Thursday, May 31, 2012

Back / Thanks

Back from MO and grandma's funeral.

Thanks much for expressions of support.

Promulgation of unsupported, indefensible opinions to commence forthwith.

Nanny State Watch: NY To Ban Big Sugary Drinks

Link to NYT

I'm willing to listen to arguments on this of course, but this seems like a very bad way to proceed. Educate the public and hope for the best. But Big Mother doesn't have the right to tell us that we have to buy two normal sodas instead of one stupid big one.

(I think it's pretty dumb to drink a soda like that under normal conditions, but I've been known to suck down absurdly large quantities of sweet tea myself, so I've probably got no room to talk here.)

Furthermore, there is no reason to ban big sodas unless you're gong to ban big everything (food-wise). Soda is no worse for you than any other food item with the same amount of calories. The passionate conviction of the food puritans that there is something particularly bad about soda--other than, of course, the fact that they find it gauche--is based on flawed studies. It's a view driven by politics and aesthetic preferences, not science.

Finally, if no good reasons can convince liberals to oppose this kind of do-gooder-gone-bad meddling, note that conservatives will get lots of mileage out of this nonsense. They can ignore warnings about al Qaeda, let OBL get away, start disastrous wars, crash the economy, pander to the ultra-rich and obstruct the workings of government, and none of that will get the kind of traction with the public imagination that a ban on Mega Super Gulps will get. This consideration is not as weighty as the freedom-based considerations.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Short Break From Blogging

My grandma--my last remaining grandparent--died this morning, so JQ and I will be going back to MO for a couple of days at the Ranch of the Damned. No connectivity out there, not even via smartphone, so no blogging until 6/1ish.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Naturalness Argument: Skin Cells To Heart Cells

Link

The most common argument against homsexuality, endorsed by the Catholic church, for example, is the naturalness argument, aka the unnaturalness argument.

The principle that drives the argument: if x is unnatural, then x is morally wrong.

That principle is wrong for a million reasons. And here's another: there is nothing morally wrong about modifying skin cells so that they can function as heart cells. Yet that shit is as unnatural as you can get.

Also: yeah, science!

Or, rather: yeah, technology!

Intrade: Obama Reelection Odds at 58%

As of 1:52 EDT.

Not looking too shabby right now.

Link to Intrade Obama page

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is College Too Easy?

Link

Answer: yes.

The Avengers

          Z

          O

          M

          G 

I'm basically speechless about this movie.

I will say: best superhero move ever.

Joss Whedon outdid himself this time...though it would be criminal to mention him without mentioning the cast, which I thought did a freaking awesome job to a (wo)man.
 

Good Polling News From PA: 8 Point Lead

Link

Via Steve Benen

The Race War Cometh

White people, watchit!

Man. You're not going to find out about this stuff watching the lame-stream media, lemme tell ya...

(via somebody...I dunno. Sullivan? Bennen? One of the usual suspects. I dunno.)

Nation's Looniest Sherrif Sends "Team" To Check Out Obama's Birth Certificate

Oh, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, you so crazy.

Nice use of county funds there, Joey.

And don't forget that the AZ Secretary of State is threatening to keep Obama off the ballot if he doesn't get "sufficient proof" of the President's citizenship. Like, uh...a birth certificate?

These people are fucking crazy. Seriously. We now have GOP officials threatening to try to throw the election to the GOP by keeping Democrats off ballots on no plausible grounds whatsoever. No one is really stupid enough to actually believe that birther crap. The conspiracy theory is just being used as an excuse.

Seriously. If these people get about five degrees crazier, the country is going to crash and burn.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Stinker...er...Surfer

Wow.

If I might quote Malcolm from Jurassic Park (another terrible movie, notwithstanding the fact that I've watched it like fifty times): "That is one big pile of shit."

Almost unwatchably bad, FFRotSS is just one cringeworthy moment after another. Oh, Jessica Alba is super hot...though notably less hot than she would be without the bad bleach job...and...uh...well...that's basically the only thing good about this turkey.

Seriously. WHO WROTE THIS PIECE OF CRAP?

I know, I know. The Fantastic Four is not great material to start with. I liked 'em as a kid because I liked their powers, and the whole team thing and, to my shame, the Avengers only sporadically did it for me. (DC was right out. Blech.) But I had to give up on the FF because the treacly, soap-oper-osity just became unbearable. ("Oh, no, the Sub-Mariner is attacking REED, MY BELOVED HUSBAND! OH NOEZ!") It was bad stuff, but I still have a soft spot for it.

That's why it so painful to watch this crap. The thing seems to have been written by a twelve-year-old. It's one canned, cringe-inducing line after another. Cheap sentiment after cheap sentiment, after cheap sentiment. So, I guess, in that way it was kinda true to the comic...but egad, so much worse...

