Friday, December 31, 2010

Debra Spencer, "Moment of Inertia"

From Pomegranate

It's what makes the pancake hold still
while you slip the spatula under it
so fast it doesn't move, my father said
standing by the stove.

All motion stopped when he died.
With his last breath the earth
lurched to a halt and hung still on its axis,
the atoms in the air
coming to rest within their molecules,
and in that moment
something slid beneath me
so fast I couldn't move.


Choir of Young Believers, "Action / Reaction," "Next Summer"

Against Some Uses of Twitter: Ten Ill-Advised Tweets

This was originally posted elsewhere March 29, 2009. I think it has aged well, though I don't know what that opinion is worth since I don't use Twitter. If you use Twitter, don't be offended: I was just trying to be funny.

I am opposed to Twitter for three main reasons:
  1. Who gives a rat's ass what anyone else is doing every waking hour of the day? No one---except stalkers.
  2. News anchors are talking about their tweets now, as if they are the story. The story is scrolling by on your teleprompter, anchor person. You are not the story. Please focus on what is.
  3. The tweet isn't long enough to say anything worth serious thought. It's another symptom of the dumbing-down of America. Please make it stop.
Now, I am fully aware of the irony of criticizing Twitter and at the same time writing my own tweet-equivalents for Facebook. In my own defense, I am a very interesting person. That's a joke, of course, which is a euphemism for "Shameful baldfaced lie." Anyone who knows me well knows that I am just like other people in that I am not nearly as interesting as I think I am. And Twitter is also a symptom of this pervasive sense of self-importance.

Anyway, returning to my original point, in my own defense, I also write these notes, even when I don't really have the time to write them. Like right now. And these notes may be of genuine interest to some people, unlike any reports that I am in a meeting or using the bathroom or experiencing heartburn or going to bed or eating lunch or waiting for Lost to come on.

I have been thinking, however, that there is potential for material of genuine interest to pop up on Twitter. Here are some potentially interesting and entertaining tweets that I just thought up when I should have been doing lots and lots of work on a nice Sunday afternoon. So here they are.

Ten Ill-Advised Tweets 

What are you doing? 
  1. I am so stoked that the tests came back negative! I can't wait to share needles with my favorite prostitute next weekend!
  2. Relaxing with a nice warm cup of tea after burying the body in the backyard. I hope no one finds out!
  3. I finished my porno! Hip hip hooray!
  4. I'm driving south on I-29 with my Blackberry trying to avoid hitting traf
  5. Cooking up another batch of meth. Happy days!
  6. Finally poisoned my coworker's coffee. Who's laughing now, Bob!
  7. Watching American Idol, wondering if Simon got my love letter.
  8. Cleaning all of my guns. I sure hope no one gets shot.
  9. Just back from the bank robbery, counting cash. Those stupid cops'll never find me!
  10. Back at the clubhouse, waiting for trainer to shoot rear end up with roids.
Bonus ill-advsied tweet! 

Im so eksited! I cant wayt to bee presidint wen my turm as guvner of alaska iz ovur!

Electric Light Orchestra, On the Third Day, Side One

"Ocean Breakup / King of the Universe"

"Bluebird is Dead"

"Oh No Not Susan"

"New World Rising" / "Ocean Breakup Reprise"

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Please leave the science to the scientists

Some RedState blogger named Vladimir is overjoyed that Great Britain's unusually cold winter is causing problems for its wind farms.

Vladimir writes:

In a replay of last year’s weather pattern, the U.K. is once again in the grips of a Global Warming Climate Change-induced record cold snap.

Not to worry. Those industrious Brits had the foresight to build wind farms with rated capacity equal to 5% of the country’s electricity needs.

But they’re getting only 1.6% of their electricity from the wind farms. Because…

Extreme wintertime cold comes from high pressure weather systems. And high pressure weather systems don’t generate much wind. Not much wind = not much wind energy.

But since the weather is so cold, big mechanical things like wind turbines freeze up. To prevent damage, they need to be thawed out.

This is priceless:

As the temperature has plummeted, the turbines have had to be heated to prevent them seizing up. Consequently, they have been consuming more electricity than they generate.

I know! As Erick Erickson would say, this is just so awesome! That serves those limey bastards for supporting our unprovoked attack on Iraq! Wait, that doesn't sound right and now I'm confused.

Does RedState require of their bloggers that they be assholes? Just wondering.

Anyway, Vladimir gleefully quotes a columnist for the Daily Mail as saying,
Even though the winters of 2008 and 2009 were ferociously cold, they were dismissed as ‘random events’. The Met Office put the odds on a third harsh winter no higher than 20-1. . . .

