Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hipsters vs. Religious Kooks

Since there's no way for both to lose, I guess I have to back the hipsters here. I mean, they're obviously right, so I guess I have no choice.

Look, this shouldn't be hard to understand. The following is not a good argument: "you can't ride your bike here because it makes me want to look at your legs, which is against my crackpot religion."

We're all occasionally attracted to hipsters, and we all feel kind of embarrassed about it. But you guys need to just deal with it like everybody else.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fun With My Conservative Pals:
"Obama's Economy" Edition

So I do have some conservative friends, believe it or not. Unfortunately, they are not willing to discuss politics with me. At least one of them cannot discuss politics without immediately becoming too angry to speak. (Note: this problem is not new; it pre-dates Obama.) Another likes to drop little conversational bombs, but then suggest that we not discuss politics if I respond. Some of my conservative interlocutors are not actual friends, but mere web-acquaintances, yet I spar with them so frequently that I feel as if I know them to at least some extent. Among these latter, here's a claim of which they're extremely fond:

It's Obama's economy now.

The reason? It's been a year since he was inaugurated.

Of course this is ridiculous. Presidents have limited control over the economy, and what control they do have operates rather slowly. Typically--barring any major screw-ups or unusual acts of presidential heroics--a president becomes progressively more responsible for the state of the economy as his length of time in office increases. I don't know enough about economics to have a decent guess about how much presidents typically influence the economy, but it's clear enough that the degree of their influence typically increases over time, and carries over into the term of their successor, then trails off over time.

Obama inherited an economic mess. The consensus among economists seems to be that he's done a reasonable job so far. To suggest that he is magically and suddenly responsible for our economic situation is absurd. Perhaps interestingly, it is in line with claims by the same conservatives that he is now entirely responsible for the situation in Afghanistan. (Funny...they don't argue that Obama is now responsible for victory in Iraq...). I usually ask them whether they believe that FDR was entirely responsible for the economy one year after taking office, but they are unwilling to respond. And one wonders whether Truman should get all the credit for winning WWII...

What is particularly amusing about all this is that conservatives blamed Bill Clinton for essentially every failure of the Bush administration--up until a few months before Obama was inaugurated, when they began blaming him, apparently believing in backwards causation. Now that the tables are turned, however, they are eager to insulate Bush from responsibility, and suddenly advocate an arbitrary, 1-year statute of limitations on responsibility.

It's particularly annoying that participants in such discussions generally fail to distinguish the question of actual responsibility from the question of who the public will hold responsible--but these must, of course, be carefully distinguished. The public seems to vote largely on the basis of how things are, not on how we got there, so I have always expected them to quickly begin blaming Obama for the mess he inherited--and, in fact, I have always thought that there was a significant chance that he will be a one-term president for that reason. But that's a different issue.

I certainly hope that the conservatives I've been interacting with are unrepresentative. If not, there's a plague of irrationality on the other side of the aisle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avatar Withdrawal

Apparently Avatar depression is spreading faster among emo teens than gold fever at a Glenn Beck concert.

The specific claims are dopey almost beyond belief...


"Mike" writes:
"I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in 'Avatar.' "

(Incidentally: Mike--no, that is not what will happen...)


Ivar writes:
"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning," Hill wrote on the forum. "It just seems so ... meaningless. I still don't really see any reason to keep ... doing things at all. I live in a dying world."

(Incidentally: Ivar--I'm pretty sure that the movie makers were hoping that you might be moved to do something to prevent this world from dying, rather than fecklessly acquiescing to its demise.)

...but I have to say I understand the general spirit of the thing. Heck, who doesn't occasionally get bummed out about the mundanity of life? Even the awesomest life on Earth doesn't stack up that well against certain possible lives. And it seems fairly clear that there will come a point at which virtual life will stack up rather well against the average actual life. And Avatar was pretty awesome. But hey, kids, get a grip. If you can't handle the first good 3D movie, you're going to burst into flames at whatever shows up twenty years from now.

