Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Asshole List I

The first assholes on the list are Ayn Rand and her disciples. From NPR:
Ayn Rand is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The ideas behind them — her philosophy — have sunk so deeply into our political thought, most people don't even recognize them as her ideas anymore. 
But Rand does have important admirers, like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Recently, House Speaker John Boehner channeled Rand when he said, "Job creators in America basically are on strike." 
If Adam Smith had been a sociopath, he would have been Ayn Rand.

The next asshole on the list is Sgt. William Reid of the Coral Springs Police Department. From The Atlantic Wire:
Three members of Herman Cain’s campaign team apologized on Wednesday after a local police officer who said he was there to protect the Republican presidential candidate manhandled a reporter. 
The incident happened when several journalists who have been covering Cain regularly tried to film the candidate as he was returning to his campaign bus after an event here. As the journalists trailed Cain, the officer, who was in plain clothes, blindsided National Journal/CBS News reporter Lindsey Boerma into the side of the campaign bus. Moments later, as journalists circled around the bus toward Cain, the same man stuck his arm out and clotheslined Boerma.  
The man refused to identify himself. He implied he was a police officer when he suggested that one of his “buddies” in uniform could give the reporter a ride in the back of a police car. When other journalists began videotaping him, he pulled out his cell phone and started recording the press. “I’m an independent reporter,” he said.  
Afterwards, Lt. Joe McHugh of the Coral Springs Police Department identified the man as one of his officers and defended his actions. “The reporter was running up along the side of the bus with no identification on identifying herself as a reporter,” McHugh said. “So the officer stuck his arm out to prevent her from getting to Mr. Cain and at which time he was successful.”  
Boerma was not wearing press tags but was carrying a video camera with a plainly visible CBS decal. She is a member of a team of reporters covering the presidential candidates for National Journal and CBS News.  
McHugh said the officer, Sgt. William Reid, suffered a hyperextended elbow. 
So are these pigs implying that there is nothing wrong with manhandling a woman as long as she is not a reporter? I see. My only regret is that Reid did not suffer something more serious, like a kick to the crotch with a steel-toed boot.

While we're on the subject of pigs, our next assholes are members of the Seattle Police Department. From Seattle PI:
An elderly woman, a pregnant woman and a priest were among those who were pepper-sprayed during a protest in support of the Occupy movement on Tuesday. 
The demonstrators taking part in the Occupy Seattle movement marched from their current camp at Seattle Central Community College to Westlake Park late Tuesday afternoon. 
While en route, they came across police officers at several points. At the intersection of Fifth and Pine, the crowd was met by a line of several dozen police officers on bicycles who blocked the way. 
Tensions mounted until police deployed pepper spray in an attempt to disperse the crowd and get the protesters out of the streets. About a dozen people were hit with the stinging fume. 
"Pepper spray was deployed only against subjects who were either refusing a lawful order to disperse or engaging in assaultive behavior toward officers," said Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel.
I guess if I had an uncontrollable urge to assault people I didn't like, I would go through the training necessary to get a badge to hide behind also. Good work, assholes!

Next on the list are Lauren E. Pierce and Cassie Wright of the University of Texas College Republicans. From ABC News blogs:
Hours after Pennsylvania State Police arrested a 21-year-old Idaho man for allegedly firing a semi-automatic rifle at the White House, the top student official for the College Republicans at the University of Texas tweeted that the idea of assassinating President Obama was “tempting.” 
At 2:29 p.m. ET, UT’s Lauren E. Pierce wrote: “Y’all as tempting as it may be, don’t shoot Obama. We need him to go down in history as the WORST president we’ve EVER had! #2012.”  
Pierce, the president of the College Republicans at UT Austin, told ABC News the comment was a “joke” and that the “whole [shooting incident] was stupid.” Giggling, she said that an attempted assassination would “only make the situation worse.”  
“Insofar as she’s a representative [of the College Republicans], maybe it shouldn’t be said, but she’s made a positive statement in a way, ” said Cassie Wright, the group’s vice president. 
“I don’t really see anything wrong with it,” Wright added. “It’s just a personal comment, not representative of any group. Just freedom of speech, you know?”
That's right, Cassie. It's just freedom of speech. And as tempting as it may be, don't go out and shoot Lauren and Cassie, all right? We need them to go down in history as two of the most idiotic college students ever! Do not decapitate them or dismember them or disembowel them, all right? Do not pour motlen lava or wet concrete over them, or drop them from an airplane at 10,000 feet without a parachute, or rip their organs out of their bodies and put them in jars. Do not send them anthrax. Do not drop anvils on their heads. And do not detonate explosives attached to their bodies either. Now, before you get upset with me, you should know that I'm only joking here, for Pete's sake. This is just a personal comment. Isn't that right, Lauren and Cassie? Just freedom of speech, you know? So, to sum up, please don't vomit on these two nice young Republicans, or set their cars on fire, or urinate on their carpets, or give them herpes. Thanks. (See what I did there?)

Finally, our next assholes are television viewers everywhere. From Slate's culture blog:
Reports late Monday are that Community, the cult NBC sitcom, is being sent to detention. The show, a compulsively meta, reflexively self-referential one-camera undertaking that follows a bunch of misfits at a community college, has lagged even amongst NBC’s lagging Thursday night lineup, and has now been bumped out of it.  
A New York Magazine post on the move reports that the show isn’t even mentioned in the NBC press release detailing midseason lineups. Whitney is being moved to Wednesdays, to be replaced in the Thursday night lineup by Up All Night, the Will Arnett/Christina Applegate/Maya Rudolph parenthood comedy. 30 Rock is also returning, and it will bump Community out.  
The changes will be effective in the network’s so-called midseason, roughly the second week of January.
Here's an idea: stop watching the shit you usually watch and check out something good, like Community. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Letter to the Economist

Patter of tiny personhoods

SIR – I was delighted to read your article about the effort in Mississippi to pass a state constitutional amendment to recognise embryos as people from the moment of fertilisation (“A person already?”, October 8th). My wife and I have been considering IVF to address our lack of success in conceiving a child. Mississippi’s proposed amendment gives us even more reason to pursue this treatment, and to move to Mississippi.

After the procedure we will insist on taking custody of any extra embryos that result from IVF—it is our right as parents after all. Once safely in our home we plan to keep them in a freezer in our basement and list them as child dependents for tax purposes, thus giving us a tax deduction. To protect the lives of our children in case of a power outage we will buy a backup generator. Anything less would be bad parenting.