The bad guys are so bad that they don't even make any sense. The General dude's disdain for Reed & co. is so hyperbolic that it feels like he's not even a real character, just a kind of weird scribble of bad. Doc Doom doesn't even care that Galactus is about to EAT THE WHOLE FREAKING WORLD--including him--so powerful is his avarice and his lust for the Silver Surfer's board. Look guys: you don't understand Doc Doom if you don't understand that he's smart enough and rational enough to care that he's about to get et.

And Galactus...NEVER SHOWS UP. Or, rather, he shows up as a big amorphous cloud of destruction. His shadow shows up once...but, as for Galactus hisownself: no dice. WTF????

And not once is the SS identified as what he is: The Herald of Galactus fer cryin' out loud!

Oh, so terrible. So terribly, terribly terrible.

Do not watch, no matter how bored you are.


And yes, of course I realize that this movie came out forever ago. But after the first FF movie, I had no desire to see this thing. And I shouldn't have.

Monday, May 21, 2012

His Name is James Bond


NSFW, funny, Bondy.

You will be neither shaken nor stirred; you will, however, be amused.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Homebrew Genetic Engineering Will Doom Us

I've gone on about this stuff before.

If/when technology advances to a point at which every reasonably intelligent person on the planet has the power to create a pandemic, we are doomed. Period.

The Big Dog Pwns Chris Wallace and Faux News

LOOL

Wow. The hacks at Fox tried fighting out of their weight class, and Clinton opens up a whole brand new can of whoop ass on 'em.

What's really great is that he doesn't lose his cool, but he doesn't pussy foot around either--he straight up calls them on their wingnuttery, and flat-out humiliates Wallace.

Fox, of course, has no idea what to do when confronted with facts. They're all like "Eeek! WTF are those things anyway?!?!?!?"

Panspermia II?


Did crap from space kickstart life on Earth?

U.S. Government To Deploy Propaganda At Home?

Link

I really am speechless about this.

What am I missing here?

This sounds like utter madness.

Of course the lead-up to the Iraq war was pure propaganda...so it's not as if this doesn't happen in some sense already...

(via Reddit)

Umlaut Gate: Birtherism About Obama's Love Letters

So, not only did Obama not write his books, looks like he didn't even write his old love letters to girlfriends. Some Cyrano de Bergerac apparently penned the letters for him.

It's the umlaut that gives it away...

I mean, World Nut Daily wouldn't post it if it weren't true, right?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Everybody Hates Anarchists: NATO Summit Edition

Link

There's really no reason to even comment on the douchebaggery of anarchists. What's left to say?

But the really sweet thing about this story is the throwing stars bit. The sword part is funny...but you don't really hit the top level of forever alone sophomoric dipshittery until you think that throwing stars are a crucial weapon in your revolutionary arsenal. It's only at that point--which we might call the Napoleon Dynamite Point--that you become a complete and total laughing stock. Though the "four empty beer bottles" for Molotov cocktails...also utterly hilarious.

Mitt Romney is a Liar

Wow. When you put it all--or at least a lot of it--in one place like that, it is pretty astounding.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bill Friday in Critical Condition

Anybody who cares about college sports cares about former UNC president Bill Friday. He's currently in critical condition, but has improved.

Good luck, Mr. Friday. We're all pulling for you.

Sane Conservatives: Still Searching

I'm still searching for sane conservative blogs to read.

And no, nothing at Reason counts. They're basically libertarians. Libertarians are not conservatives.

Any input here will be much appreciated.

Medical Mission Creep: The Medicalization of Everything

Linky

Beware medical mission creep. The medical community is already trying to medicalize firearms, but claiming that firearms ownership is a national health issue. Now booze.

First they came for the booze...then they came for the smokes...then they came for the guns...what next, our explosives?

Goddang nanny state bullshit...

Liar, Liar: 100,000 Jobs Edition

Have 100,000 jobs in the auto industry been lost under Obama, as Mittens claims?

Nope.

Obama Unleashed: Wingnuts and Obama's Second Term

Linky

Attention wingnuts: now hear this:

If one is going to unleash one's evil liberal agenda and/or destroy the country, it does not make sense to wait for one's second term.

If you wait for your second term, then you only get 4 years to do it. If you only get 4 years to do it, then you might as well do it your first term.

Furthermore, your second term is not guaranteed. If the odds of re-election are only about 50-50, then your expected number of years in your second term is 2. Your expected number of years to work immediately after inauguration for your first term is 4. So only a fool would wait until his second term to unleash liberal Armageddon. Certainly not an evil mastermind/Manchurian candidate/Antichrist/commisocialist/anti-colonialist crusader/Islamic mole like Barack Hussein Obama...

C'mon, wingnuts. You can do better than this...

World Nut Daily: BREITBART'S CORONER MURDERED ZOMFG

lolololink

Here's the first paragraph, and I swear to God I am not making this up:

Medical examiners in Los Angeles are investigating the possible poisoning death of one of their own officials who may have worked on the case of Andrew Breitbart, the conservative firebrand who died March 1, the same day Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced probable cause for forgery in President Obama’s birth certificate.
LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

The possible poisoning death of a guy who may have worked on the Breitbart case...and on the same day that the craziest Sheriff on Earth "announced probable cause for forgery in President Obama's birth certificate" [sic, grammar]!!!!!