But the real point I want to make here is this: thank God that I grew up at a time when it wasn't possible to post my mopey emo excretions on the intertubes for everybody in the world to see forever.

Dodged a bullet there I did.
The Poe Toaster Misses Poe's Birthday


Monday, January 18, 2010

Detailed List Of Falsehoods On One Episode of the O'Reilly Factor


I especially like the perplexing Aristotle reference, including the claim that he wrote the Republic...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Avatar 3D


Just saw it. Super-cool. I can see why Jimmy was on my case to see it.

There is, as you can tell from the previews, an extremely heavy-handed liberal/anti-colonialist message...but apparently not heavy-handed enough for Cameron, because he then has his protagonists add references to "some kind of shock and awe campaign" against the indigenous Na'vi, and has his bad guy/American/military villains talk about "fighting terror with terror." But, heavy-handed though it is, it's hard not to like the story, and technically the thing is just amazing.

The attempt to represent the thoroughly evil campaign against the Na'vi as similar to the Iraq war is annoying and irresponsible. Radically misguided though that war was, and criminal though the Bush administration's actions were in the lead-up to it, it does not seem to have been a colonial war, and it was certainly not a genocidal one. To throw in that kind of BS is not only ridiculous, but I suspect it also plays into the hands of defenders of the decision to go into Iraq, since these quasi-accusations against that war are so outlandish and easily dismissed.

But all that notwithstanding, the movie is really pretty awesome.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian


Peter the Public Defender has been nudging me to read it for years, and I finally did.

As I've admitted many times, I am not smart about literature, so take this for what it's worth, but...I think that's a really good book. I find McCarthy's style really gripping, and the relentless brutality of this book is almost mesmerizing.

I wish I knew enough about literature to say something intelligent about it, but alas...
Obama And the Conservatives

So I tend to drop in on Carolina basketball discussion boards more frequently than I really should. And at Inside Carolina, where I go most often, there's an off-topic board that is often amusing and informative. There are quite a few smart and interesting posters there, and I find that it's frequently worth my while to see what they have to say. Politics is a common topic, and though the majority of posters seem to be liberals or centrists, IC is one of the few places I frequent where I do encounter fairly adamant conservatives.

And let me tell you, those folks do not like Obama.

And let me tell you something else while I'm at it: they're basically delusional.

The problem, perhaps unsurprisingly, is largely one of emphasis. There are risks associated with health care reform, of course, and there are benefits. And the conservatives radically and consistently minimize the benefits and exaggerate the risks. And so on with every similar thing. Anything complicated or unclear enough to be spun--i.e. just about everything in politics and policy--will be spun by them to the president's detriment.

Obama is, as you well know, an inspiring speaker. So what's the conservatives' take? He's only an inspiring speaker--all talk, no...anything else. The strong suggestion is: no brains. Demonstrably false, but that's the view. Or, when pushed to the wall on this, they might admit that he's intelligent...but, of course, it's at best a low cunning, at worst an outright evil intelligence. And so on. Inspiring rhetoric, you see, was good when Reagan did it, bad when Obama does. And in Reagan's case it was no vice and no sign of any other defect (despite the man's patent lack of notable smarts). Obama, however, is judged by different rules.

When all else fails, they just make up and attribute to him hidden (and reprehensible) motives and intentions. Currently, there is a thread in which they defend Rush Limbaugh's recent assertion that Obama is sending aid to Haiti for political reasons. Because the Haiti lobby is so powerful in D.C., I suppose... (Of course nobody who takes Limbaugh seriously is worth talking I suppose it's really my fault for allowing myself to get dragged into such discussions.)

And not so long ago, there was a thread in which the same folks argued that Obama was now entirely responsible for whatever happened in Afghanistan, and that no blame could henceforth be attributed to Bush. Of course such a claim is indefensible, but that didn't keep them from defending it for ten pages or so, in a genuinely astonishing display of tenacity. I suppose Truman was solely responsible for winning WWII...

