Would Joe Biden Travel In A Tardis?

Poor Joe Biden. He’s been mocked a lot today for his gaffes regarding the swine flu (although as Steve M. points out, what he said is far less ridiculous than some of the comments coming from the right.)

As even Barack Obama has been known to make fun of Joe every now and then, and as this blog deals with both politics and science fiction, I have a question for Joe. If we are advised to stay out of confined spaces such as subways and planes (which might not actually be bad advice should the virus continue to spread), what about other modes of transportation? For example what about the Tardis?

The Tardis is dimensionally transcendental, with the inside and outside existing in different dimensions. For those who don’t understand Timelord science, this means that the Tardis is small on the outside but much larger inside. Here is just a small portion of the inside:


Of course if Joe would travel in a Tardis, he would fit in much better with some of earlier incarnations of The Doctor. In recent years, to attract ta younger audience, they have been using younger and younger actors on Doctor Who. I most see Joe Biden as being like Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor:


Fighting The Religious Right

I’ve often pointed out how different the views of the current conservative movement are compared to those of past conservative leaders such as Barry Goldwater. Andrew Sullivan has posted another example:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.

If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.”
Barry Goldwater, Congressional Record, September 16, 1981.

Can The Democrats Lose By Winning?

While believe the Republicans have dug themselves into a deep hole, and appear to be continuing to dig deeper, at times I’ve also expressed the view that if the Democrats over-extend they risk a backlash which could return the Republicans to power. It makes sense that if the Democrats propose or pass unpopular measures they risk being voted out. Matthew Yglesias pointed out today that the Democrats also risk losing power if they pass measures which are popular, but which eliminate the reasons why many people voted for them:

I do think it’s always worth considering an alternative. I think it’s very possible that Democrats could “gain so much power” that they implement at least some of their “crazy plans” and that the people, rather than revolting, will just turn their attention to other issues. For example, many Americans feels anxiety about their health insurance status. And the majority of these people vote for Democrats. But if Democrats deliver a health care reform plan that assuages those fears, those voters may start voting more on their hatred of abortion or love of torture and bring Republicans back into power.

You can think of Dwight Eisenhower succeeding as a politician not despite the New Deal, but in large part because the New Deal’s successes eventually built a country that no longer had a strong desire for progressive economic policy. Or how today’s tax cut jihad has trouble attracting votes in part because marginal tax rates are much lower than where they were before Reagan cut them—the issue just doesn’t matter as much to people as it used to.

This is potentially true. What will make it harder for the Republicans to recover is that so many people voted primarily against the Republicans as opposed to for the Democrats. Many people wanted the Democrats to win, regardless of what they planned to do in office, because things were so bad under the Republicans. We got to a point where a strong majority of voters thought that nobody could do worse than the Bush administration. Beyond their incompetence in office, the extremist ideas promoted by the Republicans were rejected by voters, and at present the Republicans are responding with a delusional argument that they lost because they weren’t conservative enough.

This Is How Serious Texas Is Taking The Swine Flu Outbreak


AP reports:

Texas officials are postponing all public high school athletic and academic competitions until May 11 because of the swine flu outbreak.

If this had happened during football season could they have gotten away with such a move? It is hard to believe anything could have stopped the football season in Dillon, Texas (home of the fictional Dillon Panthers on Friday Night Lights, which I suspect captures the real feelings about high school football in the state).

More serious comments on the swine flu outbreak here.

Pandemic Alert Level Raised To Phase 5

In follow-up of my earlier post on the swine flu, the World Health Organization has now raised the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5. See the earlier post for background and further links to the definitions of the alert levels.

A Shrinking Tent

The few remaining members of a small political organization called the Republican Party appear determined to shrink their numbers even further. Once one of two major political parties back in the days when the United States had a two-party political system, the Republicans have been highly successful at shrinking their numbers by driving out all who do not share a set of extremist, far right-wing views. Olympia Snowe, one of only three Republican Senators from the northeast, wrote of this phenomenon in an op-ed in The New York Times while Jon Huntsman, the Republican governor of Utah, warned the Republicans that they are on the wrong path in an interview with ABC News.

Michigan Republicans have helped to prove that the moderate Republicans are right their concerns about the direction the GOP is moving in:

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s appearance at a Michigan county Republican Party event was scrapped this week after the county chairwoman said that hosting the moderate Utah governor would mean abandoning the party’s conservative principles.

