Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pachycephalosaurus, Sygimoloch, and Something I've Never Heard Of All The Same Species?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is Modern Man A Wimp Compared To Our Ancestors?

I hesitate to post this, not only because I'm going to hear about it from the Mystic, but also because its claims sound more than a little sensationalist.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fighting Over There So We Don't Have To Fight Over Here

Are Civilian Lives More Valuable Than Military Lives?

Since 9/11 I've advocated giving al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan both barrels. Little doubt remains that our Iraq adventure was, to put it delicately, counterproductive. But in Afghanistan, the cause was just and the goals were clear and rational. However, I'm starting to wonder whether an argument that's long percolated in the back of my mind against the Iraq war might cut against the Afghan war as well. (The argument might very well be hogwash, but I present it here for your consideration.)

The Bush administration and its cheerleaders were fond of saying that we had to fight "them" "over there" (i.e. in Iraq) so that we didn't have to fight them over here. This struck me as a terrible argument for some fairly obvious and widely-understood reasons--first, if "they" were supposed to be al Qaeda, then "they" weren't actually
in Iraq (not at least until after we invaded). Second, you don't get to pull an innocent third party (in this case the Iraqi people) into a war just because you'd rather not fight it on your own soil. Nothing new there. (Although we did get rid of Saddam, and that should not be underestimated as a benefit. We did somehow manage to replace him with something not obviously better--which a priori I would have thought impossible.)

But I've also thought rather a lot about the following point:
9/11 aside, we've long been pretty damn safe in fortress America. Attacking us here--in a major way at least--is hard. It was largely our own complacency that allowed the 9/11 plot to succeed. (Or, we should say, partially succeed, because we (in some sense of 'we') thwarted a large percentage of it when the passengers of flight 93 won their partial victory against their hijackers.) Now, were we to take the analogy seriously, we'd note that, even if you've got a mighty fortress, sometimes it's in your interest to sally forth and meet your enemy on the field of battle. However, when you've got approximately the most badass fortress of all time, and your enemy is puny and backward, let me suggest that you really ought to think twice about leaving your fortress to go fight said enemy on exactly his terms. It simply isn't obvious to me--even ignoring all the other very fine reasons not to have invaded Iraq--that some guy ought to have to ride through the streets of Falluja in an unarmored Humvee in order to marginally decrease the probability that I will be attacked here safe in the Shenandoah Valley. In order to (allegedly) make fortress America just a teensy bit safer, we send our troops into the very belly of the beast, to a place where planting IEDs is a piece of cake, and avoiding them is virtually impossible--to the only place where our enemies have something like an advantage. I'm not against sending in the troops in cases in which it makes sense; I'm just not sure that this one makes sense.

I mean, suppose there's a monster in the mountains. It's really, really hard for him to get into our valley, and if he does, even if everything goes perfectly for him, he cannot even dream of harming or killing more than a tiny fraction of our people. The valley just isn't an easy place for him to attack. But in the mountains, in his domain, he's a real demon. Now, are we sure we want to send out a hunting party to hit him exactly where he's strongest? I mean, if that's the smart thing to do, then fine. But is it? Heck, I'd even be willing to sign up if the strategy were sound. But I'd want to know what the problem is with just, um, staying out of the mountains and letting him come to us, where we have innumerable advantages. Let him be the one to fight on unfamiliar ground and unfavorable conditions.

Two points:

A. I'm wondering if people somehow think that military lives are less valuable than civilian lives. That would explain why they're willing to send soldiers out to fight on the enemy's home turf, where he is strongest, instead of making him come to us, where we are. I reject this view entirely, of course. I don't see any significant way in which military deaths are less tragic than civilian deaths.

B. I wonder whether--if an argument like the above is correct at all--it might not be applicable to Afghanistan now. I wonder whether we've reached a point of diminishing returns there, whether it might be better at this point to just pack our boys up and bring them back home safe, and let them take their (excellent) chances here with the rest of us. If al Qaeda masses in bombable units again in the future, then we'll bomb them. But for now, maybe it'd be better to let them try to come and get us if they think they can.