Sadly, the irrationality in play in these discussions is largely avoidable irrationality--largely a matter of willfully ignoring facts, spinning evidence, and resisting obvious arguments. These folks do not like Mr. Obama, and they've hardened their hearts against him. Consequently, it really doesn't matter what he does--everything will be interpreted in such a way as to make him seem like a terrible person, and each of his policies is--almost by definition--not only indefensible but intentionally harmful to the country.

It's a tragic waste of the human spirit, actually. Here is a fairly large number of people, some of them intelligent (some of them not so...) who sit around spinning loony fantasies about the evil heart of the president--a president who is obviously a smart and decent sort, committed to bipartisanship.

One of their favorite riffs, of course, involves a claim of equivalence between conservatives' hatred of Obama and liberals' hatred of Bush. Conservatives hated Obama before he ever entered office, and liberals' hatred of Bush was hard-earned and long coming...but, again, reasoning about the matter is just not on.

It's sobering to watch a group of people become so unreasonable about something, dragging each other further and further down into the dark waters of group think. It'd certainly be interesting to know how widespread such lunacy is. I suppose democracy has always faced this kind of challenge, but I have to say that it shakes my faith a bit. I'd like to find a big a patch of common ground as I can with conservatives, but it certainly seems that any proffered hand will be slapped away.

Being a liberal, of course, I'm inclined to be too open-minded to take my own side in an argument, but fortunately I have the Limbaugh criterion as one way to keep me from falling into a vortex of self-doubt: if x takes the claims of Rush Limbaugh seriously, then I needn't take the claims of x seriously. Limbaugh provides such a bright, clear case of irrationality and mercenary charlatanism that I reckon I can use him as a clear touchstone for dividing people into the folks I should strive to take seriously and the ones I can dismiss without remainder.

But seriously: how far out of touch do you have to be before Rush Limbaugh starts sounding like a sensible person? I mean, doesn't your bullshit detector have to be completely broken before that guy starts sounding reasonable? But how could someone so utterly incapable of distinguishing bullshit from non-bullshit make it through the day? How is it that they aren't perpetually buying Brooklyn Bridges? The answer, it seems, is, again, that it's not a lack of intellectual horsepower that is their real problem, but a lack of objectivity. I'm sure that these people can recognize bullshit in their daily interactions, when something important to them is at stake. Their suspension of their reasoning powers in political discussions is, I'll bet, largely willing. If Limbaugh started giving financial advice, my guess is that the dittoheads would suddenly get a lot better at separating sense from nonsense...though the recent case of Glenn Beck and gold may show that I'm wrong about this...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Charles Krauthammer is an Idiot
1/15/10 Edition

I'm trying out a new policy. Roughly: I no longer pay attention to complete morons. But I just couldn't keep my eyes off of Krauthammer's latest this morning.

I've got no interest in responding to somebody who's wrong about everything and hasn't even a shred of intellectual honesty. But I have to say, I do find it interesting that every political event is, according to Krauthammer, to be explained in a way that fits his political preconceptions.

Of course anyone really interested in explaining the decline in Obama's popularity would have to take into account the twin facts that (a) presidents' popularity ratings tend to be determined by how well the country is doing, whether they are responsible for that or not, and (b) Obama was handed a train wreck. But no, of course it's health care reform that has sunk Obama, according to Krauthammer, despite the fact that Americans overall actually seem fairly favorably-inclined toward reform.

Jesus, I cannot believe that the Post gives this moron a platform.

I usually don't give a rat's ass about polls, but I may even zip over to see whether Nate Silver has anything to say about this one, just to get a sensible take on it and wash the Krauthammer stench out of my brain.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Carolina Best Value in Higher Ed

Pat Robertson Is Full of Sh!t
Haiti Edition

So it will surprise no even minimally reasonable person that Pat Robertson is full of sh!t. This is a well-known and irrefutable fact. But I thought I'd mention his most recent bit of nonsense nevertheless.

According to Mr. Robertson, Haiti was devastated by the recent earthquake because it made a "pact to [sic] the devil." Here's some speculation at the Washington Post about whether he's talking about their predilection for voodoo or Catholicism...

