Monday, January 31, 2011

Is Corporate Tax Reform Still Possible

Drum again, commenting on an NYT piece again.
Sex Differences at Wikipedia

So I noticed this morning in the NYT this piece about Wikipedia. Apparently people are worried because males write a lot more for Wikipedia than do females. They're also worried that more male-ish topics are generating bigger entries than more female-ish ones. I was going to float the following obvious hypothesis to explain some of the difference, but Drum beat me to it:

Still, even accounting for [the fact that The Simpsons has an audience orders of magnitude larger than do Mexican feminists], the gender disparity is real. But I suspect the reason has less to do with women having trouble asserting their opinions and more to do with the prevalence of obsessive, Aspergers-ish behavior among men.
Well, I'll bet that a fair amount of it is also women having a lower tolerance for internet assh*lery than do males...but it's the Aspy hypothesis that occurred to me. Guys just seem to get more obsessive about weirder stuff than do females. (I actually tend to think that this also accounts for a great deal of the difference in science and academia, too.) The NYT piece compares the relatively short entry for certain Mexican feminists to the relatively long entry for some character from Grand Theft Auto. My reaction was: it's not the lack of interest in Mexican feminism that's the really weird thing here...

(Incidentally, folks continue to say "gender" when they mean sex...)
How America Became A Police State

At J. Cole's digs.

A little alarmist in tone by my standards...but not, y'know...a lot...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Duke Flopping
Miles-or-That-Other-Plumlee Edition

Ugh. Behold, our mighty rivals...
Crediting Bush With the Revolutions
Elliot Abrams Edition

Although Bush cannot, of course, be blamed for any of the national security, foreign policy, military nor economic disasters that packed his presidency from beginning to end, he is, of course, responsible for any good thing that is even tangentially related to anything he said or did, into the indefinite future. For example, despite Obama's evil and incompetent response to...well, everything...Bush still managed to bring about the Egyptian revolution... And so on...

You'd think this stuff was made up if it weren't of a piece with the delusional dreck we've come to expect from hacks like Abrams.

For my entire lifetime, the GOP has not only tolerated dictators but positively venerated them--so long as they were on our side. When liberals raised objections to the fact that we were aiding brutally repressive regimes, we were told that we were too naive to understand the harsh realities of global affairs. Then, when "our sumbitches"--brutal as ever--became inconvenient, suddenly the banner of freedom and democracy was raised, and we were told that justice demanded that we remove them with force (Noriega comes to mind, but, more importantly, Saddam). The liberal solution--don't support them (added bonus: then you needn't remove them)--was derided. But what has always guided conservative foreign policy is American interest; freedom and democracy have been smokescreens. And Bush's invasion of Iraq, and the fog of rhetoric surrounding it, was no exception. Democracy was never the real motive, and it only showed up rhetorically when it became irrefutably clear that there were no WMDs to be found. But Bush's hollow rhetoric is still being used as a hook on which to hang phantom successes and attempts to retroactively justify the disaster that was his administration.

But no one seems to have sent the GOP the memo, as they are still standing with their beloved strongman surprise there.

Conservative critics have not yet decided whether Obama has been insufficiently anti-Mubarak or excessively anti-Mubarak... One wonders whether they'll even choose; maybe they'll just go with both...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Peretz Out As TNR Editor-In-Chief

Good news.

Maybe TNR will now throttle back on the adulation for Israel. And maybe I'll subscribe again...
Egypt Video

Worth watching

Friday, January 28, 2011

Revolution Egypt

Although I follow democratic (and semi-democratic) revolutionary movements very closely, I rarely say anything about them...I have nothing interesting to say about things this big and important and distant...

But don't for a minute think that I'm not with you, Iranians, Tunisians,'s all just so big that I don't know what to say...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meghan McCain: Michelle Bachmann Is "The Poor-Man's Sarah Palin"


I mean...think about what a bottom feeder you have to be to be a poor-man's Sarah Palin.

And me, I thought Sarah Palin was the poor-man's Sarah Palin...
Hey, Who Sh!t My Pants?!?!?

Please to excuse the vulgarity, but this Balloon Juice summary of Michelle Bachmann's response to the SOTU just really cracked me up.