On the very same day as some shit that has nothing to do with this even in the minds of the most feverish denizens of the most fevery quadrants of the fever swamps...but we want to mention it anyway because it is something bad about Obama!!!!!

This is the kind of stuff that gives stupidity a bad name.





Treyvon Martin Case: Zimmerman Was Injured

Link

The flow of available evidence now seems to indicate that Zimmerman was telling the truth.

Looks like I, like a lot of people, jumped to a conclusion about this case.

Interesting that the only picture of Martin that was released for months was the one in which he was a little kid...and there was no conceivable way that Zimmerman could have been acting in self-defense against the person in the picture.  Now we've been seeing more recent pictures, and it's clear that Martin wasn't a child. Weirder still is the case of the rumor that Zimmerman was entirely uninjured when, in fact, he was pretty seriously injured. Also weird is the alleged presence of THC in Martin's system...  Who the heck starts a fight on weed? Weed is like the anti-Jack Daniels. It makes fighting the last thing on your mind...

Anyway, the tide of evidence is turning...though could easily turn back again. If Zimmerman's version of the story is true, though, I doubt that the initial national first impression about the case will ever completely go away. Dunno who's to blame for this, but the media does come to mind...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Andrew Leonard: The Disappearing Slowdown

Unconstitutionality of the 2012 NDAA


A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction late Wednesday to block provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the military to indefinitely detain anyone it accuses of knowingly or unknowingly supporting terrorism.
     Signed by President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve, the 565-page NDAA contains a short paragraph, in statute 1021, letting the military detain anyone it suspects "substantially supported" al-Qaida, the Taliban or "associated forces." The indefinite detention would supposedly last until "the end of hostilities."
     In a 68-page ruling blocking this statute, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed that the statute failed to "pass constitutional muster" because its broad language could be used to quash political dissent.
Link

Wow. So it's the possibility of quashing political dissent that matters here? Not the way I would have gone with that...but whatever it takes, I guess.

It pains me beyond words to be on the same side as this crew:
...Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky; Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir; Kai Wargalla, an organizer from Occupy London; and Alexa O'Brien, an organizer for the New York-based activist group U.S. Day of Rage.
     They call themselves the Freedom Seven.
(Ellsberg is in there, too, but he's cool...)

People who know a lot more about this than I do agree with the administration that there's nothing new here...though that just shifts the scary from the NDAA to whatever other thing permits indefinite detention until the end of the endless war.




Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Missouri Embarrasses Itself, Limbaugh In "Hall of Famous Missourians" in the Capital

Jackass

I gotta become a monk or something.

Everything is pissing me off.

The Lowest Difficulty Setting is "Rich," not "Male"

Link

I'm probably not going to discuss this, because people basically cannot be reasoned with on this point. Different types of people have different advantages, and there's no doubt about it that certain important advantages attach to being white, and certain important advantages attache to being male.

But, having had to listen to such lectures many times from e.g. females who had basically every advantage over me--wealth, highly-educated parents, educations at the best schools, and on top of that, affirmative action advantages when we were competing for jobs--I have to tell you, I'm not 100% behind the idea that I need to admit that I got the best deal there. It's an empirical question, and I'd be eager to get the straight dope on this. I certainly appreciate the advantages I have as a white male. I know things are tougher in lots of ways for women and non-white people. But, having grown up on a farm in the rural Missouri Ozarks, having gone to an extremely crappy college because I was the first person in the family to go to college at all, and we didn't know any better...having clawed my way up the academic ladder, only to then be told that e.g. females who had every advantage from day one still deserved additional advantages over me...well... I know that, on top of everything else, I'm supposed to happily and enthusiastically admit that the preponderance of illicit advantages still worked out to my advantage...  (I'm usually told this by leftist females who got all those advantages mentioned above...)

But I have to say...

It's just not obvious to me.

The opposite isn't obvious either.

Neither is obvious.

It's funny that I've often thought of this in gaming terms as well, though I thought of it like this:

Suppose you can choose to be instantiated as a rich, urban or suburban female, with successful, well-educated, professional parents, or a poor, rural male with uneducated parents. You want to win the game...which route do you choose? Choose the latter, and you're a fool is what I suspect...

Look, it's not that an issue like this can be settled in blog posts. It's not like I don't understand the burdens born by females and e.g. blacks. I'm not that oblivious to the ways of the world. I don't tend to see things from a white, male perspective or any such thing. If your options are white male or other, choose white male in the game of life. But if your choice is more fine-grained...if you can choose, say, white female from professional family rather than white male from the farm...well, I suggest that the choice is, at the very least, not so obvious as some on the left might have you believe.

Having been the rural white male who's argued for a roughly liberal position most of my life, who's fought his way up, who's gone out of his way to understand the challenges faced by non-whites, who's seen affirmative action give the already-advantaged additional advantages over him, and who, nevertheless, remains committed to the liberal ideals in question...it rather bugs me to still get lectured to on the subject of my failure to appreciate my alleged advantages.

