there is this little fact

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.  [emphasis mine].


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