Bachmann has the same weirdly off-kilter way of speaking that Palin and Dubya she's on a perpetual (but variable) time delay, or exists in a universe that's out of sync with ours by a degree or two. And it's not just some problem with her's clearly about her brain; it's not just about speaking, it's about thinking. Or so it seems to me. Creepy...
Do Not Increase The Length of the School Day Nor the School Year

I agree that there is something wrong with American primary and secondary education. But I strongly believe that (a) more of the same will not help, and (b) in fact, it might very well make things worse. High school was so mind-bogglingly boring that I barely graduated. (I was, in fact, fairly near the bottom of my class, as I recall.) It was torture. Any more of that torture, and I might very well have quit the whole rotten mess. I had nothing against learning--I was an insatiably curious kid, read voraciously, loved working logic puzzles (but had sadly not yet discovered the joys of math), excelled at debate (for all its vices, the one thing that kept me at all engaged with school...)...but high school was just hellish. Primary school, as I recall, was even worse.

I'm all for changes; I'm all for encouraging kids to learn and helping them do so. Hell, I love education.

But kids are not adults; there is no earthly reason to think that they ought to be trapped in a school day or year that emulates the adult workday/year. They'll be cogs in the machine soon enough; for chrissake, let them retain a bit of their youth. If we were doing them significant good by cooping them up, then the decision might be more difficult; but we don't seem to be. I have no hope that we'll be able to solve the problem of poor-quality education by upping the quantity. (Though one can find an edu-study (or ten) to support any plan you might wish to float...)

At any rate, if you don't know how to do something right, fer chrissake don't just do more of it.

(As always, I'll be happy to change my mind in the face of credible evidence that I'm wrong on this.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Must Read: Conor Friedersdorf on the 2012 Election, Civil Liberties, and Thinking like Grown-Ups

Please read this (read it now--it's only like three paragraphs).

I've been trying to put thoughts together on these two points for a long time, but just haven't been able to write anything good. One point I've made before, but not nearly enough:
A. We cannot let the insanity of conservative opposition to Obama blind us to his actual failures.

And, more to the point:
B. Obama's failures are extremely serious; specifically, these failures concern civil rights and the limits on Presidential power.
 Point A:
You might think that A is so obvious that folks like us should not even make the error. But, first, to think that is to ignore some obvious facts about human psychology. And, second, it ignores complexities surrounding tu quoque arguments in political debates, especially in a two-party system. No, in a cool hour it should not matter to us that a significant sector of the American right has, in effect, gone insane. The fact that some have seriously wondered whether Obama might be the Antichrist should not affect our honest efforts at non-insane judgment about his presidency.

But CF goes on to say that his vote is the GOP's to lose in '12. I say that's a bit daft. The crazies we're trying to ignore are the very crazies that the GOP's '12 candidate will have been selected to appease. This does not mean that, in our adult assessment of Obama, we should let ourselves be swayed by our contempt for the crazies. It does mean that only someone who is foolishly optimistic should think that the GOP is likely to field a better candidate than Obama in '12. Still, the main point holds: we can't let the craziness of the crazies push us to defend Obama where he is indefensible.

Point B:
The real issue--civil rights and Presidential power. On this point, I have nothing to say...and that's why I haven't said it. I've watched Obama's policies unfold with horror and disbelief. I suppose I'm gripped by an optimism and/or a credulity that is as powerful as CF's. The hypothesis that forced itself to the forefront of my consciousness goes like this: Obama knows that the GOP can win by playing the soft-on-terrorism card, and is virtually guaranteed a win in '12 if there's another attack; he's waiting until after '12 to start cleaning up this mess. But this is the most arrant speculation, and obviously so.

Finally, I'm paralyzed by my strong belief in the following proposition:
In general, the GOP f*cks things up, and the Dems are too wimpy to stop them; but, in general, the Dems are less inclined to take the lead in f*cking things up.
The GOP has gone insane, the Dems are feckless wimps. (That's the story of the Iraq war, the story of the Patriot Act...the story of the last 15 years in American politics IMHO...) I expect this trend to continue. I expect that in '12, we'll face typical candidates--GOP candidates who will be inclined to make things lots worse, Dem candidates who aren't (but who won't be inclined to make things all that much better). And I'll go with the lesser of the two evils.