Needless to say, the head of the Met Office is not even a weatherman. He’s a leading ‘climate change activist’ who buys into the propaganda pumped out by the fanatics at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) — exposed for blatantly suppressing evidence which contradicts their messianic belief in ­‘global warming’.
There's a fair and balanced source!

Vladimir finishes his post with some dated philosophy of science:
Back in the olden days, the Scientific Method worked like this: you made a prediction based on a hypothesis, then tested the prediction. If it was false, you scrapped that hypothesis & went back to the drawing board for a new hypothesis. Now, when the facts are 180 degrees opposite the prediction, the hypothesis dogma stands unchallenged, and a new explanation is fabricated to wrap around and reckoncile with the contrary observations.
Vladimir sounds so smugly self-assured that his readers probably have no idea that he doesn't know what he is talking about. There are very few things more irritating than an idiot who thinks he's a genius.

Vladimir's understanding of philosophy of science goes as far as Karl Popper's idea that bona fide scientific theories are falsifiable. In Conjectures and Refutations, Popper writes,
Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is. . . . A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is nonscientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice. . . . Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. 
Now, what is wrong with this? Don't we want our scientific theories to have observational consequences?

As Philip Kitcher shows in Abusing Science: The Case against Creationism, falsifiability cannot be the only thing that separates science from non-science. For one thing, scientific theories by themselves have no observational consequences. In order to use a scientific theory to make predictions, one must make any number of auxiliary assumptions about the testing conditions, other background factual matters, and the like. Therefore, if the prediction turns out to be false, the falsity of the theory does not automatically follow: one of the other assumptions might be the culprit.

Now, one might attempt to modify Popper's criterion by stating that what makes a theory scientific is that it has observational consequences when combined with necessary auxiliary assumptions. But this won't do, either, because any theory, scientific or otherwise, has observational consequences when combined with auxiliary assumptions.

The upshot is this: a few cold snaps in Great Britain do not falsify the theory that human beings are warming the planet. The nature of scientific theory is much more complicated and much more interesting that Vladimir would have us believe. This is because Vladimir is completely out of his depth. And he should also learn how to spell "reconcile."

Those who deny the reality of man-made global warming usually have no expertise in the area. This "genius" compares global warming to a fictional card game mentioned in one of my favorite television series, Star Trek. (How dare he!) All he has shown is that he can't tell the difference between weather and climate:
As I sit here now, snowbound in our Offshore Command Center, I can see a parallel to the totally unbelievable explanations being given by the proponents of man-made global warming. A few years ago, they stated that snowfalls would become more rare. Now, it is a side-effect of the warming process. Much the same, I guess, as the 17 degree temperatures I experienced last week, a whopping 30 degrees lower than the norm for December.
And this "genius" (Vladimir again) appears to suggest that there couldn't be man-made global warming because a third of Americans don't think there is. Scientific questions can be settled by public opinion poll! That's just so awesome! In the same post, Vladimir writes,
There’s a huge difference between “global warming” and “anthropogenic global warming”. If one believes in warming, but that it is caused by natural forces, it is difficult to argue for man-made initiatives to counteract it. Wasting resources fighting earth-scale or even cosmic forces may be the ultimate act of hubris and folly.
I believe I have seen this argument before, i.e., if global warming is not man-made, then we don't need to concern ourselves with doing anything about it. If you think about it, that's not the sort of thing you'd expect to hear a genius say. Human beings have spent millennia battling natural forces, sometimes successfully. And if it just so happens that the scientific consensus on global warming is correct, wouldn't the prudent thing be to try to do something about it?

Hey, RedState bloggers: please leave the science to the scientists, you fucking morons.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Peace, Love and Understanding
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I wanna know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?

And as I walked on through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong and who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony? Sweet harmony

'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away
Just makes me wanna cry
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony

'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away, just makes me wanna cry
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?
What's so funny 'bout peace love and understanding?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So, the detainees at Guantanamo are androids, then?

From two RedState posts published Dec. 21: 
In 2008, I was first introduced to the personhood movement. . . . Instantly, I threw in my support behind the movement, without hesitation or reserve. Why?  Because the argument for personhood was so undeniably true.  In short, every human being has the basic human right to exist.  And further, all human beings deserve the protection of our laws. —Shaun Kenney, "Five Great Reasons Why Personhood Will End Abortion"

Congress is on the verge of passing legislation that would effectively make it impossible to transfer the cases of murderous, terrorist scum to regular American courts.  Congress is doing this, earlier Democratic rhetoric to the contrary, because there are actual limits to legislative stupidity, and it’s pretty stupid to put murderous, terrorist scum into a civilian court system not particularly designed to handle it. —Moe Lane, "Obama administration caves on indefinite detention"
Seriously, though, I don't expect consistency from RedState. I don't even expect individual RedState posts to be internally consistent. Still, I thought it would be instructive to point out that many conservatives don't actually subscribe to important Christian beliefs. And I suspect that many Christians don't subscribe to them, either. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For Your Further Enlightenment V