This guy is obviously not worth talking about. Nevertheless, it makes me feel better to point out that such explanations are cheap post facto. If Robertson wants these explanations to have any bite, he'll make some predictions. After all, he claims to know a great deal about the mind of his god, so this shouldn't be too hard. He should be able to rank people in terms of how pissed off God is at them, and tell us how likely each group is to be the target of natural disasters/divine retribution. Valuable predictions will deviate from the probabilities assigned by meteorologists and seismologists, and then we'd be able to compare the scientific and the theokookic predictions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

FNC-RNC Merger?
Good for the DNC?

Sullivan says that Fox taking on Palin is an FNC-RNC merger. And he argues that "FNC is more powerful than the RNC in determining Republican politics."

The blogosphere is all about making sh*t up, and one can usually make up a tale about how x is good or bad for y.

But I wonder...

My guess is that Fox's ratings are up when Dems win. So if there genuinely is a blurring of the borders, and if FNC really is the more powerful partner, then since FNC has a financial interest in Republicans losing...well, I suppose this might possibly be good news for the Dems.

Of course this whole mess is bad news for the country...but it seems obvious to me that Fox doesn't care much about that.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Project Habakkuk: An Aircraft Carrier Made of Ice


Props to U-Haul for putting a picture and information about this on the side of one of their vans. I thought I knew just about every weird thing about WWII there was to know...but apparently not.

One proposal was for a super-massive aircraft carrier made of ice...or, actually, pykrete, which is a mixture of ice and wood pulp. Other proposals were for pykrete islands on which planes could take off and land.

This is the coolest thing since Project Pigeon (a.k.a Project Orcon)...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Kleiman: A President for Grownups.

As is so often the case, I agree with Mark.

Here's a wee quiz:

Terrorists largely aim to __________.

If you said 'terrorize,' give yourself an 'A.'

Al Qaeda and their GOP force multipliers are determined to keep us all afraid. Doing even merely that makes them successful. And the wimpier we are, the easier it is for them to succeed. And the more we act like children, the wimpier we are. This is the kind of nonsense that makes people think that Carter was a terrible president and Reagan was a great one. It is the kind of nonsense spewed by people like Dowd who need "a Daddy in the White House who will tell her scary bedtime stories and then reassure her that Daddy will keep her safe."

Cripes, folks, buck up.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Republican Double Standard: Shoe Bomber/Underwear Bomber Edition

Conservatives want us to believe that Bush deserves credit because "he kept us safe"...after, y'know, that one thing. (And note that it is fairly rare for liberals to argue that Bush deserves much blame for 9/11.) As I've long maintained, things would be very different had a Democrat been president on 9/11. It is very unlikely that a president Gore would have received the unqualified support of Republicans after such an attack. In fact, I have little doubt that he would have likely been the target of a concerted impeachment effort. Republicans certainly would not have praised him because there were no major, successful attacks after 9/11. And had Democrats been so bold as to suggest that he should receive credit for keeping us safe after that, they would have been laughed out of D.C.

Of course Republicans have always denied that they apply such a double standard--but we've got an extremely clear test case now. The case of Richard Reed, the shoe bomber, and Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the underwear bomber. The attempted bombings were extremely similar, as were the responses of the Bush and Obama administrations. There was no Democratic criticism of the Bush administration's response; there has been significant Republican criticism of the Obama administration's response. (Here's Politico on the similarities in the cases and the differences in GOP and Democratic responses. (Wow--bad enough that Politico noticed!))

Of course it's always possible to nitpick insignificant differences, but history rarely provides us with such a clean experiment as this. Here we have significant confirmation of what has long been clear: that, though Republicans demand that we rally 'round Republican presidents after such incidents, they employ them as opportunities for political criticism. Were Democrats to act like Republicans, Republicans would call them unpatriotic...or traitorous.

This is just one aspect of the pervasive Republican double standard, and that double standard is just one aspect of the pervasive irrationality of the contemporary Republican party.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Contagious Cancer Killing Tasmanian Devils Began in One Animal's Nerve Cells

This kinda freaks me out.