And last of all a final question about Iraq: do even the Bush dead-enders think that there's any appreciable chance of al Qaeda having killed 4,300, injured 30,000 others and wiped out two trillion dollars of American assets if we
hadn't gone into Iraq? Even if they'd pulled off another 9/11 they couldn't get those numbers. They in essence scored a super-9/11 because the Bush/Cheney administration sent our troops over there. And this is not even to mention Iraqi casualties. (Of course we did kill a lot of al Qaeda operatives, though it's not clear how many we created. To determine whether this argument is sound we'd have to know how all those numbers shake out.)

So the point is really just something like: it may be time to bring 'em all home, even if that does make us marginally less safe. It's not clear to me that, in a case like this, they ought to have to be lots less safe so that the rest of us can be more safe. We're already pretty darned safe, and in a case like this, it's not clear that what we collectively stand to gain outweighs what our troops stand to lose.

(I'm fairly sure there's some kind of error in there, but I don't know what it is.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2011: Obama's Coup Fails, The Online Survivalist/Wingnut Game

The game.

via Metafilter.

A quote from the game (quoted on Metafilter):
"Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck Found Dead in Camp

March 5, 2011 – Clark County, VA – A FEMA camp was liberated today, one of two still controlled by the war criminals loyal to Obama. Rush Limbaugh was executed over a week earlier, we are told, and Glenn Beck was found in his cell and has died, incredibly of an ‘aspirin overdose’, the preferred way to send a message to the enemies of Obama."
World of Nutcraft--sign up now!

I've heard you've got to beat Obama before the first year is up or he gets his Antichrist powers.

[Update: An awesome quote from the game excerpted at Sadly No!:

Former V.P. Joe Biden Captured Outside Arlington

March 4, 2011 – Former Vice President Biden was captured today after an incredible firefight in Arlington, Virginia. Biden’s Ameri-Troops and Islamic Warrior Guard were gunned down by the Virginia Citizens Militia and elements from T.A.M. (Texas Arizona Militia) with Sean Hannity, the former FOX broadcaster, leading the way.]

McClatchy: Moody's Purged Analysts and Execs Who Warned About Structured Finance Shenanigans, Promoted The Worst Offenders

(Via John Cole)

Here. Quoting:
As the housing market collapsed in late 2007, Moody's Investors Service, whose investment ratings were widely trusted, responded by purging analysts and executives who warned of trouble and promoting those who helped Wall Street plunge the country into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A McClatchy investigation has found that Moody's punished executives who questioned why the company was risking its reputation by putting its profits ahead of providing trustworthy ratings for investment offerings.

Instead, Moody's promoted executives who headed its "structured finance" division, which assisted Wall Street in packaging loans into securities for sale to investors. It also stacked its compliance department with the people who awarded the highest ratings to pools of mortgages that soon were downgraded to junk. Such products have another name now: "toxic assets."

Is there nothing we can do about this? I mean, is there no way to have a kind of Center for Economics in the Public Interest (like CSPI except, ya know, for economics, and without the anti-corn-syrup loons?).

Apparently the people who are supposed to be rating these things cannot be trusted. Is there any way to either (a) establish a rating institution that can be trusted or (b) basically divest ourselves from this bullshit?

I've never cared about financial matters at this level, so I know nothing about this nonsense.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Did Giant Impact Off The Indian Coast Cause the K-T Extinction?


This impact was huge--the impactor was 25 miles across (compared to 6 mi for the Chicxulub impactor.[)] It might also have set off the Deccan us a more unified theory of the causes of the K-T extinction.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Looking for Video Clips of Fallacious Appeals to Emotion

A friend of mine is looking for video clip examples of fallacious appeals to emotion--preferably with regard to policy issues, as I understand it. I don't have any such thing, but if anybody has a line on something in this vicinity, please let me know.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Untutored Reaction to Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

1. He does not deserve it.

2. It's a loony and inscrutable decision.

3. It could even make things worse for Obama, since this plays into conservative story lines about Obama's "star power" and popularity in Europe (a Very Bad Thing, of course!)