But, also, I can rationally hold out hope that Obama will do the right thing when his re-election is secure. My alternative is likely to be someone like Mike Huckabee, who inspires no such hope in me. And, of course, other option might be someone who is monumentally unqualified to be President of the United States--or, for that matter, Governor of Alaska.

So, for right now, my vote is Obama's to lose...but on all other points, I am very much in agreement with CF.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Israel to U.S.: Thanks for the $3 Billion/Year; Now @#$% Off

When I was a kid, I had an extremely positive attitude toward Israel. WWII and the Holocaust loomed large in my young mind, and Israel seemed like the perpetual victim/underdog...always outnumbered, the target of repeated suicide bombings...and the only real democracy in the region for a time.

Well, that has changed, for reasons that are widely-known and widely-shared. And in addition to Israel's humanitarian crimes, there's the fact that it happily sucks up genuinely mind-boggling amounts of U.S. aid while, in effect, giving us the finger at every opportunity. And then there's the extremism of American Israel supporters, and their alliance with the American right.

All in all, I'm basically fed up with 'em. And stuff like this, it is not helping.
The dook 3-Flop: It's in the Game

Wow...sports video games have gotten incredibly realistic. Here's a clip from EA Sports NCAA Basketball 10, in which the dook (aka 'Duke'...) player (Singler in this case) flops if you do so much as raise a hand to defend when he shoots a three...and the ref calls a foul on the defender.

Man, that is some very serious realism right there...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Study Concludes Students Learn Little In College

(h/t J. Cartensis)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don Surber, Stupid Asshole

Via Balloon Juice, here's some dude named Surber posting what may very well be some kind of parody of wingnuttery. (For example he turns Bush's semi-theft of the election of 2000 into "Al Gore [making] a mockery out of the American electoral system by being a spoilsport over Florida, which Bush indeed won by 537 votes.") Surber's title? "I Do Not Want Civil Discourse." His most frequently repeated phrase? "Bite me."

It's a puerile little tantrum. B-Juice alleges that it's being linked to all over the fever swamps, though it seems to be below even the fairly low standards prevailing over in the non-reality-based community...

Since some in the leftosphere are also denigrating civility these days (though on the basis of more cogent reasons than those of Surber), let's quickly review some of the reasons why civility is important. If you speak to me in an uncivil manner, it makes it more difficult for me to assess your points objectively. See, if we disagree, then at least one of us is wrong. Which means that at least one of us needs to change his mind. That's hard enough to do even when both parties are being civil. If one or both parties are being assholes, and the parties start getting their respective hackles up, then it becomes very unlikely that any minds are going to get changed. Which means that the error or errors become even more deeply entrenched, and any time spent on discussion is wasted. Make fun of civil discussions if you like but at least they have a nonzero probability of being productive. Derisively saying "bite me" to each other is a guaranteed waste of time.

Which is why I cordially invite Surber and other foes of civility to, well, bite me.

I hate just reposting stuff from Sullivan...but he's got a whole organization finding this great stuff.

And this simply cannot be passed up: Reaganboner, a tumblr dedicated to the only president that is also a demigod.

Jebus, it's all so ridiculous. If they saw little stars whizzing around because of Lincoln...or even Eisenhower...that'd be one thing...  But their boner for Reagan is just plain embarrassing.
The Battle Hymn of Sarah Palin

At Sullivan's digs. stunned into speechlessness.
Boycott Pseudo-Buffy

So the last word I'd heard was that Hollywood's dumbest recent idea (think about the competition for that title...), "rebooting" Buffy without any of the actual Buffy stuff in it, was (rightfully) dead.

(Also: 'reboot' is a stupid term in this concept. Unless 'boot' is used in the old-school sense, meaning 'barf.' You reboot an idea when you have no ideas of your own...)

Turns out not.

Apparently no idea is too damn stupid for Hollywood.

Of course I realize that this is not a matter of world-historical importance. However, I do want to make it clear that:

I will not see this movie at the theater. I will not rent the DVD. I will not even watch it when the wretched thing hits free t.v..


I will try to convince everyone I know to do likewise.

I will, in fact, make an effort to avoid Warner Brothers stuff as a consequence of this

Morons. Amazing that people who make movies have no respect whatsoever for the integrity of the stories. They'd make a movie in which Holden Caulfield was a drunken fratrat, or one in which Don Quixote was a two-fisted action hero if they could make the stray buck on it.