Well, I'm very busy at work again. I don't have time to write all the posts I have in my head, and that's frustrating. But I get to listen to The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness right now, do laundry, and look forward to seeing my new shrink tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and I get to put these links right here, where they'll be safe and I won't forget them. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

I was rooting for the caribou

The TLC series Sarah Palin's Alaska features footage of Palin killing a caribou, with the help of her father and a family friend.

Palin is no sharpshooter. She fires almost half a dozen times before she finally hits the thing. She actually appears far less skilled in the nasty business of killing than I had imagined her to be. As the Gaurdian's Craig Dougherty points out, "She repeatedly missed a standing caribou; her father had to work her gun's action; and she acted like she was along for the ride." (Her incompetence may be manufactured, of course: her handlers would like to market her as an outdoorsman, but they also don't want her to seem threatening to male voters.) After every round is fired, the caribou stands motionless, trying to figure out what is happening, I suppose. As I watched this, I began to feel sorry for it. And that made me dislike Palin even more. Not that Palin cares, of course: everything she does seems to be calculated to polarize, to appeal to her base and infuriate her political opposition. She is a graduate of the Karl Rove School of Ultra-Partisan Politics.

I am not a hunter, and I never have been. I don't understand the appeal of the sport at all. And when I say that I feel something like affection for the beautiful creature felled by Palin's rifle, hunters might not understand me, either. If I saw a caribou, the last thing I would want to do is kill it. (Perhaps that makes me sound like a pansy to you, dear reader. So be it.) I have heard at least one hunter claim that hunting only increases his appreciation of his targets, but that just doesn't compute with me. One need not kill an animal to study its behavior and appreciate it.

In her own defense, Palin reminded those of us who might be disturbed by the footage that we really don't want to be hypocrites:
Tonight's hunting episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska "controversial"?
Really? Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch
eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation of tonight's episode. I
remain proudly intolerant of anti-hunting hypocrisy. :)
(This is just another example of the magic of Sarah Palin, i.e., her refinement of pure snottiness into an art form, her uncanny ability to piss off those who don't see things exactly as she does.) Aaron Sorkin, of all people, recently ripped Palin for the segment anyway. In response to the aforementioned Facebook status update, Sorkin writes:
You're right, Sarah, we'll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who've come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show. . . .

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it's hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don't think it is, and here's why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don't have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don't relish the idea of torturing animals. I don't enjoy the fact that they're dead and I certainly don't want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

I'm able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don't watch snuff films and you make them. You weren't killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I've tried and tried and for the life of me, I can't make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing. I'm able to make the distinction with no pangs of hypocrisy even though I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face. . . .

And you didn't just do it for fun and you didn't just do it for money. That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain. You knew there'd be a protest from PETA and you knew that would be an opportunity to hate on some people, you witless bully.
I agree with Sorkin that Palin had ulterior, political motives for inserting this segment into the series. And if you still have the ability to doubt that everything Palin does is calculated to enhance her public image, consider what her father said about his daughter in the same episode: "She carries her own weight, whether it's hunting or fishing or politics. Anything Sarah Palin does, she does with all four feet, let me tell you that." (With the possible exception of working the action on her own rifle, of course: we can't expect a "feminist" to be burdened with such manly trifles.)

I doubt that someone of Palin's stature literally needs to hunt caribou to survive. Some Alaskans may, but that doesn't justify Palin's actions. But I take her at her word that they will make use of the animal, and that blunts the force of Sorkin's complaint. Another of Sorkin's objections succeeds, however. Palin sets up a false dichotomy: either you endorse the manner in which she killed and cleaned the caribou, or you are a hypocrite. Sorkin points out that there is a third possibility: recognize that we may at times be justified in killing and making use of another animal, but not take joy in the actual killing and cleaning of that animal. Palin takes too much joy in the slaughter of other sentient beings, and that is a serious character flaw.

There is, of course, another possible response. For some years, I was a vegetarian. I did, however, eat fish and animal products, such as eggs and cheese. And I was a vegetarian for moral reasons: I was unwilling to make the effort to determine whether any meat I might consume was factory-farmed, so I simply didn't eat any at all. I am no longer a vegetarian. I do buy beef sometimes from an individual I know who raises his own cattle for slaughter, so I know that his animals are treated humanely while they are alive. It's difficult to see anything morally wrong with this. And I do try to minimize the amount of meat I consume. But I cannot say for sure that I do not eat factory-farmed meat, so I recognize and admit that I am doing something morally wrong. This is how I avoid the charge of hypocrisy: if you simply acknowledge your own lack of sainthood on this matter, people like Palin cannot manipulate you with the threat of being charged with hypocrisy.