I was too busy yesterday to read anything significant about this, so I really am merely registering by initial reactions. I've already heard a few claims about the prize that make the situation sound more complicated than I'd realized. These really are just initial reactions. I really do know nothing about the criteria for awarding the NPP.

I mean, Obama is obviously a great guy. If he gets half a break as a president, I expect him to do great--or at least very good--things. (Though, I should note, I don't expect him to get half a break. I expect the mess Bush bequeathed him to crush his presidency, and I expect him not to be re-elected in 2012.) But I don't--right off the bat, at least--see him deserving a Nobel Peace Prize.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thoughts for the Day:
The Nobel Peace Prize

1. Funny how many experts on the Nobel Peace Prize there suddenly are.

2. Funny that the extreme right despises the NPP so much. Maybe if there were a Nobel Violence Prize that'd be more their cup of tea.

3. It is odd that Obama would get it so soon.


4. Just not being George W. Bush might be worth some kind of prize in and of itself.
Karl Rove and the Debasement of American Politics

Joshua Green at The Atlantic.
Social Constructionism is BS
Cycling Edition

This is not a big deal. But let me say again: appeals to "social construction" never help clarify anything. "Social construction" is probably the most hopelessly confused concept widely employed in academia. The relevant category is false belief. We do not "construct" fear of cycling, we falsely come to believe that cycling is dangerous. (Actually, having been hit by a truck and knocked off the road myself, I have to point out that the belief is, in fact, not obviously false.) To insist on employing the "construction" locution in cases like this (innocuous though they may seem) is to employ an unnecessary and needlessly technical concept when a simple concept would suffice. Of course it sounds cooler and more abstruse and technical to use the "construction" jargon. I mean, note that the introductory blurb calls this unremarkable essay "brilliant"...which is less likely to happen if you just write "hey, some people think cycling is more dangerous than it really is." This is a trivial example, but it's bad to give this concept currency, since it causes great mischief in different context in which, for example, people try to peddle the "reality is socially constructed" nonsense. Best to dump this confused locution entirely.
WorldNutDaily: Impeach Obama

Makes you wonder what it's like to live in their world, cut free from the facts and floating in miasmal vapors of the fever swamps.

Extra super funny coming the day before Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

30 GOP Senators Vote To Protect Rapists

This I just have to avert my mental gaze from or I will flip out.
Peak Crazy

Is it just me or does the ambient level of crazy seem to be way higher than normal?

Occasionally I think that, snarky, arch and condescending though I am about the left tail of the intellectual bell curve, I don't really realize how damn clueless those folks actually are.

Here's somebody who's very concerned about NASA "bombing" the moon. For example:
I can’t stand it that the US just unilaterally decides it can bomb the moon if it wants to. An overwhelming number of comments here have been from non-Americans who think the US is a big bully and does what it wants, when it wants. I happen to agree. I also don’t like the manner in which they are going about it, bombing and blasting. Why does so much have to be so destructive? It doesn’t, but that mentality persists in all areas, I don’t know why I should expect it to be any different in this.
That person also seems to think that this is for real, as well as this.

Here's another guy. He thinks that:
The NASA moon bombing, a component of the LCROSS mission, may also trigger conflict with known extraterrestrial civilizations on the moon as reported on the moon in witnessed statements by U.S. astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, and in witnessed statements to NSA (National Security Agency) photos and documents regarding an extraterrestrial base on the dark side of the moon.
Here's a variety of loons--astrologers and whatnot.

Then there's this:
And I don't care Mr. rocket scientist that you don't bleed it out every month--don't go releasing your man-period energy by blowing up stellar bodies, okay?!?