So here's my plea to you:  BOYCOTT PSEUDO-BUFFY.

Monday, January 17, 2011

17 Years in Prison for Rape He Did Not Commit...Freed...Get's $100k Bill For Back Child Support

The case of Alan Northrop is just unbelievable.

One of the most infuriating things about this is that he was in jail so long that his child is already grown. So apparently his ex-wife/GF is demanding that he pay her for a child she's already raised. 'Cause, see, it's just not fair to her that he went off and got his life unjustly taken away from him. So his wages are being garnished...though it might prevent him from buying a which case he won't be able to keep his job.
Our First Black President--Ronald Reagan

As you know, Ronaldus Magnus possessed all virtues to the maximal degree. He defeated comminis'm--both abroad, in the form of the USSR and at home, in the form of the Democratic party--cleaned out the Augean stables, slew the Nemean lion...all that stuff.

But, as it turns out, he was also our first black president!

So says Michael Reagan, anyway, at...and where else?...Fox "News."

Technically MR says that he won't be making the claim that RWR was the first black president...but he could. Which is a way of saying that it's true without having to defend it.

Things are really, really loony over t' th' fever swamps these days...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tech Crushes Carolina

Wow. Word is that Ga Tech is just terrible this year--perhaps the weakest team in a much-diminished ACC. But Carolina played what may very well have been the...uh...let me say least good game I've ever seen a Carolina team play.Just really, really not good. I believe we shot 29% [correction: 27.6%] for the game, had something like 18 turnovers, and spent a fair amount of the game simply handing the ball directly to Tech. You can't really understand how terrible this game w as without understanding that Tech really did not play well. It was a really excruciating game between a bad team and an awful team, and the terrible team lost by 20 points...

 To top things off, Henson got the crap fouled out of him (no call--Karl Hess strikes again) late in the game, and landed hard and bad on his elbow.

I have to say, I'm downright alarmed by the way we played in this game. I've really never seen anything like it. I'm basically speechless.
Choose Your ACC Basketball Team

At Seth Curry Saves dooque.

Pretty damn funny.
Carolina Best Value in Public Colleges (For the Tenth Straight Year)

Hey, Go Tar Heels!

I take this kind of ranking very seriously, especially given the exorbitant cost of tuition at the private institutions that dominate rankings that don't take cost into account. Carolina does a lot with a (relatively) little, it is required by law to take a significant number of students from each county in the state, and the Carolina Covenant guarantees that students can make it out of college debt-free.

(Incidentally, my current institution made the top 20, as good on us...though we kinda suck in more than a few ways...)
Perception Check: CNN on Global Gun Laws

Question: is this CNN story neutral on the issue of U.S. gun laws, or is there some hint of disapproval?

This is an entirely honest question.
Civility, Falsehood, and Dogmatism

So, it looks like people are finally acknowledging that the problem with the contemporary right is not just the incivility of their rhetoric, but also the fact that it's rife with falsehood. That's good, but now some are saying, roughly, that incivility isn't the problem at all, it's just the rampant falsehoods. (I can dig up links, but am too lazy right now.) That's not true. Incivility is a problem, as is rampant falsehood. Both, however, are associated with a rather more fundamental problem--or so I'd argue--and that's roughly dogmatism. The strident dogmatism on the contemporary right makes people incapable of being even minimally objective about their own errors and biases. One consequence of this is that they end up with more false beliefs, since they're not objective about the evidence and not willing to abandon even their most flamboyantly false beliefs. Another consequence is that they are driven to view anyone who disagrees with them as stupid and evil. Dogmatism is a common problem, and it's extremely common in politics...but its rampant on the contemporary right. My view is that it's always rampant among political extremists, and it's the fact that the American right has moved farther right that accounts for their dogmatism. As you probably realize, the extreme left (which exists in the U.S. only on college campuses) can be every bit as strident and dogmatic as the extreme's just that we don't have many far-lefties in American politics.

One might also argue, however, that it's not extremism per se that's at fault...rather, relatively centrist liberals and relatively centrist conservatives each have their characteristic failings. The characteristic intellectual vice of conservatives is dogmatism/closed-mindedness. The characteristic intellectual vice of liberals in some soup of indecisiveness/wimpiness/diffidence. (This is why one might predict that liberals would make better scientists, and conservatives would make better soldiers--they'd gravitate to niches in which their vices turn into virtues...) (Actually, these are claims that could be tested by cognitive scientists.)