Benjamin Iwai
St Louis, Missouri


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Molly Giles, "The Poet's Husband"

He sits in the front row, large, a large man with large hands and large ears, dry lips, fresh-cut hair, pink skin, clear eyes that don't blink, a nice man, calm, that's the impression he gives, a quiet man who knows how to listen; he is listening now as she sways on the stage in a short black dress and reads one poem about the time she slit her wrists and another poem about a man she still sees and a third poem about a cruel thing he himself said to her six years ago that she never forgot and never understood, and he knows that when she is finished everyone will clap and a few, mostly women, will come up and kiss her, and she will drink far too much wine, far too quickly, and all the way home she will ask, "What did you think, what did you really think?" and he will say, "I think it went very well"—which is, in fact, what he does think—but later that night, when she is asleep, he will lie in their bed and stare at the moon through a spot on the glass that she missed.

From Micro Fiction, ed. Jerome Stern (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 24–25.

Langston Hughes, "Remember"

The days of bondage—
And remembering—
Do not stand still.
Go to the highest hill
And look down upon the town
Where you are yet a slave.
Look down upon any town in Carolina
Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
Or Africa, your homeland—
And you will see what I mean for you to see—
The white hand:
The thieving hand.
The white face:
The lying face.
The white power:
The unscrupulous power
That makes of you
The hungry wretched thing you are today.

Source: Poetry Magazine

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Is that all you've got?

I first saw this on Facebook. A few of my Facebook friends who sympathize with the protesters were calling themselves hypocrites, thanks to this picture.

But we are not hypocrites. Just because I use or enjoy the products of a certain corporation does not obligate me to endorse everything that corporation does.

This picture is a slimy and manipulative piece of propaganda. Is that all you've got, assholes?

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Posted on September 30, 2011 by NYCGA

This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
  • They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
  • They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
  • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
  • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
  • They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
  • They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
  • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
  • They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
  • They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
  • They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
  • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
  • They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
  • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
  • They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Update 10/1/11 – Minor updates to some wording in the facts.



I found this picture at We Are the 99 Percent. The slogan, "We are the 99 percent," refers to economic inequality in this country.

This person is doing rather well in this economy. He writes, "I personally make over $100,000 per year because I chose my graduate degree wisely." Good for him. Does he mean to imply, though, that all those who are struggling in this economy chose poorly, by either not going to college or by choosing the wrong major? Does he mean to imply that everyone who works hard but barely gets by should suffer because they didn't "choose wisely"? There is a deeper question here: should what one does with her life be determined solely by the market? Are the only worthwhile vocations in our society the ones that earn a living wage or better? And here is the deepest question: why should we automatically assume, as this gentleman has, that market realities are acceptable, preferable, and above reproach?

This man writes, "I don't have cable or satellite; I don't use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs as they are a waste of time and money. I drive a paid off seven-year-old vehicle 90 minutes to work EACH way." Good for him. But I can't help but wonder whether this man has been soaking up Heritage Foundation and Fox News propaganda intended to show that much of the 99% really isn't poor because so many of us own microwave ovens and DVD players. Maybe he, like Phil Gramm, thinks that much of the 99% is in a mental recession and their whining should be ignored. Maybe he thinks that all those whiners among the 99% could improve their lot in life if they simply got rid of their cable T.V. and stopped buying brand new cars, whiskey, and heroin.

The man also writes, "I have joined the US military BOTH times we were at war in Iraq to serve my country." Let me first say that I thank you for your service and the sacrifices you have made for our country. I wonder why it is relevant to the issue at hand, though. Are you implying that you are doing better in life than many of the 99% because you served your country? How would you explain that, exactly? Do you mean to imply that you are better than many of the 99% who haven't served? Do you mean to imply that your opinions carry extra weight simply because you served your country? Let me assure you, they do not. Your service is irrelevant to this issue, sir. Your use of ethos here is a mere rhetorical trick and is unrelated to the merit of your views.

The man writes, "I support individual liberty and individual responsibility. I believe people should work to support themselves and not live off others." Does he mean to imply that many of us in the 99% do not support individual liberty, that we're not responsible, that we don't want to support ourselves, that we want to live off others? Seriously? We want a country and an economy in which a responsible person can work to support herself and live comfortably without undue fear of economic hardship. We live in a country in which wealth is rewarded; we want a country in which work is rewarded. We want a country and an economy that rewards those who play by the rules. You seem to think that those of us who are suffering in this economy are getting what we deserve. That, sir, is offensive. And if you knew how clueless you are, you would be embarrassed and ashamed.

The man writes, "I do not feel that other people owe me anything." Then you, sir, are part of the problem. Employers owe those of us who are lucky enough to be employed big time. While society may not owe anything to the millions of unemployed who were chewed up and spat out by this economy, society has plenty reason to look after them until they are able to get back on their feet.

The man writes, "I am the 99% but I don't begrudge the 1%!" Neither do we. I know that comes as a surprise to this man, who has been taught by the conservative media that many of the 99% are upset simply because they hate wealthy people. We are upset because we are not be treated fairly in this economy. Many economists simply assume that common practices in our economy are just solely in virtue of the fact that they are common. And they rake other economists (e.g., Paul Krugman) over the coals for disagreeing with that view. But you do not have to be a sociopath, like those economists, sir. You can recognize that there are things in life other than profit that are valuable and worthwhile, like health and dignity.

The man refers us to Here's my question: what fucking good is advice from Dave Ramsey in an economy like this where there are no jobs and no opportunities for many of the 99%? What about those who, through no fault of their own, can't even afford rice and beans, beans and rice for dinner? If someone finds herself without a job, is it necessarily all of her fault? Aren't certain presidential candidates who believe that it is simply out of their fucking minds? Isn't it completely obvious that the path a person's life takes is determined not only by her choices but also by circumstances out of her control? Yes.

Sir, I personally welcome you to the 99%. But could you please stop assuming that you know anything about the rest of us, please? Thank you!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thank you, R.E.M. (but not for everything)

I can't spend any more time editing this. So here it is, with all of its flaws. 

I've been thinking about R.E.M. since they broke up recently. I feel sad, even though I haven't really paid attention to them in almost twenty years. Here are my thoughts about R.E.M.'s music. They're not really very sophisticated or well argued-for.

