Sunday, December 31, 2006

Escape from the APA

Whew. Had to go straight from the Ranch of the Damned to the meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, where I did nothing all day long every day but interview job candidates. It continues to amaze me--and everybody else--how many excellent job candidates there are for so relatively few jobs. Depressing.

We had a little excitement on our last night, when the hotel was evacuated b/c of a fire on the 7th floor (we were on the 9th). A good bit of smoke and water flying around, the whole shebang. We were outside for about 45 minutes, then they let us back into the ballrooms, and we got back to our rooms around 7am.

Crashed with Statisticasaurus Rex last night, and now for a day with Johnny Quest's folks before FINALLY getting a few days of down time in Chapel Hill before the Spring semester starts and I do it all over again.

Anyway, not that anybody cares about all this, but, hell, I've been cut off from/ignoring current events, so I don't really have anything to say.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ia Saturnalia!
Trapped in Missouri

Hey. Been out here on the Ranch of the Damned for a week or so. No web access. More later.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Canadian Meteor Contains Organic Matter Older Than the Sun

Again I speculate: when we finally figure out the true and complete story about the origin and development of life, it's going to be even weirder and cooler than we think it is now.

Anway, 'til then, here's some cool raw material for speculation.

(via Metafilter)
Pham and Krauss on Darfur

Here, via Instapundit.

Incidentally--and this wasn't the point of posting this--yet another opportunity cost of Bush's Iraq misadventure: we can't take care of this one.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Senate Control in Jeopardy?

This is bad news--for Johnson, of course, but also for the Senate (and the country, and the world).

Keep your fingers crossed.
The Evangelical Take-Over Of the Military
Mikey Weinstein, My New Hero

Oh, I am serious as a heart attack, you have got to read this.

Weinstein's no-bullshit brand of clear-headed patriotism is just the kind of thing we need to fight this problem.

More on this later.

[HT: BethTheSociologist]
Amendment To Be--Simpsons Schoolhouse Rock Homage

Here. (At YouTube, via Metafilter.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Performance Debate

Discussed at Drum's digs.

As a former debater--and one with lots of awards for it, too--I can tell you that debate is largely a crock of sh*t in some ways this doesn't (as it were) strike me as being very surprising.

Debate does help one develop one's reasoning skills, but it tends to be so bad for one's intellectual character that I'm not sure whether it's any better than a wash. Don't get me wrong--I loved it in high school. In fact, it was pretty much the only part of high school for which I was not, well, high. If not for debate, I'd have probably gone nuts. And debate scholarships helped me out the first few years of college, so, again, I do owe it something. But by my sophomore year I was already outgrowing it.

The activity fostered a bunch of seriously bad intellectual habits and characteristics that it took me a long time to get rid of. For example, it encourages participants to think of discussion in terms of argument, and argument in terms of winning and losing, and that in terms of persuasion. It also encourages participants to get really good at being dialectically sneaky--good, that is, at tricking listeners in such a way as to conceal errors in the speakers' reasoning. It also encourages participants to exaggerate the strength of their own arguments, and to exaggerate the weaknesses of those of others.

As for the case in question--well, there's almost always been a bit of drama (in the sense of put-on) in debate anyway, so, given my current rather lukewarm attitude toward the enterprise, I guess this crap seems to be more-or-less similar in kind to the stuff that already goes on. Which would make it no big deal.

But, on the other hand, it does constitute a development that differs significantly in degree from the other dramatic hoo-ha in debates. So I'm not particularly happy about this attempt to further erode the line between the forensic and the dramatic.

Well, that's my fast take on it, anyway, FWIW.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Guess Putin's Got Polonium In His Soul

I guess I pretty much think what Kleiman thinks.
Psychos For Bush?
Should Psychotic People Be Urged to Vote?

Well, here.

To the list of obvious questions that need to be asked in this case (among which is, of course, "is this true?"), let me add:

Did Clinton get the psycho vote, too?

That is, do the psychotic always support the president, or do they tend to support only the more authoritarian presidents? The researchers tell us that as people get more psychotic, they tend to support Bush more...but that doesn't tell us whether or not the same thing happens with every president.

Anyway, I'm trying to avoid pointing out how all this would explain a lot, because that would be wrong because it's not even been peer-reviewed yet and anyway that would just be a cheap shot, in part because I'd just scoff at this as a bunch of half-baked crap if it didn't happen to point in the direction of a conclusion that I already accept and that makes me feel all vindicated 'n' stuff.

[HT--as with so much of the really weird sh*t--Canis Major]

[And before anybody tries to get cute: why, yes, I do know the difference between 'most psychotic people like Bush' and 'most people who like Bush are psychotic'.]