At any rate, here's something vaguely along the same lines from Sullivan:

How Coulter Begat Palin

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Cause of the Tucson Shooting

So, predictably, liberals tend to be leaning toward the theory that the rhetorical miasma from the fever swamps is a salient cause, where as conservatives tend to be emphasizing the shooter's patent insanity.

Presumably we will all agree that insanity was a factor. But two points that have struck me as important of late:

1. Someone on NPR this morning pointed out that the shooter didn't go shoot up a grocery store. The fact that it was a Congressperson--and a Democratic Congressperson at that--clearly must be taken into account by our developing theory of the shooting.

2. The Mystic's point: that, even if conservative rhetoric is having an effect, we should expect that insane people will be affected first. I suppose we should think about a bell curve, with, say, the left end being the crazy end. Think of a line moving left-to-right, where the line is a threshold, and moving past it represents taking violent political action. Outliers on the bad end of the sanity curve will be the first over the threshold. One case does not a pattern make, of course...but so far, what we've got is consistent with what we'd expect to see were right-wing rhetoric having the effect in question.

Of course there's a very good chance I'm thinking about this incorrectly.
Go Tar Heels / Congrats to VA Tech on a Good Game / Is Marshall the 1?

First, Go Tar Heels. Way to stick with it and get the 'W.'

Second, congrats to Tech for a good game. That zone was giving us big trouble in the first half.

Third, the plot thickens in our point guard controversy. I'm glad that Roy (like Dean) likes to stick with his upperclassmen and those playing good D...but I think I'm now allied with those who think Marshall should start at the point. 1s who can't score are really painful, according to me (King Rice being the paradigm example, though QT also goes in that category). We're just a better team with Marshall running the show.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Phoenix Jones, Superhero
The Most Idiotic Criticism of All Time

So, Phoenix Jones is a quasi-superhero in Seattle.

And here's a story about him by one Jonah Spangenthal-lee. It contains what may very well be the very stupidest criticisms I have ever read of anything in my entire life. Behold:

While Jones seems like a genuine enough guy, it’s still a bit tough to buy into his costumed altruism.

Aside from being unable to provide hard evidence of any of his good deeds, he’s clearly not equipped to do more than react to crime, rather than deal with the root causes.

While he may be able to chase down a purse snatcher or break up a bar fight, it seems highly unlikely that he has the ability to, say, get a 14-year-old girl out of a life of prostitution and into therapy and a stable home life.

Jones’ costumed heroics are ultimately rooted in comic book morality where crime is all about black and white/good and evil, with no gray areas or contributing socioeconomic factors.

When asked whether he’d try to arrest someone he caught smoking marijuana, he said he follows police guidelines and considers it a low priority. Then he says he doesn’t have a problem with people using drugs, but wants drug dealers to “sell somewhere else.”

That’s the kind of circular logic that makes Jones’ alleged costumed do-goodery great on paper, but impractical in real life.

Jones has the right idea—as he says, people don’t take care of people—but putting on a costume doesn’t make one a hero. Hopefully he and Seattle’s new crew of costumed crimefighters can do some good without getting killed.

First, of course, Jones is not just putting on a costume--he's going out on the streets and, apparently, taking care of business. Imprudent, perhaps, but very admirable. But on to the real stupidity above...'s supposed to be some kind of criticism of Spiderman that he doesn't run for Congress so that he can pass bills to fund Head Start? Is it a criticism of e.g. Daniel Hernandez that he didn't work to pass gun control? And if I feed the hungry, I am blameworthy if I do not also have a plan for eliminating world hunger? Idiocy. Sometimes fixing a short-term, immediate, local problem is exactly what's needed.

And thinking that smoking weed is fine, but drug-dealers aren't is hardly "circular logic," though there is a certain tension between the two positions.

Anyway, I think Jones is cool, but mostly I post this just because the criticisms were so godawful stupid.

Cutting-Edge Astrology

As we know, any science will occasionally undergo a paradigm shift (er...actually, I put Kuhn only a couple of notches above astrology...), and, apparently astrology is no exception.

Funny...apparently yesterday I was creative and original, but today I am prudent and pragmatic...