I rank the R.E.M. albums I have listened to in the following order, from most to least favorite:
  1. Murmur
  2. Out of Time
  3. Fables of the Reconstruction
  4. Chronic Town
  5. Green and Lifes Rich Pageant (tie)
  6. Reckoning
  7. Document
  8. Automatic for the People 

    The first two on the list, Murmer and Out of Time, are near-perfect wholes, and a best-of anthology that omitted any of the songs from either of them would be incomplete. As my wife put it, Out of Time is magical, and I would say the same about Murmer. I was alive when Murmer was released in 1983, and I remember listening to it for the first time with my best friend at the time and marveling at its greatness. I don't think the album has a single weakness. I have met people who dislike jangle pop, but anyone who takes the time to listen cannot deny that Murmer is a classic in the genre. Most people who have heard R.E.M. have probably heard "Radio Free Europe," which is a very good song indeed. But every song on Murmer is well-written and played. "Perfect Circle" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard:

    So if you haven't heard Murmer, do yourself a favor and buy it or stream it on Grooveshark.

    Out of Time, released in 1991, is a very different record. This is evident from the very beginning: the first song, "Radio Song," features the vocals of rapper KRS-One. By this time, R.E.M.'s sound had become more varied: different vocalists and instruments were making appearances on their songs. Every song on Out of Time is brilliantly written and executed, and they all somehow form a coherent whole. (Rolling Stone's negative review of the record is, in a word, idiotic.) "Losing My Religion" is one of those rare hit songs that is genuinely great. "Shiny Happy People" is perhaps the weakest song on the album and sounds like the kind of song that could grow annoying (and I have no doubt that it has for many people), but it never has for me. Because the album is more or less uniformly excellent, it's difficult to pick one song from the album to post here. "Low," however, is perhaps less well known than other songs on the album and represents the emotional thrust of the album well:

    Third on the list is Fables of the Reconstruction (or Reconstruction of the Fables, depending on how you read it).

    Released in 1985, Fables may not be in quite the same category as Murmer and Out of Time, but it is significantly better than the next best album, in my opinion. When it first came out, I think that the songwriting struck me as being odd and it had to grow on me. Maybe it was all of those minor keys. "Feeling Gravitys Pull" doesn't sound quite like anything on their previous records:

    But grow on me it did: the songs are truly great and they hang together quite well. "Wendell Gee" is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs of all time (pardon the inferior sound quality):

    If I had to pick my favorite R.E.M. songs from the remaining albums, they would be the following, in no particular order:
    • "Wolves, Lower"
    • "Gardening at Night"
    • "Stumble"
    • "Get Up"
    • "World Leader Pretend"
    • "The Wrong Child"
    • "Begin the Begin"
    • "These Days"
    • "Fall On Me"
    • "Superman" 
    • "7 chineSe bros."
    • "Time After Time (annElise)"
    • "Finest Worksong"
    • "Fireplace"
    • "Nightswimming"
    Of all of these, my favorite is probably "World Leader Pretend":

    Document never did much for me. (Though I like it a little better now than I used to.) "Oddfellows Local 151" is, I think, the first throwaway track R.E.M. ever recorded. And I have really tried to love the weirdly subdued Automatic for the People, and it just hasn't worked. There are half a dozen good songs on the entire album at most. (And no, "Everybody Hurts" isn't one of them.) Perhaps the songs seem lackluster because they just don't measure up to R.E.M.'s best material. I'm not sure. (Incredibly, Rolling Stone rates Automatic for the People as the 247th greatest album of all time, ahead of David Bowie's Low, Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy, The Cars, Talking Heads' 77, Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, Frank Zappa's We're Only In It For the Money, The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, Jethro Tull's Aqualung, and The Doors' L.A. Woman, to name a few.)

    I heard the follow-up Monster in the local Hastings soon after it was released, and I hated it. With the exception of "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" it was just awful. After that, I wrote them off. I listened to at least part of New Adventures in Hi-Fi when it came out; I liked "Leave," but that was about it. A friend of mine tried to turn me on to Up when it came out, but it did nothing for me. And that was the last I had heard from them (due to my own lack of curiosity) until they disbanded. So I'm not sure why I'm sad now, since I've been missing them, or at least the good music they were once capable of making, for some time. For the great music you made, however, I thank you, R.E.M.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Electric Light Orchestra, "Concerto For a Rainy Day"

    The following songs constitute side three of the vinyl version of Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue which was released in 1977. If you're a sucker for strings like me, you'll enjoy it.

    And I really don't feel like writing about politics right now anyway.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Hell Freezes Over

    There is a lot to like about Lori Ziganto's latest post.

    I mean that. I am not being sarcastic. I actually like it.

    In much of it, Ziganto actually sounds quite sane and reasonable. I agree with what she has to say about vaccinations. I agree with her take on the disagreement between Bachmann and Perry during the Tea Party debate on CNN. Perry's plan to vaccinate children against HPV was the right thing to do, and Ziganto appears to agree. The idea may violate some Tea Party principle, but human lives are worth more than principles.

    In response to the campaign against vaccinations by Jenny McCarthy and others, Ziganto sincerely and correctly proclaims, "The science is settled," as if science really matters. This is good to see.

    Unfortunately, it ain't all good. She begins the post with lame attacks on Huntsman, Paul, and Santorum which we now know to be beneath her. Look, I don't particularly like those guys either, and I would never vote for them, but you can do better than that, Lori. And the weird ad hominem you use against Bachmann is also quite lame. Whether Minnesota requires vaccinations or not is completely irrelevant to Bachmann's laughable objections to Perry. Why resort to an ad hominem when you have perfectly good arguments against her? Like this:
    Vaccinations save lives. What we call ‘mandatory’ vaccinations exist in every state; children cannot attend school without receiving them. This is not new. We vaccinate to both prevent disease and to eventually eradicate the disease, at least for all intents and purposes. This is called ‘herd immunity’ and eradication of disease cannot happen without it. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not a fan of disease and think that trying to eradicate disease whenever and wherever possible is a good thing.
    Ziganto also claims at the end of the post that President Obama's jobs bill does not exist. That is false. The American Jobs Act is an actual piece of legislation that is being submitted to Congress.

    For the most part, though, well done, Ziganto. You really stepped up your game, and your readers will be better off for it. And I haven't mentioned all the good points Ziganto makes in her argument against Bachmann, so go ahead and read it for yourself.

    For Your Further Enlightenment XXI

    Tempest Milky Way from Randy Halverson on Vimeo.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    If you like Saturn, you're in luck.