Sunday, December 10, 2006

If There's A Hell...

It's got a new resident.
Our Ignorant Leaders,
or: Agnocracy in Action?

Drum points us to this by Jeff Stein. It's a follow up to this. It's not for the faint of spirit. It is, to say the least, not going to increase your confidence in those who govern us.

If our elected officials really are this ignorant, then they are, in effect, governing us blindly. This is a very bad thing. Look, you don't--or at least shouldn't--pick a doctor primarily because of his bedside manner... An affable but ignorant guy poking around in your guts with a scalpel is just a friendly killer. But this seems to be how we choose our leaders--on the basis of the analog of their bedside manner.

I think we should demand that reporters routinely quiz lawmakers about this sort of thing. And the results should be tabulated and made public.

Stein indicates that some other agency officials and members of congress have known the answers. But he doesn't tell us what the actual percentages are like, and probably hasn't done enough interviews to know. But the preliminary data suggest(s) (damn quasi-plural terms) a fairly alarming and depressing hypothesis about how much our leaders know and how much they don't.

Look, this seems like an extremely serious problem to me. It's bad enough that those who are making decisions about Iraq and the GWoT/G-SAVE/PREFAB or whatever the hell it is now are too ignorant to make reliable decisions... But there's an even bigger, scarier question here, which is, obviously:

Is their knowledge of this subject representative of their knowledge about policy-relevant information in general?

Are we really being governed by the ignorant?

We need a term for this, but to my shame I don't read Greek [humiliating admission number 67,498] [though I can, um, like, order beer and stuff in modern, um, there]. But--if we can extrapolate from words like 'agnostic' and 'agnosia'--my guess would be something like 'agnocracy'.

So, supposing provisionally that that's right, may I suggest that we do our best to out the agnocrats?

And then to demand that they educate themselves about at least the very most fundamental and absolutely indispensible facts the recognition of which constitute the absolute minimum level of understanding FOR RUNNING THE WORLD'S SOLE REMAINING (but perhaps nor for very much longer) SUPERPOWER?!?!?!?!?!?

And that if they remain thusly ignorant, that we kick their sorry, ignorant butts out of office?

Re: The Previous Post

Statisticasaurus Rex points me to this cartoon in today's NYT that graphically represents similar points.

[Can't generate a permanent link for it, so this may only last one day.]

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are We Getting Alarmed Yet?

Ah, it's that time of the semester: grading hell. A time when I've become disconnected from absolutely everything--including politics, family, the world in general, and even, it sometimes seems, hope itself. Hence also a time when I sometimes feel an overwhelming urge to talk about sh*t that I know nothing about and haven't been paying much attention to, anyway.

Is this a great internets or what?

So, from my vantage point of living in my office and not having time to read anything and not being able to read anything online in particular because Stopzilla has apparently turned my formerly zippy Dell desktop into something with all the speed and memory of my old Commodore-64...anyway, from that vantage point...I have concluded:

People aren't currently quite pissed off/worried enough about Bush.

I know, I know, you still have your frothy fringe. But I mean average folks like us. Since the election I've just felt...exhausted. Like well, there (dusts hands off). He got his comeuppance. We gave him what for. Thank God that's over. ain't over. Iraq seems to be in a nosedive, it sounds like our military--which, by the way (or so I thought) was supposed to be capable of fighting two major wars at the same time--is sounding more and more depleted...

Oh, and the Putin may be murdering British citizens.

And there's at least one Genocide going on.



And the guy who got us into this mess through a mixture of dishonesty and incompetence is still in charge.

And, in fact, the rhetorical deck has somehow been stacked in such a way that if you suggest that--maybejustmaybe--this demonstrably incompetent and dishonest person not only does not deserve to be president anymore, but--maybejustmaybe--deserves to not be president anymore...then you, my friend are a kook. A kook!

That's fairly astounding when you think about it for in excess of five seconds.

Look, things are sounding so bad that I'd be worried sick EVEN IF WE HAD A COMPETENT PRESIDENT. Even if we had a Clinton, an Eisenhower, a Bush '41 (or a Gore or a McCain or...or...), I'd still be worried that basically one more bad move or stroke of bad luck could send us into a tailspin.

Oh, and al Qaeda's still trying to kill us all. Remember them? Al Qaeda? OBL? Tall guy, white hat, AK-47? Guy who brutally murdered 3,000 Americans? 'member him? This president of whom I write decided that it wasn't terribly important to get him. (Dead or alive or, you know, whatever...)

So anyways, even if we had a competent president who knew, ya know, something, I'd still be quite concerned.

But what we have is the single most incompetent and intellectually dishonest president of any living person's lifetime, and possibly of ever.

What we have, by way of just picking out an example I just saw, is this guy.

We are negotiating a mine field, and the guy telling us how to get through it is...well, you know his characteristics. I try not to list them in detail too often out of respect for the office.

This is a guy who has made a career out of doing exactly the wrong thing at exactly the worst time. This is the guy leading us through the minefield.

This is a guy who would be dangerous even if the world were stable. He is leading the world's sole remaining superpower (um, are we still a superpower, by the way?) through a world that would be dangerous even if said superpower were being led by someone honest and competent.

Dear lord, when I do read the papers I feel like those meteorologists at the beginning of A Perfect Storm, looking at the radar screens, saying things like "Jeez, if this one happens to go that way, and that other one stays the way it is [er, stays the course?], this could turn into a complete catastrophe."

I mean, what I'm saying is that I've gone past being (makes stern, serious face) concerned about (repeat face) world affairs to being (looks around rather furtively, as if wondering whether he's becoming One Of Those People, You Know, The Loony Ones), well...alarmed.

Am I over-reacting?

Somebody please tell me I'm over-reacting.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dick "Scarface" Cheney

This is pretty damn funny. By which I mean kind of scary. But hilarious. Or should I say "f*cking hilarious"?

I've never understood the weird cult of Scarface. Maybe because I've never understood the heroification of villains.

But, this is funny. In that we're all going do die because we're so stupid kind of way.

[Big HT: Tom Van Dyke]

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"I Love Shoes And The Baby Jesus"

That's an actual quote a friend of a friend of mine got on an index card when he asked his students to tell him about their interests.

Noted without comment.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

TDB: Ned the Neocoservative

One comic is worth a thousand blog posts.

[HT: Canis Major]
The Future of Sexual Consent?

I found this to be hilarious. Vaguely NSFW, I guess, but not really.
Christianity and Violence: A History

David Nirenberg, also at TNR. Extremely interesting.
The Academy and War

Andrew Delbanco, at TNR. Worth a read.
Milgram Didn't Know the Half of It

Apparently I am rather in the dark about how easily manipulable humans are. See, I just found out--though cannot quite yet get myself to believe in--the "long-distance strip-search" or "McDonald's strip-search."

Johnny Quest saw this on the teevee last night and called, incredulous. Needless to say I, quickly assessing the situation, burst into flames, yelling and kicking things. This is my coping mechanism when confronted with tightly-woven layers of evil, stupidity, and cowardice.

First and foremost, of course, reason demands that we get the perpetrator and never stop kicking his ass.

He has been caught, and--and here's something we ought to mull over a good bit--he's a "corrections officer" for one of those prison corporations.

(Vicious sidebar: I expect he may finally get his fill of spanking during his (up to 16-year) prison term...though from the other side of the lap.)

Second...who the hell are these people who are following such orders?

Third, um, just incidentally, because some jerkoff on the phone says he's a cop? I'm not going to do some sh*t like that if the President, the baby Jesus, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff tell me to do so, in person, with the orders notarized and in triplicate.

Fourth, of course, the poor victim shouldn't have gone along with it, either. People complain about "blaming the victim," but that's just a slogan. Victims sometimes deserve some of the blame. One shouldn't, of course, blame them more than they deserve, and that often means blaming them not at all. In this case, however, the girl should have simply said 'no,' walked out naked or not, and physically resisted if necessary. I do have very much sympathy for her, but one does have a responsibility to defend oneself and one's dignity.

The whole just blows me away. I realize that we're creatures with massive cognitive blind spots. I also realize that even perfectly sensible people can be caught unawares, tricked, conned, etc. I'm certainly not saying that I've never been duped, for I have, oh, yes, I have.

But there is a certain almost unbelievable level of servility and docility on display here... Have we really become such sheeps in the face of authority? The man says "jump" and we ask "how high?," simultaneously jumping our highest just in case? Incapable of standing up for our own rights, and for the rights of others, even in the face of someone merely claiming without proof to carry the authority of the state?

Look, the state doesn't get to tell you to violate other people. Even if the real, actual cops tell you to do something even 1/100th as bad and absurd is this, there's a time-tested response my folks taught me for just such an occasion: Go to hell.

Telling the authorities to go to hell when they get out of line is the American way. It's your GD patriotic duty.

Note that this isn't an anti-government part because the government didn't do anything wrong here. Rather it's an anti-act-like-feeble-minded-sheep-in-the-face-of-putative-government-authority tirade.

Jeez, I'm just so mad about all this I have to shut up now.