That is all.

Orion: Dino Beatdown

Do not buy this game.

I made the mistake of buying this turkey as soon as it became available on Steam. I still have played exactly 0 minutes of it, since nothing in the universe will make this game load. Steam forums are filled with endless lists of glitches, and all we get from the developers is promises, promises, promises that it'll all be fixed when the new version is available manana, manana.

Maybe possibly someday perhaps this game will be playable. But not now.

Save yourself ten bucks. Don't buy this piece of crap.

Should Souter Release His Citizens United Dissent?

Richard L. Hansen says yes.

It'd be interesting, but surely Souter has no arguments that haven't been made by others. Airing the court's dirty laundry on the other hand...is probably worth doing. It's become hard for me to believe that Scalia et. al. are anything like objective. I'd like to believe that they are...and would be happy to be corrected. But, as of now, I simply don't buy it.

As Hansen notes, Souter is unlikely to release the dissent. But it certainly would be interesting to see what's in there.

Fever Swamp Follies: Conservapedia: "Barack Hussein Obama"

Link

LOOOOL

Oh man. Checking out Conservapedia is always a hoot. The introductory paragraphs alone are worth the price of admission. Note the obligatory wingnut inclusion of "Hussein." I also like the a.k.a. "Barry Soetoro" part. And "reportedly" born in Hawaii...LOOOL. They can't control the crazy hatred long enough to get out of the first sentence. Also note his "unjustified" receipt of the Nobel Peach Prize...blah blah blah "socialism," blah blah blah "Democrat" candidate blah blah blah. And that's before we even get to the really good stuff.

Say it with me now: these people are stark, raving, bugshit insane.

"The First Gay President"

Grumble

Ask yourself: why was Clinton supposed to be the first black President? Not because he sympathized with black people, nor pursued policies that helped blacks. Rather, because he was taken to be like "them"...virtually or in some sense black in some way. I've never been sure why that was. Because he was Southern? Because he was cool? I still don't know. But I know it wasn't because he championed "their" causes. That's just not why.

So it doesn't make any sense to say that Obama is "the first gay President." The non-minor point that bugs me about this is the suggestion that the only way to sympathize with gay folk is to be gay yourself. This is not only mind-bogglingly stupid, it actually harkens back to the kind of crap I heard in my youth, when males who enthusiastically endorsed women's rights were thought of as being somehow unmasculine, and those who defended gay rights were accused of being gay. Not that I see that either charge is such a big deal...but it's the confusions that bug me.

Anyway, that's why this "first gay President" stuff is annoying me.

Grrr... Grrr...  Everybody GTF off my lawn...

Did VA GOP Reject Thorne-Begland b/c He's Gay, or b/c He's Pro-Gay-Rights?

The VA GOP wants to say that it's because he's pro-gay-rights, but some liberal commentators are acting as if this explanation is absurd. It isn't. Sure, it's usually a mixed bag of anti-gay-rights motives and anti-gay motives...but does anyone think that the GOP would have been just fine with Thorne-Begland if he were straight, but an outspoken advocate for gay rights?

The outcome is probably overdetermined--either being gay or being pro-gay-rights would be likely to garner GOP opposition. At any rate, there's nothing absurd about the GOP's explanation--their record against gay rights and those who support them is well-established. This dust-up reminds me of those who insist on attributing the GOP's hatred of Obama to the fact that he's black...such folks apparently having forgotten the GOP's perhaps even greater hatred for Clinton. Personally, I doubt that their hatred for Obama would lessen much if he were white...but that's nothing more than a very fallible hunch.

Funny thing about all this to me is that the GOP seems to acknowledge that it needs to defend itself from charges of anti-gay bigotry...but to think that "we're not gay, we're just against gay rights" constitutes such a defense. How it's supposed to be impermissible to be anti-gay, but permissible to be against gay rights is beyond me. Seems on the face of it that they'd stand or fall together.

Rot In Hell Ratko Mladic: Murderer, Coward, Piece of Shit

Die a horrible death you piece of semi-human scum.

What a cowardly, psychopathic, evil piece of shit this guy is. Hilarious that he gave up without a fight when they caught him, despite the fact that he was armed--I'd forgotten about that. Not so tough when he isn't torturing, murdering and raping those who are completely defenseless. Less that 100 to 1 odds and Mr. Rat suddenly loses his love of violence. Funny how that works.

I sure wish there were a hell, because the thought of this shitbag in it warms my heart. Ah, well. I suppose there's still time for him to die a slow, agonizing death from some horrific disease. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Little Quasi-Family History

The plane in which the CIA flew JQ's dad and grandpa, in the dark of night, to the states. JQ's grandpa--Papu, to the family--had fought not only against the Nazis, but against the Communists. He helped out the U.S. and the CIA enough that they flew them out of Greece and to the States, depositing them in Chicago, where they flourished, as Greeks are wont to do. Note that it's the Flying Tigers that brought them here.