And I'm not worried about the alien inhabitants like some internerds out there, but I'll tell you one thing I know--the GODDESS is going to be fucking PISSED. You don't just go and blow up the Goddess's son/lover like that. Are you crazy? Don't you know 2012 is coming up? Of course you do, you know everything. So you should know that it's probably not a good time to start fucking with planetary orbits and gravitational pulls.
There's a apparently whole level of stupid out there we never have any contact with...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chesterton on Design

"So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot."

-- Chesterton, "The Ethics of Elfland"
America Is Not A Brand


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Lobbyists Furious: Obama Kicks Them Off Advisory Committees

Burn in hell you blood-sucking parasites.

Monday, October 05, 2009

PomoCons Strike: He Who Dies With the Most Words Wins

Conservapedia, always good for a laugh, actually contains this argument:
The inevitable triumph of conservatism over liberalism is apparent from comparing the rates of generation of new terms of each type, and the quality of the terms so generated. Conservative terms are being generated at a faster rate, and with much higher quality, than liberal terms are.
That's right...the "inevitable triumph of conservatism" depends on its ability to coin new terms. Words = reality. Or whatever. Sounds like third-rate postmodernism.

This'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic

I wonder how long it'll take conservatives to develop parallel everything so that they no longer have to interact with any actual non-conservatively-correct information.
Making the Bible More Conservative

Just what we need.
Shroud of Turin Reproduced With Medieval Technology

It was just a matter of time, but it's nice to have it taken care of anyway. Here's the story.

(via Inside Carolina)
Schmidt on Palin
All Horse-Race, All The Time

Schmidt on Palin, at Sully's digs.

Some sad facts:

1. Schmidt is likely to be wrong: there's a nearby possible world in which Palin defeats Obama in 2012.

2. The horse-race stuff is relatively unimportant here. Stop talking about the goddamn horse-race. What matters is that Palin is not even close to being close to being qualified. We might very well be better off picking someone at random out of the phone book. Somebody--preferably McCain--needs to stand up and say look, people, if you think Palin is anywhere close to being presidential material, your view of these things is disastrously distorted. It's like someone cobbled together an exemplar to teach people what a really terrible presidential candidate would look like...and they all swooned over it.

Somebody with some authority here needs to stand up and speak the goddamn truth about her.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Archaeologists Unearth Dracula's...Basement

The crawlspace...of doom!

Perhaps he had a man cave down there.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


A good solid B+ I say. For a zombie movie, maybe even an 'A.'

Friday, October 02, 2009

Michael Berube: What's the Matter With Cultural Studies?

In the Chronicle.

I have rather limited patience with that stuff, so what I'm about to say should perhaps be taken with more than the usual grain or so of salt. But I've always considered cultural studies to be a deeply unserious discipline (or quasi-discipline...or whatever). The intellectual standards over there seem about as rigorous as those for oh, say, blogging. The methods seem downright literary (note: that is not a good thing outside literature), and the goals seem largely political rather than intellectual, which means that it's not clear it even belongs in the university. Fairly lefty leftist politics just seem to be assumed.

It's not that I don't think there are interesting things to say about culture--that would be a silly thing to think. I just don't see cultural studies saying them, really. Disciplines have characters of their own, and cultural studies is simply not known for its intellectual heavyweights, nor for it's rigorous methods, nor for its interesting results, nor for its dazzling prospects. I'm not saying there's no place for it, but I am saying that it deserves less emphasis than it's gotten.

To the question "what's wrong with cultural studies?" I'm more-or-less tempted to respond "what's right with it?"
Does Glenn Beck Use Vick's VapoRub to Cry on Cue?

At least in some cases, yes. There's a suggestion of more, but it's not clear.
Everything Obama Does Is Wrong
Olympics Edition

Let the vilification begin.

Er, I mean: resume.

No...I guess I mean: intensify.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Excreted Tamiflu Found in Rivers

Very bad news.