Apparently about 25% of Americans "believe in" astrology, incidentally. Amazing, huh?
Incivility is Only Part of the Problem; Falsehood is Another Part

Obama touched on something last night that I've been mulling over for some time--and here's somebody hitting the point at Sully's digs.

You can't get a complete picture of what's going on if you only emphasize the incivility that's coming from the right. That's bad, but it's not like they are saying "@#$% Obama! He wants the government to play a slightly more significant economic role!" Much of what's coming out of the right these days is not only uncivil, but false. It's not like they're saying true things in a derisive tone or something.

And, of course, the stuff that is really troubling isn't the stuff that's just a little bit false...the stuff that misses the target by something like the normal political's the stuff that's stark, raving, bat$hit crazy that's really worrisome. When you've got nontrivial numbers of people apparently seriously contemplating the possibility that our civil, centrist President is the Antichrist...well, then you've got a real big problem...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gun Fantasies, Pro- and Anti-

The pro-gun fantasy on the right goes roughly like this: if more people carried guns, then events like the Giffords shooting wouldn't happen.

The anti-gun fantasy on the left goes roughly like this: even if someone did have a gun in the right place at the right time, it wouldn't stop an event like the Virginia Tech shooting.

Both are ridiculous.

With regard to events like the Giffords shooting, there were too few people involved and it happened too fast. Even if there were a radical increase in the number of concealed firearms on the streets, the odds are still low that a someone in the immediate vicinity will be armed. Furthermore, it takes only a few seconds to empty even a 30-round magazine; it's unlikely that anyone would be able to take out the shooter in time.

With regard to events like Virginia Tech, in which the shooting is extended over several minutes (10-12 in this case), an armed civilian in one of the classrooms would almost certainly be able to take out the shooter, contrary to the absurd conclusions of, for example, 20/20's anti-firearm propaganda piece "If I Only Had a Gun." (The unstated conclusion of that particular piece of nonsense is, roughly: guns are so complicated and dangerous that, if you are caught in a building with an armed psychokiller, and you have a gun, you are better off throwing it out the window than using it to protect yourself.) The shooter was untrained, and would be surprised and easily taken out by an armed civilian.

Sometimes it's hard for me to tell which side in this debate is more out of touch with reality.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fight Back: The Giffords Shooting Case

When I lived in Chapel Hill, I remember coming across a kind of public-service announcement in the yellow pages that said, roughly: If you find yourself a victim of crime, do not fight back! Give them what they want.

My reaction was: yer ass I will.

I'm now at a university fairly near to Virginia Tech. After the Tech shooting, there was lots of talk about what to do in such cases. Absolutely everything said by anyone in anything like authority was, roughly: flee and try to save yourself. No one--no one--said anything like: of course one can't be stupid about taking on an armed opponent; however, sometimes it's the best option, and sometimes if a few people will risk their own lives to fight back, many can be saved.

Now, of course there are cases in which it's best to comply with dangerous and evil people--but there are a lot of cases in which it is not. If they're likely to harm you anyway, or you are roughly evenly matched, then you have not only a right but a responsibility to fight. I have no delusions of hero-dom...but I am appalled by the pacifism and cowardice that seem to be some kind of default positions currently.

Anyway, here's a short account of the folks who fought back in the Giffords shooting case. Of course they had little choice, but that's a different topic for a different day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

DeLay Gets Jail Time

Something he richly deserves. Too bad this decision couldn't have come a few years ago when he was relevant. [Link]
False Dichotomy Watch: Jack Shafer Edition

This at Sullivan yields the following quote from Jack Shafer at Slate:
Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I'll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me. [link]
Wow. I generally don't spend much time on the fallacies in my critical thinking class, because I don't think learning about them is all that important. But here's a case in which one really ought to know about false dichotomies.

Needless to say, we have little reason to believe that the only two options are:

(a) Angry people unload their fury in public


(b) That anger festers and turns specific in private.

For one thing, there are clearly other, superior options--like doing neither (a) nor (b). But also, there's little reason to believe that expressing anger is actually cathartic. We have as much informal evidence that venting anger just makes it worse (and JQ tells me that she's read studies that suggest that the latter is so...though you know how psychology goes...)