R-Money: The Quasi-Gay-Bashing Incident

Back in the OD now, with civilized connectivity. (The place JQ's folks rent out, and we take care of, in Chapel Hill, has bandwidth for sheet.) Followed the Romney quasi-gay-bashing revelations...

What to say? 'Cause I know you all care what I think...

Man.

Damn.

I don't know how to weigh the two obvious, conflicting thoughts:

1. F*ck that shit, this is viciousness of a kind that reveals something deeply awful in the core of someone's being.

2. Kids are stupid and evil, and they often get over it.

I did many things as a kid that I regret deeply, and I'm a fairly good guy. I never did anything like that, though...  Hell, if anybody tried that to me or around me, blood would be spilt. At first I was horrified...  Then I considered the forgiveness route, though it's not in my power to forgive this incident. Then I realized that I was thinking of him as very young, but it turns out that he was like 17 or 18, right? That's way too old for the incident to be excusable. What was that quote from the story? "He can't look like that?" Fuck you, 18-year-old R-Money. I wish I--or, for that matter, 18-year-old me--were transported back to that moment so that I could have the pleasure of inflicting some pain on your evil, sorry ass. I'm sure you wouldn't care for the way I looked, either...

But people do stupid things...and then grow up.

But he claims to have forgotten it, though the other attackers claim to be plagued with guilt. That's not a good sign...

Things are unclear here, but, gotta say, IMHO, signs point to asshole

Anti-Aging Research and Overpopulation

Probably BS, but maybe something.

I don't really care whether this one works or not. Eventually something will. And then the overpopulation problem will be on its way to becoming a whole lot harder to solve.

Not trying to be Dr.-Doom-And-Gloom... I'd LOVE it if we found some anti-aging treatment. But if I could push a button and put it on hold until we address the population problem, I'd probably do so. If we don't start working seriously on this now, we are in for a disaster later.

I'm reminded of the debt. Folks like me who urged us to address it early and in good times were derided. And looky now.

Just sayin'.

"Chronological Ethnocentrism"

Nope.

Relevant passage:

 Despite such evidence, one reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now.
This ideology of progress amounts to a chronological form of ethnocentrism. Thus chronological ethnocentrism is the belief that we now live in a better society, compared to past societies. Of course, ethnocentrism is the anthropological term for the attitude that our society is better than any other society now existing, and theirs are OK to the degree that they are like ours.
Chronological ethnocentrism plays a helpful role for history textbook authors: it lets them sequester bad things, from racism to the robber barons, in the distant past. Unfortunately for students, it also makes history impossibly dull, because we all “know” everything turned out for the best. It also makes history irrelevant, because it separates what we might learn about, say, racism or the robber barons in the past from issues of the here and now. Unfortunately for us all, just as ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from other societies, chronological ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from our past. It makes us stupider.
For the love of God, stop throwing around these throw-away gripes like "ethnocentrism." Not to mention neologisms like"chronological ethnocentrism." Academicians love this crap. If I had a nickle for every time I've had to hear about the horrors of ethnocentrism I'd be a rich man. Add some cash for every laudable mention of "diversity" and the coin really starts to stack up...

Look:
If you're going to whine about something like "ethnocentrism," you need to get straight about what's going on. First and foremost: there is nothing wrong with thinking that your own culture is better than another in some respect or other, so long as you're right about it--or, more precisely, so long as your belief is justified. We're better at the freedom thing than, say, Iran. It's not (horrors!) ethnocentric to acknowledge that.  It's not even ethnocentric to falsely think that your own culture is superior to some other. Ethnocentrism is something like automatically or unthinkingly or dogmatically thinking such things.  So the author above is on the right track when he denigrates thinking that "...we must be more tolerant now than we were...in the...19th century." (Note, however, this is not an "ideology." It's an idea.)

However, the "ideology" [sic] of progress does not amount to "a chronological form of ethnocentrism." ('Temporal' would probably be better than 'chronological' here, actually.) There is nothing wrong with the belief that we "now live in a better society" than did folks at Buchanan's time. See, we do live in a better society. No slavery for one thing. For another: women can vote. One could go on.

The author goes on to say that "ethnocentrism is the anthropological term for the attitude that our society is better than any other society now existing, and theirs are OK to the degree that they are like ours." Nope. Or, rather: few people have a very clear idea what they mean when they throw around the PC term "ethnocentrism." But if ethnocentrism is supposed to be bad, then it can't be that. Because at any given time, some society is going to be best (or tied for best), and it can't be wrong for the folks in that society to acknowledge this. The second half of the sentence is closer to being right, but still misses the mark. The error is to think something roughly like: the contingent nature of my own society defines what goodness for a society is. (Funny. Cultural moral relativists on the left actually think something closer to this than do folks on the right. CMR is, roughly, the view that however we happen to do things is--roughly--by definition the right way for us to do them. Conservatives at least have the good sense to generally think (or so it seems) that we are contingently right about everything, not necessarily so...)

Nobody, of course, ever thinks any of that stuff explicitly. So the actual error made by actual people is to unthinkingly accept more-or-less whatever their own society does, and to treat it as if it were the standard by which all others are judged. That's quite different from just thinking that your own society is best...which is, again, fine, so long as your thought is justified--as some such thoughts will be.

So, anyway: there is progress--note that we got rid of slavery, for example. Note also that we're generally more accepting now of homosexuality--the actual case in question--then we used to be, say, in the 1950's. We'll backslide on some things, of course. Nobody said progress was always permanent. But the arc of the universe, though long, bends toward justice. Recognizing that progress is possible--and sometimes actual--in no way makes it impossible to learn from the past. In fact, it makes learning from the past a worthwhile endeavor. If progress were impossible, then learning of any kind would be futile. But it isn't, so it isn't.

There's an idea buried in the passages above...but a little precision goes a long way. And such imprecision takes a helpful truth and turns it into a pernicious falsehood.

Argh. Sorry that's all so cranky. But I'm just really losing my patience with this kind of stuff.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Are Sunday Talk Shows Avoiding Mann and Ornstein?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How To Energize The Right

Doing the right thing is a sure-fire method.

I don't think these people understand the difference between "I personally support same-sex marriage" and "I will make it illegal to be heterosexual." They're already out dancing around their totem poles and sticking pins into their Obama effigies.

Personally, I wish the Prez had kept his opinion on the DL until next year or so. I'm afraid this is going to make things tough in some crucial swing states. NC is off the table now, I expect and for example. Obama winning in November is much, much more important than any single issue, and certainly much more important than the President expressing a legally irrelevant opinion on this one issue. Bad move, on the face of it and IMHO.

I mean, it's great in principle. But damn...

Also, for purposes of national unity--something we must still think of even if our temporarily insane friends across the aisle do not--I'd prefer to see a push for civil unions first. Civil unions are good for lots of reasons. Take JQ and me for example. We are skeptical of the institution of marriage and cantankerous enough that we elect to buck social pressure to get hitched...not, I guess, that there's really much of that anymore... But no marriage means no benefits like free health insurance for JQ. We'd jump at a civil union--something scrupulously non-religious, and something that gave us plausible deniability about having caved in to The Man. It's win-win!

Civil unions would give same-sex couples all the tangible benefits of marriage without stirring up quite as much insanity in the fever swamps. It's a nice compromise...that isn't really a compromise. It's everything important about marriage, just without the word.

Ah, well. I hope I'm wrong, and we'll have to see what Nate Silver and co. say, of course, but it's hard for the casual observer not to be depressed about this development however much one might favor SSM. It's a good cause, but not even close to being worth losing this election over.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Silver: Majority Support For Same-Sex Marriage

link

My second thought upon hearing that the President had expressed his personal support for SSM was: oh, no. There goes the election.

Nate Silver, however, gives us hope, above, that it might not hurt.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Fox: "Obama Flip-Flops: Declares War On Marriage"

LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

Hard to know what's the most amusing part of this...

The morons who pretend to be on the side of limited government flipping out that the President does not share their totalitarian sentiments?

The shrill, hyperbolic terms in which this outrage is expressed?

The all-too-predictable, opportunistic attack on Obama's modest, measured statement, and the characterization of it as yet another "war on."

Jeez. Really, people this stupid deserve a good punch in the nose.

Not that I advocate political violence, for I don't. But it is what they deserve. Not even so much because they're terrible human beings as because they are so appallingly stupid and intellectually incontinent.

Reasonable people can be against same-sex marriage. Reasonable people cannot write headlines like the one at Fox. Such people are ideologically and financially committed to undermining the U.S. by making us stupid and unreasonable. If there's a logical Hell, they'll all rot in it.

Obama "Personally" "Affirm[s]" Same-Sex Marriage

Link

Proving, once again, that the Dems are closer to what's good in libertarianism than is the GOP. Small government doesn't matter that much. What matters is non-intrusive government--government that recognizes that it has no right to tell individuals what to do so long as they are minding their own business.

I sure am proud that this guy is our President.




Tuesday, May 08, 2012

NC Amendment One

I happen to be in Chapel Hill this week, so I've got a ring-side seat for the Amendment One debate and vote--that is, as you probably know, the proposal to add a same-sex marriage/civil unions ban to the NC constitution.

Sadly, Amendment One seems destined to win. Although Chapel Hill and Carrboro are full of No On One signs, from the state line to Chapel Hill we saw exactly one No sign, but innumerable Yes signs. The amendment is expected to pass by about 15% of the vote.

C'mon, NC. Surprise us all and do the right thing.


Monday, May 07, 2012

The Right's Willful Insanity: Ben Shapiro Edition

Here's that Ben Shapiro fellow intentionally ignoring the obvious, straight-forward interpretation of one sentence in a report about Obama's role in the killing of OBL, and substituting a laughable, utterly implausible interpretation that sits better with conservative ODS, then spinning out a whole theory of Obama's role on the basis of that one, obviously intentionally misinterpreted sentence.