Kent County Republican Party Chairwoman Joanne Voorhees abruptly canceled the party fundraiser scheduled for Saturday.

“The voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots. Unfortunately, by holding an event with Governor Huntsman, we would be doing the exact opposite,” Voorhees wrote in an e-mail quoted in The Grand Rapids Press .

Voorhees did not specify which issues she felt were contrary to the party’s principles and did not return messages left at the party headquarters and on her cell phone.

The ABC News report on their interview with Huntsman pointed out his heresy:

In November, Huntsman won re-election with 78 percent of the vote in Utah, one of the most solidly Republican states in the country and one of the most conservative, but he is an unconventional Republican, staking out moderate positions on environmental issues like climate change and favoring gay rights.

Denying the scientific consensus on global warming and opposing the rights of homosexuals have become major litmus tests for remaining in the Republican Party. Basically if you accept modern science or if you are not a homophobic bigot the GOP no longer has room for you in their tiny tent.

Two recent polls by The Washington Post and NBC News/The Wall Street Journal show identification as Republicans down to twenty-one percent and twenty-percent. Republican Senator John Cornyn noted the current state of the Republican Party when he spoke of how he believes the GOP will one day regain their status as a national party. It is not clear how they will become a national party by excluding everyone who does not share a narrow set of extremist views.

Why The Swine Flu Is A Big Deal

We tend to hear so many warnings from government and the media that there is a tendency towards skepticism among many people. In some cases this turns into outright denialism, such as with the number of conservatives who outright deny the scientific consensus on climate change. While comments here are hardly representative of the population at large, noting two different comments to the previous post (from different parts of the political spectrum) questioning the attention paid to swine flu I have decided to briefly explain why this story really is a big deal.

One commenter writes, “I remember the bird flu and the outbreaks of normal flu before and after, too. At certain times of the year, people get the flu. Is this really news anymore?” The potential of a pandemic is far more significant than a normal influenza outbreak. Infectious disease and pubic health experts have been concerned for years about the dangers of an influenza pandemic comparable to the 1918 pandemic which cost a tremendous number of lives worldwide. The current swine flu outbreak may or may not turn into a pandemic, but there is reasonable concern for the potential of this happening. The World Health Organization ranks the risk of pandemic on a scale of one to six, with six being a full-scale pandemic. Currently the swine flu outbreak is rated at four, but it looks like the WHO is getting close to moving this up to a five.

During a normal seasonal influenza outbreak there’s a tremendous number of people who are immunized against the expected influenza strains for that year. Even those who have not received the influenza vaccine are partially protected by herd immunity. Having less people in the community who are susceptible to the infection makes it harder to spread, reducing the risk for those who have not been vaccinated. In contrast to normal influenza outbreaks, we do not have large numbers of people immunized against the swine flu. (I have seen some speculation that those who have received influenza vaccines on a regular basis have received immunizations against a large number of influenza strains and might have some partial immunity, but we certainly cannot count on this).

One feature of this infection might also make it potentially more serious than other influenza epidemics. Many of the more serious cases have occurred among young adults, as opposed to among the higher risk individuals who often suffer the most in influenza outbreaks. There is speculation that the more serious consequences of this strain come not from the initial infection but from the response of one’s immune system. Paradoxically this might make young healthy people with strong immune systems the ones at greatest risk.

Another consequence of influenza is the development of secondary bacterial infections when people are weakened by the flu. Overuse of antibiotics has increased the risk of the selection of bacterial strains which are resistant to conventional antibiotics.

Our patterns of travel make it more difficult to control a potential pandemic. The ideal way to contain an epidemic is to identify the outbreak in its first location and contain it there. It is far too late for that. The amount of air traffic from Mexico and around the world has spread the virus around the world, with confirmed cases in seven countries, with this number expected to rise quickly. As of 11:00 a.m. today the Center for Disease Control reports ninety-one laboratory confirmed cases in the United States. These are in ten states (Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Texas). The largest number of cases are in New York City (51). The first death has been reported in Texas.

There might be some tendency to see an increase to only ninety-one confirmed cases as trivial, but we have no idea how much this will increase. The incubation period is two to seven days, meaning that there can still be many people who will turn out to have the disease from contact which occurred even before news broke of this infection last Friday. The bigger question is how much it will spread in different communities.