    First is an awesome picture of Saturn taken by NASA's Cassini orbiter:

    Click on the picture for the full-size version. You can read about the photograph here.

    As if that weren't enough, check out this video, part of which I presume is taken from Outside In, "a ground-breaking non-profit giant screen film currently in production animated from millions of still photographs for IMAX™ and other giant screen theaters," to be released later this year. The show-stopper begins at :57. Full-screen is best:

    5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

    Read more about Outside In here. And you can read more about Cassini here.

    Yeah, I'm a bit of a space geek.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Bored now.

    I've been away for a while.

    I got something like a promotion at work, and now I'm busier overall. And then there was that hailstorm that totaled the family car. Fortunately, our insurance company is taking care of us. And we also have a little one on the way. Who knew finding a name for our little girl would be so time-consuming? I'm not making it to the gym nearly as often as I should. And I still suffer from this growing lack of faith in the very mission of this blog.

    Lori Ziganto last posted something on her blog back on June 22. (I hope she's had an epiphany and her lack of output isn't due to some crisis or difficulty. Judging from the Twitter feed running alongside her posties, however, she doesn't appear to have gotten any wiser.) Here's the first paragraph:
    “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” said President Obama during his speech outlining his plans for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. First, I’m not the President of the United States and all, but I’m pretty sure we’ve been a nation for a good long while. And as Jonah Goldberg said on Twitter “Just get it over with and declare Tom Friedman the King’s Hand.” But, I suppose we should at least give President Obama credit for his honesty in admitting that he can’t handle the job; I mean, shouldn’t a President be able to multi-task? Shouldn’t the leader of the free world be able to handle domestic issues and foreign policy, you know, at the same time? What happened to that whole ‘I can answer that 3:00 am call’ thing? They must not teach that in Community Organizing seminars.
    How does one point out everything that's gone wrong in this single paragraph without sounding like a pedantic Leon Wolf admonishing a political enemy for imagined crimes against the English language? I'm not sure that it's possible, but I'll give it a try:
    • When the president says that "it is time to focus on nation-building here at home," what he means is that we ought to divert funds from the war in Afghanistan to domestic programs. Ziganto understands him to be saying that it is time to focus on becoming a nation because we are not a nation now. Lori, this makes you look either incompetent in your use of the language, hysterically partisan, or racist. (Sorry, but I'm done giving people like Ziganto the benefit of the doubt. Disagree with Obama if you like. But if you really hate the president that much, you're probably a racist, because our centrist president simply hasn't earned that much hatred from anyone. Just freaking admit that you're racist and get some help.) 
    • Ziganto also infers from the aforementioned statement that the president cannot multitask. This is coming from that wing of the Republican Party that constantly incorrectly insists that we're broke and bitches and moans about the federal deficit. The president is obviously saying that we need to be more selective in our use of tax dollars, in response to your bitching and moaning. If we need to cut spending, and we have to choose between spending on domestic programs and spending on the war in Afghanistan, we ought to end the war in Afghanistan to save money. That's the idea. This isn't about multitasking. The meaning of the President's remark is actually quite plain; if you really are a genius, Ziganto, stop pretending to be a moron. 
    That's how much I can say about a single paragraph of Ziganto's writing, and I didn't even mention every problem in it.

    But you know what? I'm bored with this post now, and I doubt that I'm the only one. I think that's all I want to say about Lori Ziganto's posties for the rest of my life. To her fans, I say this (even though they're not listening): I suppose that reading Ziganto's posties is somehow therapeutic for you, because they confirm your most cherished beliefs. And perhaps you take pleasure in the fact that the person writing those posties has a compulsive need to remind you every time you visit her blog that she possesses a pair of breasts. (Unfortunately for Ziganto, her photographic reminders neither mesmerized me nor distracted me from the flawed content of her posts.) But as I have shown here, her blog is not a reliable source of information and it is foolish to think that it is.

    Anyone who is willing to take the time to understand my criticisms of Ziganto and other merchants of conservative propaganda doesn't need me to convince them that it is bullshit. They already know. And anyone who needs to be convinced that it is bullshit will not take the time to understand my criticisms of it. So what the hell am I doing this for? It used to be therapeutic, but It's probably no accident that I am losing passion for this at the same time that conservative bullshitters are losing their audiences. I am bored with this, and that is why I think I will try a few other things here. We'll see.

    A pearl of Republican wisdom

    Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. —Abraham Lincoln


    As reported by E.J. Dionne

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    If you want to know why I will never vote Republican, here's why

    The following clips aired August 18th, but I didn't see them until last night.

    No one does a better job of showing how idiotic the conservative media's bullshit can be than The Daily Show writers. Just watch and see for yourself.

    That's right: since I'm not wealthy, I am a moocher, a taker, a parasite, a raccoon, and an utterly irresponsible animal according to these assholes. (And I'm waging class warfare because I want to let the Bush tax cuts expire?) However, since I have a refrigerator, a microwave, an air conditioner, cable TV, a cell phone, a coffee maker, two television sets, and a dishwasher, I am not really poor and my taxes should be increased to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. I suppose that I deserve it, since I am such a worthless piece of human garbage.

    Incidentally, how could it come to pass that Neal Boortz is so monumentally difficult to watch?

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Mogwai, "Mogwai Fear Satan"

    I know it's 16:19 long, but just kick back, relax, and listen to the entire thing.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    For Your Further Enlightenment XX

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Maybe it's time to switch to decaf

    Incredulously, the gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from South Florida. It slashes Medicaid and critical investments essential to winning the future in favor of protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, millionaires, and companies who ship American jobs overseas." —Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

    Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional ,and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district! I am bringing your actions today to our Majority Leader and Majority Whip and from this time forward, understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior……which dates back to the disgusting protest you ordered at my campaign hqs, October 2010 in Deerfield Beach. You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me! —Rep. Allen West

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    Waterloo Part 2

    Republicans slit their own throats. Again.

    I borrowed the following column from Forbes. I hope no one objects.

    GOP Passes Up Generational Conservative Victory In Order To Protect The Wealthy

    Jul. 10 2011 - 5:48 pm

    By Rick Ungar

    Oh, the irony.

    After generations of conservative dogma based solidly in the belief that fundamental changes to America’s entitlement programs are essential to the economic survival and betterment of the nation, that goal is now, finally, within the reach of the true believers.