Willful insanity is still insanity. On the bright side, it's theoretically temporary...though when you let bad habits entrench themselves, they become part of who you are, and cannot easily be thrown off.

This Shapiro piece is a microcosm of contemporary American conservative thinking--reject the obvious interpretation of the facts in favor of one that accords with your political biases. That is, basically, the central method of today's right. The spirit of Trofim Lysenko has possessed contemporary American conservatism.

Government Growth Under Obama: Slowest In 40 Years

Friday, May 04, 2012

RIP MCA

Adam Yauch dead at 47.

Haidt And "Moral Dumbfounding": Still Not Right

Link

1. When we reason morally, do we begin with conclusions and then use reason to rationalize?

No.

To be more precise:

Sometimes...just like we do when we reason about anything else.

Consider cases of non-moral reasoning, and note how often we "rationalize" rather than genuinely reason. Consider the God dispute. Many people begin with their conclusion and then flail for reasons. Many, however, do try to reason toward a conclusion. I've spent years of my life doing this, and I'm not radically atypical. (In fact, there's no clean distinction between these two things, and what we get is a spectrum of possibilities. In all reasoning we take some things for granted and work toward others.) But the question "does God exist?" is a factual one, not a moral one. It's about the existence of something, not about whether something is right or wrong. Consider also "have humans contributed significantly to global warming?" That's a question with respect to which many people simply begin with a conclusion, yet it is not a moral question.

OTOH, with respect to moral questions, we often reason to conclusions. Abortion, for example, is something with respect to which many of us have tied to reason toward a sensible policy position. Typically, we ask ourselves whether women's rights over their bodies outweigh the fact that there are some respects in which fetuses resemble persons, and the fact that, if left on their natural trajectory, most will become persons. Consider also homosexuality. When, as a lad, I first became aware that there was such a thing, I had a powerful emotional aversion to the idea. But when I thought about it, none of the reasons that seemed to offer themselves in support of the aversion added up. Over several years of reasoning with myself, I--as it were--talked some sense into me, and the aversion went away. Again, not an atypical case.

So: contrary to what Haidt et. al. seem to claim there is no hard-and-fast asymmetry between the moral and non-moral cases. Maybe people more often rationalize rather than reason with respect to morality, but at best it's a difference in degree, not in kind.

As for roasted-chicken f*cking and consensual adult incest, these are cases way out on one end of the spectrum, best-cases for his position, not typical cases. As for consensual adult incest--brother-sister incest, to use Haidt's example--many people are just grossed out by it. Their only "reason" is ick. Personally, I don't think it's morally wrong, so it doesn't surprise me that people try to rationalize in that case. It's exactly what you'd predict even if you reject Haidt's position. It's just an ick case, people try to support an unsupportable position. Hilarity ensues. The same thing happens when you ask many people why they think that the world is 6,000 years old. Actually, I don't have a sister, so I think it's easier for me to be objective about the matter. OTOH, you might say that I don't understand the case well enough to grasp why ick is the right reaction. That I grant.

As for sex with roasted poultry: it's clearly not morally wrong. That is clearly just an ick case. And I'm sure that's what the people Haidt talked to meant. Normally, it's the experimenters in such cases who are the ones who are actually confused.

2. As for the more characteristic, political stuff in Haidt's view...  Well, he's just telling us what people tend to appeal to when they make a few moves toward trying to reason morally. It's of some psychological interest that conservatives appeal to "sanctity", but just keep in mind that this in no way means that such appeals are legitimate/defensible. How people actually think is not necessarily how they ought to think. Interesting--if true--that conservatives appeal to sanctity. That might tell us how to persuade them...but it doesn't tell us how we ought to reason morally. Just for the record.

FP on the F-35

"The Jet That Ate The Pentagon"

I had read that early studies that put the JSF's performance into doubt had been refuted...but that might be false. The price tag problem seems irrefutable.

I have a private theory about such projects and their cost. (I'm thinking of, e.g., the Osprey etc., too.) My theory is that the principals know that there will be huge cost overruns, but they are fine with that. They basically plan to give Congress price X, knowing that the ultimate cost will be closer to Y. The cost overrun is not a bug, its a feature. Ramping the cost up slowly minimizes the chance of cancellation. Congress will also be loathe to cancel a project if significant money has already been sunk in it.

Rumsfeld was a disaster, but I was kind of psyched when he cancelled the Crusader. Not because I knew enough to make an informed judgment about that particular system, but because I thought it was important for a big project with lots of momentum to be cancelled. (Though Rumsfeld was just enforcing his own ill-founded vision on the Army, as it turned out.) We were tricked into buying the Osprey--which may ultimately prove to be a good decision for all we know--by what seemed like individual acts of dishonesty, so that couldn't be an object lesson.

I kinda sorta hope we make the point with the F-35--you can't just sell us crap and ramp up the price indefinitely.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What Tablet Should I Get?

