Thursday Evening Open Thread: ‘Dumb’ vs. ‘Willfully Ignorant’

I first read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi when I was 9 or 10 (my English-teacher mother gave me a copy when I told her Tom Sawyer was a terrible book, and I was having doubts about Twain’s literary stature). That book made explicit one of the great ‘secrets’ of American life: There’s a considerable percentage of our fellow citizens who genuinely admire con artists, thugs, and those who ‘know how to get what they want, whatever it takes.’

The number of such secret fellow-felons has certainly grown no less, here in our second Gilded Age. It’s not necessarily that all Trump voters are stupid (although many of them *are* plenty stupid; look at the Fox talking heads!), but they choose to insist on being ignorant enough to believe the crap Fox / Trump / the entire GOP ladles into their gaping maws…

As another great American artist once said, You can’t cheat an honest man…


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Muellergate Open Thread: All the President’s Minions

So, as it happens, Dave Roth’s done another fine pigbladdering of a most deserving target…

One of the most common misunderstandings about Dumb Guys is that they are not capable of doing things. This is false. They can and in fact absolutely love to do complicated-sounding things like scheme and intrigue. They may not do those things well, and will generally do them in arbitrary and ineffective ways. But they will attack the work of scheming and maneuvering and infighting with all the vigor of a dog trying to carry a too-big tree branch through a doorway…

… It is a common Dumb Guy trait to stop assimilating new information at some moment of great personal success; there is no reason to think that Jon Gruden believes the NFL is any different than it was when he won a Super Bowl in it during George W. Bush’s first term.

The problem is that all that intrigue creates its own sort of paranoid gravity. The Dumb Guy believes that the moment he stops scheming is the moment that he becomes vulnerable, and so must throw himself into constant counter-intrigue and intrigue-maintenance and general amphetamized vigilance. And that, according to Ian Rapoport, is where the Raiders stand today, after Mayock and Gruden sent home the team’s entire scouting department because they “don’t know who to trust.”…

Yeah, not exactly about Our Political Moment. But it certainly could be!

Because if there is one common denominator to the collection of grifters, racists, willing traitors, overconfident scions and all-purpose villains that compose the Oval Office Squatters Squad, it is that they are every one a Dumb Guy, revolving around the Dumb Guy in Chief.


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Thursday Morning Open Thread: Looking Elsewhere, Deliberately


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Seems like this week has been a month long already. Who’s up for a long weekend?








Post-Racial America Open Thread: The GOP’s Latest Dumb-Show


 
Many, many words were said — but were they ever dumb!

Per the Washington Post:

A tense congressional hearing to explore the spread of white nationalism on social media quickly served to illustrate the problem Silicon Valley faces after anonymous users on YouTube began posting vitriolic attacks that targeted others on the basis of race and religion…

“These Jews want to destroy all white nations,” wrote the user Celtic Pride.

“Anti-hate is a code word for anti-white,” wrote another named Fight White Genocide.

Appearing before the committee, Alexandria Walden, the counsel for free expression and human rights at Google, stressed the tech giant has invested in people and technology to remove content that incites violent or spreads hate. “We know the very platforms that have enabled these societal benefits can be abused,” she said…

“This just illustrates part of the problem we’re dealing with,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the committee, after seeing the Post’s report.

His comment was greeted with skepticism by Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican. “Could that be another hate hoax?” he asked. “Just keep an open mind.”
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The Last Days Of The American Empire…Soft Power Edition

I’m working on an column about, among other things, the arc of federal support for science since World War II.  As I was trying not to think about our national emergency national emergency this morning, I tripped over the following thought…

The funding deal Pelosi, McConnell et al. worked out included $1.375 billion for new barrier construction along the border (not, technically, a or the wall). That’s a win for the Democrats and a defeat for Trump, as it’s a tiny fraction of the amount that the bigot-in-chief sought, and that would be necessary to truly fortify the frontier.  For what follows I’m going to ignore the faux emergency through which the would-be dictator seeks to seize other money to pay for some useless shit, and just look at that number.

So, what makes for a powerful country?  I’d argue that the ability to project force around the world is in many  ways the least significant part of it.  Certainly, in a globally connected world, with the full range of surveillance technology and so forth, the notion of using technology perfected by, say, 1400 or so, overlapping fortifications, to keep folks out is…

Shit stupid.

US power since the middle of the last century has certainly been headlined by the military; but our capacity to influence life at home and abroad on a daily basis, in the hour-by-hour experience of billions, has turned on everything else, from our cultural impact (jeans! Rock and roll!) to, crucially and perhaps most significantly, the scientific, medical and technological revolutions fostered by the American research community.

That’s what got me going about even the seemingly de minimus amount of barrier funding in the spending bill.

The NIH budget for 2019 is $39.3 billion. In constant dollars, that’s nine percent below the peak funding achieved in 2003.  About 80% of that money goes to research grants — so just shy of $32 billion pays for folks to address all the ills that befall Americans, and citizens of the world.  For FY 2018 the National Science Foundation received $6.334 billion for research related activities.* *There are, of course, other significant pots of research money in the federal budget — DoD, DoE and Commerce all fund a lot.  But the NSF is where curiosity-driven basic research gets its support, and the NIH is, of course, the one that as we all age we notice a lot, so that’s where I’m focusing this exercise in futile rage.

A first, obvious point. The money spent on the barrier would add more than twenty percent to recent NSF research budgets, and would represent a four percent boost to the NIH.

Within those numbers these factoids: the average research project grant at NIH in 2017 provided a skosh over $500,000 to award winners. The NSF funds such a wide range of projects and disciplines that the figures are a little opaque, but still, as of 2016, the average grant offered an annualized $177,100, while the median figure was $140,900 per year.

You can see where this is going.  That barrier money could fund almost 2,800 more principal investigators trying to figure out cancer, Alzheimers, antiobiotic resistance and all the rest.  It could pay for more than 12,000 researchers pursuing basic science — the kinds of questions with pay offs that can’t be anticipated, but that have, over the last century, utterly transformed the way humans live on earth.

FTR: I do know that budgets don’t work as sort of implied above. They’re political documents, so spending on foolish stuff is often the price to be paid to spend some on smart ideas.  If we somehow avoid pouring a billion plus into  holes in the ground along the Rio Grande, that money doesn’t readily flow to a lab.  But the exercise is worth doing anyway, if only to point out how little, in budget terms, it would take to turbo charge research in this country.

The reasons for doing so extend beyond the value of knowledge for its own sake, of course, there’s the economic benefits of scientific research. There is an open argument about the size of the multiplier for each dollar invested in basic research, though less controversy about the benefits of investing in more translational or directly motivated work of the sort that shows up in many/most NIH proposals, for example. But the bottom line is that trying to figure out how nature works is good for the national (and global) bottom line.

Instead, we’re buying bollards.

And that’s how the American century ends.

Not with a catastrophic collapse, but the decision to put our national treasure to work in dumbest possible fashion, leaving aspiration, well being and wealth on the table.

With that — I’m done, and you’re up. Open thread.

*There are, of course, other significant pots of research money in the federal budget — DoD, DoE and Commerce all fund a lot.  But the NSF is where curiosity-driven basic research gets its support, and the NIH is, of course, the one that as we all age we notice a lot, so that’s where I’m focusing this exercise in futile rage.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, The Ramparts of Paris1887