    Yet, remarkably, this dramatic change in national direction is being permitted to slip right through conservative fingers by the very people whom those ensconced on the right should be counting upon to bring home this great philosophical victory.

    The fulfillment of the conservative dream is not vanishing from sight because Nancy Pelosi and the forces of progressivism are prepared to defend entitlements to the death. Nor is it happening because the President of the United States has counted up the votes and decided that messing with entitlements will cost him re-election.

    It is not even the result of “bleeding hearts” like me rising nobly in defense of the needy and downtrodden.

    Significant entitlement reform, long the goal of the fathers of modern day conservatism, is being flushed down the drain by the very Republican Party that has long battled to bring that goal to reality.

    Somewhere in Connecticut, William F. Buckley Jr. is turning over in his grave.

    On Saturday, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that the ‘grand bargain’ – rumored to bring $4 trillion in debt reduction over the next ten years through a mixture of entitlement reform, defense cuts and a measure of revenue increases resulting from cleaning up the tax code to get rid of some of the corporate entitlement programs that result in lower taxes and higher subsidies – is now off the table.

    Apparently, Boehner could not sell the GOP Congressional Caucus on a deal that involved anything in the way of revenue increases- not even in exchange for accomplishing reforms for which his party has fought since the days of FDR and his “New Deal”.

    True conservatives should not blame Boehner for this heresy as it appears that he is no happier with the position he is being forced to take than the President is with his proposal being rejected by House Republicans who don’t grasp the whole compromise thing.

    What Boehner likely understands – better than those who he is supposed to be leading – is that the GOP is permitting the fundamental change, long at the heart of the conservative cause, to vanish into thin air and that it is happening in the name of protecting corporate subsidies that are the very antitheses of a free market economy – another of the inviolate tenets of conservative policy.

    Subsidies that provide government incentives to industry are as anti-free market as government subsidies and controls that conservatives argue have skewed the costs of health care in America and led to our current crisis.

    According to American conservative scripture, a truly free market requires that players compete on level ground – not with the edge that comes from government handouts and special tax breaks, whether they be for the benefit of a corporation or an individual.

    Thus, the GOP is rejecting the opportunity to accomplish a landmark, philosophical milestone by protecting a policy that is, in and of itself, a violation of that same conservative philosophy.

    Is the irony of this enough to make even the most ardent conservative believer question what in the world is going on here?

    It certainly should be.

    Could the explanation for this odd behavior be that the Congressional Republican Caucus has decided to turn its back on what is supposed to be their most fundamental beliefs because their constituents are demanding that they do so?

    Apparently not.

    According to the Christian Science Monitor, the GOP Caucus does not appear to have any interest whatsoever in listening to its base.
    “Two-thirds (67 percent) approve of making more of high earners’ income subject to Social Security tax, and nearly as many approve of raising taxes on incomes of over $250,000 (66 percent), reducing military commitments overseas (65 percent) and limiting tax deductions for large corporations (62 percent),” the Pew Research Center reported last month.

    “Notably,” Pew found, “Republicans are as likely as Democrats to approve of limiting corporate tax deductions.”

    Still, any kind of tax increases – whether it be a greater tax bite on the wealthy or on corporations seen as “job creators” – is off the table as far as large numbers of Republican House members are concerned.
    Via the Christian Science Monitor
    So, the GOP rejection of the debt deal is neither based in the free market philosophy nor the fundamental belief in entitlement reform. It is also not based on meeting their obligations to their constituents.

    So, what is driving their rather remarkable position?

    It must be jobs and the economy.

    Surely, the Republicans in Congress are convinced that removing tax subsidies to the oil industry and cleaning up the tax code to get rid of corporate welfare that is no longer of any discernable value to the nation will make what is already a very bad jobs situation even worse.

    Except that it turns out that you have to search long and wide to find an economist who supports this notion.
    The other argument that advocates of tax cuts for the rich make is that many small-business owners would be see their taxes go up and thus would be discouraged from hiring workers. The facts do not support this. “Only 3 percent of small-business owners are in the top bracket,” notes Roberton Williams, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center, which is sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. And, he adds, “They are not all what we think of as job-creating small businesses. A lot of them are hedge-fund managers and law-firm partners.” So other than perhaps a few restaurateurs on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the workforce is unlikely to be affected.
    Via Newsweek
    So, while Eric Cantor continues to try and sell his base on this argument, it’s pretty hard to find anyone who knows anything about economics who actually is buying the pitch.

    If it’s not philosophical dogma or fulfilling their obligation to those who elected them and it’s not the economy and/or jobs, what exactly is their problem?

    I don’t know about you, but I can only think of one other explanation – fealty to the wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals who keep your Republican leadership rolling in the campaign cash so they can remain in their powerful jobs.

    Now, if you believe this is a good enough reason to risk the financial stability of the nation – and possibly the world – then it’s all good.

    Personally, I’m a little concerned.

    I fear we are witnessing one of the most perverse and dangerous games our leaders have ever embarked upon. I’m stunned by the sheer audacity of these elected officials so ready to play chicken with the financial lives of so many simply to benefit a very few.

    But what really amazes are the millions of middle class Americans who continue to believe that these officials are somehow acting in their best interest.

    As curious as I am to see what will ultimately come of this game, my curiosity is far more piqued by the possibility that these middle class Americans might finally understand that the Republicans they sent to Congress work for the big corporations and care little for their needs and problems.

    Should that light bulb (incandescent or otherwise) finally turn on, these folks should be assured that nobody is expecting them to run into the waiting arms of the Democratic Party. They can still quietly send their Congressional representatives a message indicating that they would prefer not to be abandoned so that Exxon might keep the government checks flowing in while maintaining their standing as upright, committed conservatives.

    If these folks could – just this once – grasp what is being done in their name and communicate their rejection of the behavior of their leaders, the rest of us would genuinely appreciate it.

    A true conservative should be as disgusted with what the Congressional Republican Caucus is doing as the rest of us and probably a great deal more so.


    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    David Brooks: the voice of sanity

    Here's an excellent column from New York Times columnist David Brooks. If only more Republican politicians thought like Brooks does.

    The Mother of All No-Brainers

    By David Brooks

    Published: July 4, 2011

    The Republicans have changed American politics since they took control of the House of Representatives. They have put spending restraint and debt reduction at the top of the national agenda. They have sparked a discussion on entitlement reform. They have turned a bill to raise the debt limit into an opportunity to put the U.S. on a stable fiscal course.

    Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

    Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.

    If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

    A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

    The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

    This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

    But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

    The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

    The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

    The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

    The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

    But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.

    Over the past week, Democrats have stopped making concessions. They are coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too.

    The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

    If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

    And they will be right.


    Bon appétit

    From "The Delusion of Indispensability" by Christopher Badeaux (links added by Φ):
    The problem is not merely the corruption of power. It is the flip side of the coin — the delusion of indispensability, a delusion brought a politician’s inner circle, by the legions of his fans (brought closer by today’s mass, instant communication streams), and, frankly, every fawning article in the nominally independent press reinforcing that image. A brave man will stand in the face of the worst storm if he perceives he is needed on the battlements. This, I suspect, is why Anthony Weiner continued for as long as he did. . . . 
    As an aside, I suspect this is why President Obama — whose approval rating is trailing, and whose every domestic initiative has either been an expensive failure or an expensively unpopular ratings-killer — is seeking re-election. His fans basically called him the Messiah, and he did nothing to dispel that perception. When he came into office in 2009, he let everyone know that he believed we were essentially in another depression, and when his adoring fans in the press told him he could fix it, you know he cried in his head, Yes we can! His utter failure to accomplish anything is actually totally irrelevant to his self-perception, and that is why he is out now re-enacting Al Gore’s successful 2000 campaign. 
    Is the president's approval rating trailing? Well, according to Gallup, it's at 46%, which is up from a low of 41%, and better than the approval ratings of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the same point of their administrations.

    Usually when Republicans talk about the president's expensive, job-killing domestic initiatives, they're talking about health care reform. According to Politifact, the law is not job-killing, it does not "[crush] small businesses 'with billions in penalties,'" and it is not "the biggest tax increase ever in the history of our country." Politifact rated Paul Ryan's claim that the health care law "is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy" as barely true:
    Almost every expert from every side on the health care law would agree that there's a lot of uncertainty involved in projecting its budget impact. Looking strictly at the CBO's analysis of the budget effect of the health care law, it is a deficit-reducer, both in the short and long term. But Ryan points to several legitimate concerns about the assumptions made by the CBO -- particularly whether reduced Medicare payments are sustainable -- assumptions that even the CBO and Medicare's chief actuary noted may be suspect. The fate of those cuts may largely determine whether the new health care law ends up in the red or black. For now, though, those cuts are law. Congress would have to act to reduce or eliminate them. So Ryan is overplaying his hand when he claims the law is "accelerating our country toward bankruptcy." We rate his claim Barely True.
    Last year, Mike Pence claimed that the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill will kill jobs. Politifact also rated that statement as barely true:
    Ultimately, even the supporters of the bill we spoke to acknowledged that some jobs will likely be lost, or never created, due to passage of Dodd-Frank. However, many of the experts we spoke to agreed that not passing the bill would put even more jobs in the greater economy at risk, not to mention countless nest-eggs, homes and other non-job-related concerns. Would potential job savings offset job costs? Unfortunately, there is no way to know. Still, Pence's comment ignores the principle that preventing financial shocks is job-saving. On balance, we rate the statement Barely True. 
    Badeaux claims that every domestic initiative has been an expensive failure. Just one counterexample is enough to prove that he's wrong.

    Did the president claim that we were in another depression in 2009? Well, in December of 2008, he said of the economic crisis, "as tough as times are right now, they're nothing compared to what my grandparents went through, what the greatest generation went through." He did say that "when you think about the structural problems that we already had in the economy before the financial crisis, this is a big problem and it's going to get worse." Well, what the hell do you expect him to say? Should he have declared the economy is fundamentally sound, as his opponent did? Besides, even if we were not in a depression, it was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It was very very bad. Perhaps Badeaux doens't remember or simply didn't notice.

    Has the president failed to accomplish anything? As the links above show, the president has accomplished much. So Badeaux's ridiculous claim is obviously false.

    What I think happens to people like Badeaux is that they repeat their politically motivated bullshit so frequently, to others and to themselves, that they begin to believe it. They assert it freely in their own echo chambers where it goes unchallenged. It is eventually accepted as the gospel truth as a consequence. Bullshitters have no regard for the truth or falsity of their claims anyway, since the whole point of making claims for them is to achieve this or that goal; the truth or falsity of the claims is irrelevant.

    Sadly, in the case of Badeaux, we have a man who is not only shoveling the bullshit, but is also gobbling it up.

    Bon appétit!

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    It takes one to know one

    This morning, little Moe Lane is as delighted as a school boy that Mark Halperin called President Obama "kind of a dick."

    First of all, it takes one to know one, Moe. And secondly, the president was not being a dick; you're being a dick, Moe.

    Moe Lane's approach to blogging involves a now-familiar combination of assholery and asshattery.

    In "Obama’s class warfare… against Obama’s stimulus program," Lane attributes the following statement to President Obama: "I've said to Republican leaders, 'You go talk to your constituents and ask them, "Are you willing to compromise your kids' safety so some corporate-jet owner can get a tax break?"''' Obama uttered these words during his press conference yesterday. (But in what context? More on that later.) Lane's source,, argued that Obama is engaging in class warfare:
    If President Obama's news conference accomplished anything on Wednesday afternoon, it underscored, in striking tones, his strategy for winning the debt ceiling fight with Republicans: Make it a clash of classes.
    • Rich versus Poor.
    • Us versus Them. 
    • Those who support children, food safety, medical research and, presumably, puppies and apple pie versus the rich fat cats who don't.
    In Obama's world, Democrats are for kids and Republicans are for corporate jets. 
    As a sidenote, I should point out that if Obama is engaging in class warfare, it's not as if he fired the first shot. The class war has been in progress for decades now, and the plutocracy is unfortunately winning. Republicans accuse Democrats of engaging in class warfare in order to get public opinion on their side and thereby manipulate Democrats into laying down their arms. In general, Republican politicians think that sacrifices for the general welfare must be borne by the middle class. Do they really expect us to take this lying down?

    In any event, if you want to know what Democratic and Republican politicians are for, just look at what they want to spend money on.