Shafer says a lot of other dumb things in the piece, but I'm running to class. Here are a couple of the dumber, though:
For as long as I've been alive, crosshairs and bull's-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates.
Uh...huh? Since when? I mean, I don't remember this, and I follow politics pretty closely.

Any call to cool "inflammatory" speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power.

Whew. That last one is a real stinker. Unfortunately, 'police' is ambiguous there, as between something like 'keep an eye on' and something like 'have the authorities keep an eye on.' Shafer pretty clearly means the latter, but his claim is only true if we mean the former. But, cutting to the chase: no, asking people to stop saying false and outrageously inflammatory things (like, oh, say, "The President is a Muslim who seeks to destroy the country") is in no way a call to have the authorities keep an eye on or approve all speech. If I say "you shouldn't go to that large drunk in the corner and falsely tell him that Smith is sleeping with his wife," I am not saying that the government should prohibit such speech. I'm saying that it makes you an assh*le if you say that stuff, and you shouldn't do so.

Nobody here is saying that it should be illegal to say that the President is a Muslim, or the Manchurian Candidate, or the Antichrist; rather, we're saying that you shouldn't say those things, and that you're an assh*le if you do.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Violent Right Wing Rhetoric and Incitement to Violence

So we don't (yet) know what motivated the Giffords shooter, though it looks like insanity was a major factor. What we do know is that it would in no way be surprising if violent right-wing rhetoric played some role; there can be little doubt that such rhetoric raises the likelihood of political violence. (And, as the Mystic notes, you'd expect the crazies to be the canary in the coal mine in this regard.) I've said this before, but here it is again:

Many people--including politicians and influential media figures--on the right now commonly say things which, in effect, constitute an argument for the conclusion that violence ought to be used against liberals and Democrats in general and the President in particular. You can deny that you are advocating violence all you want, but if you say that liberals are evil, that they are intentionally ruining the country, that they are trying to turn the U.S. into a totalitarian "socialist" state (and succeeding), then you are building a case for the use of violence against them, intentionally or not. (And this is not to even mention claims to the effect that the President is illegitimate and, perhaps, the Antichrist.) If you say such things, then you are trying to convince people of things such that, were a rational person to believe them, he would have to consider using violence in response. I can guarantee you, were an actual totalitarian movement actually on the brink of taking power in America, I would be contemplating violence against it. You would--and should--do the same. Add to the above some rhetoric about "Second Amendment remedies," and there is no rational way to deny that the right has sidled right on up to advocating violence.

Conservatives have a defense they've used in other cases that, I suppose, they might use here--it's the "it's your fault for listening to us" defense. My prediction is that we'll get some version of this response here: only crazy people would believe us when we say that the Dems are intentionally destroying the country. That's not true, of course...though, with it being crazy and all, it is more likely that crazier people and stupider people will be more likely to believe it. But, given that the inflammatory claims are false, and that they erode the foundation of civility and trust that has been so important to us...and given that there are a large number of stupid and crazy people in the world...the rhetoric in question is irresponsible and obviously so. And those who are propagating it cannot avoid responsibility if/when somewhere someone does what they are, in effect, telling him that he ought to do.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Reddit AMA By Classmate of Giffords's Shooter

If this is for real (and there's a good chance it is), the shooter is (unsurprisingly) a complete lunatic.
RIP Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) [Shot]

[Not dead as reported early on.]


I wasn't familiar with her before, but a glance at her positions makes her sound like someone I'd have backed enthusiastically. There are obvious conclusions we could jump to here, were we so inclined; that's a bad idea, needless to say.

[Update: According to Reddit, a gun was dropped at Congresswoman Giffords's town hall meeting last year, and the door of her headquarters was smashed after she voted on the health-care bill. She was also one of Sara Palin's "targets" [image (name not marked out on original...but the original seems to be down)]; Palin described her as a "problem," and asked her supporters to "prescribe a solution."]
Danes: Religion Bad

44% say that religion makes the world a worse place.

Wow. Tough question. I think it's pretty clear that the threat of divine punishment and the promise of reward keeps lots of folks in line... Whether that outweighs the misery that religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam cause, I really couldn't say...