At this point we do not know how severe an illness we will be seeing. Initial reports out of Mexico suggested that the virus might be more deadly than it now appears to be. Even when there were reports of over one hundred deaths it was difficult to interpret this as we had no accurate count of overall cases. It now appears that these reports were exaggerated, with the WHO officially reporting only seven deaths in Mexico.

The considerable amount of media attention might actually be helpful in reducing the risk of pandemic. Simple precautions such as washing hands (including use of products such as Purell when hand washing is not practical) can greatly reduce spread. Knowledge of the existence of the virus could increase the chances that those infected do remain at home and avoid contact with others. Besides taking prudent action to avoid infection, it would also be advisable to be prepared with supplies such as food in one’s home should there be a serious outbreak in one’s community. The more people avoid public places in case of such an outbreak, the more likely it will remain limited.

At this point we do not know how serious a problem there will be. It is important not to panic, but also not to write this off as a meaningless scare should this not turn out to be a serious problem this year. The same concerns which cause infections disease specialists to be concerned about the risk of a pandemic exist, and we can still face such problems in the future. It also must be kept in mind that we are at the end of the usual influenza season and we might stop seeing this strain as we stop seeing other types of flu this time of year. It remains possible that the swine flu will return during next year’s influenza season, but that would leave plenty of time to develop vaccinations.

Dumbest Quote of the Day


We might have some dumb criminals here in West Michigan, but they sure have some dumb politicians in Minnesota:

I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.
–Michele Bachmann

If this isn’t bad enough, the previous swine flu outbreak occurred when Gerald Ford was president.

It is also interesting that of the last two major terrorist threats, one occurred under a Democratic president and the Millennium attacks were stopped. The other occurred under a Republican president in which the warnings were ignored and the attack succeeded. Texas has some politicians as dumb as the one from Minnesota.

He Should Have Worked In The Bush Administration

We sure have some of the dumbest criminals here in West Michigan:

If only police work was always this easy.

A Norton Shores man called in a bomb threat to the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department Monday in an effort to delay his sentencing on a credit card fraud conviction, police say.

But police say his plan was foiled after investigators used caller ID to trace the call back to the suspect…

Reeves was arraigned Tuesday by Muskegon County 60th District Judge Harold F. Closz III on one count of making a false report or threat of a bomb, a four-year felony, and as a fourth-time habitual offender. His bond was set at $10,000 cash or surety.

Posted in Michigan News. 2 Comments »

Arlen Specter Leaves a Sinking Ship

Arlen Specter is switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party. While this is motivated largely by his personal electoral prospects, it is nevertheless another move towards turning the Republican Party into a regional party of the south and the Mormon belt of the west. In explaining this change, Specter cited the move by the GOP to the far right:

I have been a Republican since 1966. I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.

Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

Presumably Specter made a deal to keep his seniority but I have not seen any specifics yet. It remains to be seen whether this will meaningfully affect the amount of power the Democrats have in the Senate. Specter might wind up voting the same way, including on cloture, as he previously would as a moderate Republican. It is also possible that increased association with Democratic Senators, along with no longer being concerned with winning Republican primaries, could have some affect on his future voting record.

Besides further decreasing the amount of Republican Senators in the north, this adds to the view of the Republicans as a party in decline. Recent polls have showed that only twenty-one percent identifies themselves as Republicans. Karen Tumulty argues that one party has not had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate  since 1937 when considering the lack of ideological unity within the parties in more recent years. Can we even consider this a two party system anymore when one party has such little support?

That is actually a question which will become clearer in the future. The Republicans have had bad moments before, such as after the Goldwater loss and after Watergate, and have recovered. Still, today’s situation seems somewhat different. Voting against Goldwater didn’t necessarily mean permanent rejection of the GOP. Besides the political landscape quickly changed when LBJ alienated the south. Watergate was blamed on Richard Nixon and not the entire party.

Today it is not only individual Republicans but the views of the party which are being rejected. While an extremist faction has taken control of the party, increasing numbers of conservatives and moderates have begun to identify with the Democrats out of lack of any alternative.

Most likely the two party system will be restored, but it is not certain that this will be because of the Republican Party as currently constituted finding a way to revive itself. With so many of the remaining Republicans deluding themselves into thinking they lost because they are not conservative enough, the party could be on the way to extinction. In contrast the Democrats are becoming a big tent made up of a wide variety of views. I am increasingly suspecting that a future two party system will come about from a division of the Democrats over disagreements over future issues, either by the formation of a new party or a faction of Democrats moving to take over what is left of a dying Republican Party.