    Anyway, Lane calls the president "shameless" and "clueless" for making the statement:
    It’s shameless because President Obama has only one rhetorical trick, and that’s to demonize everybody who disagrees with whatever faux-Hegelian position he’s ended up taking on any given day.  It’s particularly clueless because what the President apparently doesn’t know is that the latest iteration of the tax break in question was put into place as part of Barack Obama’s own 2009 “stimulus.”
    First of all, I actually read most of Hegel's The Phenomenlogy of Spirit, and I have no idea what Lane is talking about. What is a "faux-Hegelian position"? That sounds like pseudo-intellectual bullshit to me. Secondly, how does Lane express factual disagreements without demonizing the people with whom he disagrees? What advice would he give the president? Is Obama being too "uppity" for his taste? Republicans want to cut government programs and hand out tax breaks to wealthy people. That's a fact. Lane needs to learn the difference between challenging Republican positions and demonizing Republicans.

    Lane accuses the president of hypocrisy. He cites a Fox News story from February 2009 as his source, though I quote it at greater length than he:
    Just a few months after lawmakers scolded auto executives for flying to Washington in private jets, Congress approved a tax break in the stimulus package to help businesses buy their own planes.

    The incentive -- first used to help plane makers recover from the 2001 terror attacks -- sharply reduces the up front tax bill for companies who buy assets like business planes.

    The aviation industry, which is cutting jobs as it suffers from declining shipments and canceled orders, hopes the tax break in the economic-stimulus bill just signed by President Barack Obama will persuade more companies to buy planes and snap a slump in general aviation that began last year.

    "This is exactly the type of financial incentive that should be included in a stimulus bill," said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., in an interview. His state lost at least 6,900 jobs at Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft, both based in Wichita. 
    So, according to Lane, the president is a hypocrite for supporting tax breaks for businesses that buy aircraft in 2009 and condemning similar tax breaks in 2011.

    Has Lane been living under a rock for the past two years? Though many Americans are still hurting badly, the recession is over, and the domestic political focus has shifted from stimulus spending to cutting the deficit. Lane assumes that the present political and economic climate is more or less the same as it was over two years ago. That's just stupid.

    Further, Lane seems to assume that if a person supports a tax break at one time, that person must support that tax break at every time or else be a hypocrite. That's also just stupid. The fact that a tax break is appropriate at one time doesn't show that it's appropriate at every time.

    For whatever reason, Lane is reasoning like a child or someone who is brain-damaged, not because he himself is a child or brain-damaged, but because it serves his political purposes to simplify this debate.

    Lane points out that Republicans did not support the stimulus bill that contained tax breaks for aircraft purchases. So it seems odd to him that the president is scolding Republicans for supporting tax breaks for businesses now. But Republican politicians were against the stimulus then (even though one third of it was in the form of tax cuts) and in favor of tax cuts now because their default position is to be against whatever that black guy in the White House advocates.

    Before I finish, I should provide you with the context of the quotation from the president's press conference that Lane is moaning about:
    So the question is, if everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we’re not willing to come to the table and get a deal done. Or, we’re so concerned about protecting oil and gas subsidies for oil companies that are making money hand over fist — that’s the reason we’re not going to come to a deal.

    I don’t think that’s a sustainable position. And the truth of the matter is, if you talk to Republicans who are not currently in office, like Alan Simpson who co-chaired my bipartisan commission, he doesn’t think that’s a sustainable position.  Pete Domenici, Republican, co-chaired something with Alice Rivlin, the Democrat, says that’s — he doesn’t think that’s a sustainable position. You can’t reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix.

    And the revenue we’re talking about isn’t coming out of the pockets of middle-class families that are struggling. It’s coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well and are enjoying the lowest tax rates since before I was born.

    If you are a wealthy CEO or a . . . hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s. And you can afford it.  You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet; you’re just going to have to pay a little more.

    And if we — I just want to emphasize what I said earlier. If we do not have revenues, that means there are a bunch of kids out there who are not getting college scholarships. If we do not have those revenues, then the kinds of cuts that would be required might compromise the National Weather Service. It means that we would not be funding critical medical research. It means that food inspection might be compromised. And I’ve said to some of the Republican leaders, you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break. And I’m pretty sure what the answer would be.
    Look, I'm not in love with this president. He hasn't been as liberal as I would have liked. But Lane is just being a dick. If you read the quotation in context, the president's position on deficit reduction is actually quite moderate: cut government spending, but tax those who are doing extremely well in this economy so that we don't need to cut programs that huge numbers of Americans rely on. The position is obviously more moderate than the Republican position, which appears to be to address the deficit merely by crippling and eliminating whole government programs.

    Moe, stop being a dick.

    Republicans sense that they now have an opportunity to turn back the clock to pre-New Deal America, and they're attempting to seize it. I think that they're actually making a huge mistake. Even Paul Ryan acknowledges that failing to raise the debt ceiling will result in cuts to "vital programs."  And consider the following diagram:

    Everyone knows someone who has benefited from at least one of these programs. I've benefited from three of them. But as the diagram shows, many people don't know that they have benefited from government social programs. One way to inform them of that fact is to start hacking away at their budgets. Do Republican politicians really believe that their party won't pay dearly one day for the kinds of cuts they want to make? Have they forgotten those Tea Partiers who urged them not to touch their Medicare? While their ability to alter our perceptions of reality with political spin is impressive, it is not unlimited.

    Update. Here's Andrew Sullivan's reaction to Halperin's (and Lane's) claim that the president was being a dick:
    In the negotiations with the Republicans, Obama and the Dems have offered a couple of trillion in cuts. The Republicans have refused even to discuss increasing tax revenues in return. For the president to react with understated anger strikes me as perfectly natural and overdue. 

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Here's a non-sexist method of giving children hyphenated last names. (You can thank me later.)

    My wife and I are having a baby.

    The little critter is due on New Year's Eve.

    The problem is naming her or him. My wife and I have different surnames. She didn't take my name when we tied the knot, because we both believe that that practice is patriarchal and sexist.

    Now, I'm not making the ridiculous claim that people who engage in that practice are patriarchal and sexist. All I'm condemning is the practice itself. Think about it: why should the woman take the name of the man? What is it about having a vagina that explains or justifies this? I haven't a clue myself.

    Anyway, my wife asked for advice on some forum for expecting ladies, and not a single person saw anything wrong with the traditional practice. Many of them justified the practice simply by saying that it's traditional, as if that alone would justify it. (It doesn't.)

    So this got me thinking. Couples in our position sometimes give their children hyphenated names. But if everyone gave their children hyphenated names, the practice would become impractical. What if John Adams-Bennett and Jane Collins-Davis had a child? What would they call it? Jeff Adams-Bennett-Collins-Davis? And what if Jeff grew up and fell in love with Jennifer Eaton-Fitzgerald-Gardner-Howard and had a child with her? What name would they give it? Seriously? (What's the deal with the names? Did whitey hijack this blog or what?)