Currently I've been thinking about how aversion to the excesses of religion drives people to cartoon materialism/physicalism/naturalism... That's bad, IMHO. I mean, seems to me that a fairly unreflective physicalism is the dogma of most atheists I know outside of philosophy; even the suggestion that the universe might have mind-like aspects (in some attenuated sense of 'mind') that aren't reducible to things like neuronal activity will often get you branded as a loon. Which seems reprehensibly dogmatic to me. Though I'm not sure how much of the blame for that we can hang on religion...

Religion is also bad because at least most and at most all of them are false; and having false beliefs is bad, even if it has good consequences.

Christianity, for example, though, also motivates people to do a lot of good that's good...

How to add it all up and get an overall total score for religion, however, is not at all clear to me.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Carolina Takes on Grade Inflation

Article at the NYT.

This is a problem that just has to be solved. It's utterly ridiculous. Would people buy Consumer Reports if all products, from the excellent to the mediocre were always given the highest rating? What the hell kind of rating system is that? Why this is tolerated at universities is beyond me.

(h/t: Chip)
Paper In Top Psych Journal Claims ESP Is Real


The journal in question: The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And boy, are people getting mad about this. It's not possible to tell from the story (and probably not possible for me to tell, anyway), but, despite the claims of some critics, there doesn't seen to be any reason to be outraged about this result. Of course there was almost certainly experimental or statistical error--we have extensive, weighty evidence for he conclusion that there are no real ESP-type effects...but so what? It's likely that an enormous percentage of the conclusions arrived at by papers in scientific journals will ultimately turn out to be false. Many already have. There's nothing all that special about this case.

I don't even think it would be all that weird if some kind of ESP effects turned out to be real. I mean, it would be weird, don't get me wrong... But it's not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. It would be far, far less mind-numbingly bizarre than, say, discovering that the Abrahamic God exists. Now that would be weird on weird.

Anyway, it's hard to tell from popular science stories, but it certainly sounds to me like everyone should CTFO, wait until the paper comes out, and then evaluate it normally. There will, of course, be errors in it; the results will, of course, not be reliably replicable.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Disaster Preparedness: It's Not Just For Survivalists and Mormons Anymore

Statisticasaurus rex likes to remind me about, your one-stop shop for all your IZA/rage-infected-monkey/killer-robot-from-the-future/power outage/etc. needs.

Well, maybe not a one-stop shop...but a good place to start.

It really is a very useful site, and (as S. rex has made clear to me) being prepared is our civic duty. I've known liberals who were not wild about this kind of stuff, though it was hard for me to figure out why. Perhaps it smacks of right-wing survivalism, or perhaps they think that the idea is to stock up, lock up, and let the devil take the hindmost. But that's a pretty bad way to look at it. If you're prepared for a disaster, that's one less person/family that everybody else has to worry about. If the government doesn't have to worry about helping you out, they can spend those resources elsewhere. And if you're way prepared, you might even be able to take care of some other folks, too.; philosoraptor says: check it out.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Unhinging of the Conservative Mind: ODS
Darrell Issa Edition

Well, we know from the Clinton administration that a certain fairly sizable segment of the contemporary GOP will say virtually anything about a Democratic president, so long as it's negative. It doesn't have to be doesn't have to be anywhere near the vicinity of the doesn't even have to be vaguely plausible.

Here's Darrell Issa's contribution: turns out that the Obama administration is "one of the most corrupt." He apparently didn't care for the flack he got for his claim on the Limbaugh show to the effect that this administration was "the most corrupt in history." That was so obviously false as to be laughable, especially given what even the politically oblivious know about the Nixon and Reagan administrations. So Issa apparently elected to throttle back a bit and make the reference class as vague as possible. (Most corrupt...ever? In recent memory? Since February 2009? What?) The new version of the claim is still so groundless as to be laughable...but I suppose it is weasley and vagued-up enough to at least be able to pass the laugh test on Limbaugh...

Since Issa is the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, any of you out there who thought that the GOP might have become a bit less tribal, irrational, petulant and destructive since the Clinton administration, are apparently going to be disappointed. One worries that the GOP will return to power in the House having (like the Bourbons) learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

So hold onto your hats...the investigations should be coming fast and furious soon enough.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

PS3 Fried Video Card Help?

So, supposing that you had fried your PS3 in such a way that it would boot up, but not show any video...

Just supposing...

Anybody know the best way to try to get the data off of the thing?
Happy New Year, Denizens!

That is all.