Department's getting me a tablet to replace my aging laptop. What should I get?

Looks like the iPad is the consensus #1, but not by much over the Asus Eee Pad. I kinda shy away from Apple for all the common reasons. I'd rather have the Android platform, to mention one in particular.

The Eee Pad + docking station looks good...  I'm really interested in the Lenovo Think Pad, in part b/c of the stylus/touchscreen, but I'm not sure it stacks up well.

Any input would be appreciated.

Contras: Human Rights Violations

Obama Team's Rational Response to Koch Brother Lies


Wow, this is great:

video

For years I've begged for this kind of ad--clear, honest, and reasonable, no BS, no spooky voice-overs, no nonsense. In general I think the Obama ads are quite good, but I'd like to see them move even farther in this direction more routinely.

Good work, team Obama.

Nicely done.

[Oh and: spread this ad around!!!!!!!

Help combat the bullmitt.]

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Obama Lies About Bridges

Mr. President:

Don't do this.

Lying is bad. It suggests a contempt for democracy.

Also, as a grubby prudential aside: you don't need to do it. The general point about infrastructure and jobs is exactly right. Why sully it with a bogus illustration? And why give the GOP ammo? Because they'll act like this one lie about one bridge counterbalances their cavalcade of lies about jobs and infrastructure.

Do not lie about stuff.

Lying is wrong.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Robograding Essays

The mighty Kevin Drum has this on the robograding of essays.

Two points:

1. The discussion seems to be focused on the question of using robograders for exams. But what I thought was: this'd be a great way for students to get feedback on their writing. Not such a hot idea for graded work, maybe, but one reason students can't write is that commenting is so labor-intensive. They get so little feedback that they can't learn. Note: scrawling 'vague' in the margin doesn't count as commenting.

(Note on my great virtue: I spend hours on each 5-page paper in my upper division courses, and my comments are often longer than the papers. Note one of my many vices: I don't give papers at all in my lower-division courses.)

2. OTOH, my students actually tend to produce work that is, syntactically speaking, a fair approximation of English. It's the semantic stuff they can't handle. It's not gibberish, but it doesn't make all that much sense. The problem isn't so much outright falsehood as it is that they really just can't think very clearly. They can produce a bunch of grammatical sentences that would seem to make something like sense if you weren't familiar with the topic, and if you read it fast. But they just can't seem to get the parts to fit together. Worse, they can't seem to grasp the principle that if the parts don't fit together, you need to acknowledge that and try again. I wish I could produce some examples for you, but I've found in the past that I'm simply incapable of doing that. I can produce something that makes fair sense, and I can produce gibberish if I want, but I can't product this weird stuff my students produce.

Anyway, 2 makes me worry that 1 is false, and that robograding might just make things worse.

Mitt Romney Wants To Be A Real Boy

"He's human" says wife [note: not an actual quote]

He's"wild and crazy" [note: actual quote]

Y'know, I feel sorry for this guy. He's so boring and stilted and uptight that even the most implausible and enthusiastic attempts to make him seem likeable come off as damning with weird praise.

I like nerds. I'm half nerd myself, though I'm sure you can't tell. But nerds tend to be interesting. R-Money is just a dude who set out to become filthy rich. Aside from his rather-more-implausible-than-average religion, there seems to be nothing interesting about him at all. And the guy seems to have a likeability rating of about 0.25/10.

If he would make a good president, none of that would matter, of course. But...well, you know.


The GOP's OBL Insanity

I've been trying to write something about this forever, but I am always reduced to sputtering, inarticulate rage.

So let me get this straight:
Your boy W doesn't even have a meeting of the principals on terrorism until like seven months after he takes office, despite warnings from the out-going administration and from the intelligence community that OBL was a big threat. Then 9/11 happens. Then he Fs up in Afghanistan by sending in too few troops, largely because he wants to hold some back for his side project, the unrelated Iraq adventure. Consequently, OBL, the man who disintegrated the WTC, escapes from Tora Bora. Then W & co. lie us into the insane Iraq adventure/debacle. Then they decide that OBL, y'know, doesn't matter. Note, these are not some kind of hippie, lefty, pacifist, forgive-and-forget types, but the most vindictive m***** f*****s in the Western world.

Then the adults re-take the Presidency and kill that SOB OBL.

And now the GOP can't decide whether to say that it was because, y'know, Bush must have done something to make that possible, or that it doesn't matter, or that nobody should mention it because politicizing such a thing is wrong...

...The folks, that is, whose boy was flown onto an aircraft carrier, to strut up onto a stage in front of the cameras and a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner after they (mistakenly) thought that the Iraq war had been won.

See, here's the thing. There comes a point at which the contradiction and stupidity and the what gets called "irony" become so blatant that, if you can't see them, it is simply not possible to reason with you. This should hit you like the proverbial ton of bricks. But if it doesn't even whisper huh...that doesn't seem right to you, then there is nothing else that can be said. There is no argument available to humans that can make this all any clearer than the facts that are readily available to us all.

The GOP has lost its mind.