    Before I became a father-to-be, I never gave this much thought. I simply concluded that this is a difficult problem. But finding a solution to this problem isn't really that difficult, and I've got one. Here it is.

    First, some definitions: 
    • A male name is the non-hyphenated name of a father.
    • A female name is the non-hyphenated name of a mother.
    Where the parents have non-hyphenated names,
    • the hyphenated name of a son consists in the male name followed by the female name, and
    • the hyphenated name of a daughter consists in the female name followed by the male name.
    Where the parents have hyphenated names,
    • the hyphenated name of a son consists in the male name of the father followed by the female name of the mother, and
    • the hyphenated name of a daughter consists in the female name of the father followed by the male name of the mother.
    Therefore, in the now usual case where grandparents have non-hyphenated names, a son takes the name of the paternal grandfather followed by the maternal grandmother, and a daughter takes the name of the paternal grandmother followed by the maternal grandfather. 

    Consider the following diagram:

    I weirdly chose the names of letters of the Greek alphabet to represent surnames. Names in blue are male names; names in red are female names. Boxes indicate gender: names in blue boxes refer to male children; names in red boxes refer to female children. In the diagram, Abel Alpha and Bella Beta have a son whose name is, say, Alan Alpha-Beta. (Since the child is male, the name of the father is first.) George Gamma and Daisy Delta have a daughter whose name is Dakota Delta-Gamma. (Since the child is female, the name of the mother is first.) Alan and Dakota meet, fall in love, enjoy a very special night together, and have twins nine months later. The male twin is named Alec Alpha-Delta. (Alec is given the male name of his father and the female name of his mother. Since Alec is a boy, the male name is first.) The female twin is named Bethany Beta-Gamma. (Bethany is given the female name of her father and the male name of her mother. Since Bethany is a girl, the female name is first.)

    This system might strike you as being (1) complicated and (2) weird. Compared to the traditional system of naming, it is both. It also has the disadvantage of requiring that people keep track of which names are female and which male. (If they're in the proper order, this shouldn't be a serious problem.) But it has several obvious advantages. It is significantly less sexist and patriarchal than the traditional system. I say "significantly" since it appears that the father's surnames always come first, and that might seem sexist to some people. (If we remove the requirement that female names for daughters come first, or that male names for sons come first, the problem disappears. But that requirement guarantees that female names come first at least half the time, roughly, and this requirement was itself motivated by an egalitarian impulse.) But even they could not deny that this is an improvement. Female surnames would be passed down, and anyone who bears a child would give at least part of her hyphenated name to her child. The practice of combining names would also become expected of men and not just women.

    So, as long as you know your mother's maiden name and your partner knows his, you can put this system in practice the next time you bring a child into the world. So, why not?

    The only problem my wife and I have with this system is this: if our child gets a hyphenated name, it could get ugly, and the father's male name is the problem. I guess we should hope for a girl!

    (Alternatively, we could adopt the practice of giving male children the father's surname and female children the mother's surname. But that would be simpler than the method I've described and therefore not as interesting!)

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Why the Weather Channel's TOR:CON index is humbug

    I live in the Central Time Zone of the United States where severe weather is relatively common. I have a NOAA weather radio because I do not want to be killed in my bed at night by a tornado. I am also an anxious person. Lately, the focus of my anxiety has been the weather. So I am part of the Weather Channel's key demographic: Persons Who Are Easily Terrified.

    Today, there is a chance of severe thunderstorms from Northern Minnesota to Nebraska to Northern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Damaging winds, hail, and isolated tornadoes are the "primary risks" for persons living in this large portion of the lower 48. This no mere chance of severe weather: the Weather Channel describes it as a "Weekend Storm Threat." Chances of severe weather are often described as threats in order to make the consumer of Weather Channel products feel more threatened. Those feeling threatened are more likely to compulsively consume Weather Channel products so as to "track" and "stay on top of" any severe weather that may or may not develop.

    One Weather Channel product designed for this purpose, I believe, is the TOR:CON, or the tornado condition index. According to the Weather Channel,
    The TOR:CON values range from 0 to 10. A value of 4 means that there is about a 40% chance of a tornado within 50 miles of a location in the specified area of severe thunderstorm activity. This also means that there is a 60% chance that a tornado will NOT occur.
    I have a habit of freaking out when the TOR:CON values for my area are high. But I've thought about it, and I believe that I have no good reason to, even when the TOR:CON value for my area is a whopping 10, or a 100% chance of a tornado within 50 miles of my location.

    A TOR:CON value is really the probability that there will be a tornado within a circular area with a radius of 50 miles. The area of a circle is π multiplied by the radius squared. So such a circular area measures approximately 7,854 square miles. Now, consider a worst-case scenario: a mile-wide EF-5 tornado traversing this circular area through its center and thus on the ground for a hundred miles. The area flattened by this tornado would therefore measure 100 square miles. If we divide 100 by 7,854, we obtain .0127. Therefore, if we assume that the TOR:CON for the area in question is 10, there is a 1.27% chance that a person in the area in question will be in the path of such a tornado. Is this something that a rational person should worry about? I don't think so.

    Now, if you tell someone, even someone like me, that there is a 1.27% chance that I will be in the path of a tornado, that person will not respond with the trepidation required to keep him or her glued to The Weather Channel for the very latest updates on a very dangerous severe weather threat that could destroy everything in its path. Why, it could happen tomorrow, you know!

    I am neither a mathematician nor a meteorologist. My analysis is admittedly overly simplistic. So, for example, perhaps my line of reasoning erroneously assumes that if there is a tornado in the area in question, there will be only one. But we all know that tornadoes often occur in bunches. What I think my reasoning accurately shows, however, is that the TOR:CON is inherently and deceptively alarmist. In order to get sufficiently worrisome TOR:CON values, one must increase the size of the area in question from, say, the square mile in which my house is located to a 50 square mile area with my house at its center. I think people like me (i.e., mathematically unsophisticated and unusually anxious) make a fallacious inference: for example, we infer from the fact that the TOR:CON value is five that the chance that a tornado will affect our neighborhoods is somewhere around 50 percent. And it obviously isn't.

    This is only one of the reasons why I hate The Weather Channel.

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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