You can, of course, deprive someone like Palin of the ability to manipulate you by refusing to use or consume animal products. I have a friend who avoids consuming and using any animal products whatsoever. It can be done, and it is done, by countless people every single day.

But the most important point is this: if there really is something wrong with hunting, or Palin's attitude toward it, my being a hypocrite would not change that fact in the slightest.

At the end of the video, Palin has what will seem to many to be her Shazzang moment. (How's that for a semi-obscure pop culture reference? If I could find the video to embed in this post, I would, believe me.) Palin says, "Well, I'm always really happy when I do get an animal, because usually my Dad is by my side when I'm hunting, and it's like, see, Dad? I did it! I listened to what you said, and I learned something, and we accomplished it together."

This was surely calculated to appeal to her base, but it leaves me cold, as does virtually everything Palin does. I don't worry that the chief executive may not be interested in hunting and killing animals, and Palin's gleeful readiness to do so doesn't qualify her for the job.

Update. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers explains how Palin's appeal to those of us living in America's heartland might actually backfire, at least among hunters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

For Your Further Enlightenment IV

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills

Over the weekend, there were two votes in the Senate. One would have extended Bush-era tax cuts, but only on incomes of $200,000 or less for individuals and $250,000 or less for couples. The other would have extended the cuts, but only on incomes of $1 million or less.

Republicans decried the votes as pure politics, in spite of the fact that they have on other occasions insisted on the principle that judicial nominees, and bills as well, deserve an up-or-down vote. Remember that phrase? According to former Republican Senator Bill Frist (the guy who can magically diagnose persistent vegetative state merely by viewing videotape of a patient), "Until [George W. Bush] took office, Democrats and Republicans alike were firmly opposed to all filibusters, and said so repeatedly. We had a tradition based on mutual respect and restraint" (my emphasis). Like any principle that no longer serves their interests, however, the up-or-down vote has been abandoned by the GOP.

Now there is news of another potential compromise: in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits, all Bush-era tax cuts will be temporarily extended for perhaps two years.

Let me just repeat this for you, since I can hardly fucking believe it myself. The Republicans, who have been complaining about deficits ever since Barack Obama won the election in 2008, are negotiating to extend both unemployment benefits and tax cuts. Together, both measures will add to the deficit. And this from the party that delayed extending unemployment benefits on multiple occasions on the grounds that they were not paid for.

Extending unemployment benefits will stimulate the economy, and they would be paid for by allowing tax cuts for the very wealthy to expire. The Democratic plan is obviously better for both the deficit and the economy. And it is the more moderate plan, since only some of the tax cuts are allowed to expire, in deference to the GOP fantasy that tax cuts are always good for the economy. (Some, like former Reagan OMB director David Stockman, think they should all expire.) Balancing the federal budget is also good for the economy. I'm no economist, but I do remember what the economy was like under the last president to balance the budget.

Democrats can't get what they want, in spite of the fact that the facts and the polls are on their side.

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Natacha Atlas, "Enogoom Wil Amar"

Just so awesome

Here's more silliness from RedState's Erick Erickson. (What is Erick Erickson doing on CNN?) Erickson writes:
Nikki Haley is just so awesome.
At a White House gathering for the new governors, Governor-Elect Haley confronted Mr. Obama and asked him to repeal Obamacare. Obama refused so Haley said she wanted an opt-out for South Carolina.
And here is Erickson's source:
Haley says she told Obama that South Carolina could not afford the health care mandate, and that it would cripple small businesses.
"I respectfully asked him to consider repealing the bill," she said, to which he clearly stated he would not. "I pushed him further and said if that's the case, because of states' rights, would you at least consider South Carolina opting out of the program?"
Obama told her he would consider letting South Carolina opt out, she said, if the state could find its own solution that included a state exchange, preventing companies from bumping people for preexisting conditions and allowing insurance pooling.
"I think it's something we go back to South Carolina and start crunching," she said. "This is not about expecting what's given. This is about saying we're going to fight this every step of the way and use every option possible."
Here are my questions for Erickson and Haley:
  • What authority does President Obama have to single-handedly repeal legislation that has already been passed? 
  • When you have accepted the President's challenge to come up with health insurance reform that sounds like health insurance reform passed by Congress earlier this year, what do you have to celebrate, really? 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For Your Further Enlightenment III

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson