Sunday, June 23, 2013

Maddow blogger shovels it

I really like Rachel Maddow. But even her bloggers can shovel it once in a while. Here's an example.

Steve Benen criticizes Republicans for complaining about the length of some pieces of legislation. You might remember when the Affordable Care Act was going through Congress and Republicans were complaining that the bill was so long that no one really knew what was in it. And you might remember a picture I borrowed and published of that zany congressman from Iowa, Steve King, carrying a copy of it on his shoulder.

Benen writes, "When opponents of a bill are reduced to talking about the literal, physical size of the legislation, they've completely given up on the pretense that public policy matters. If opponents of immigration reform want to debate the merits of the proposal, great. But focusing on pages and pounds is the absolute worst form of debate."

Benen makes some good points. He says that we live in a complex world, so legislation will also be complex, and it is the job of those in Congress to read, understand, and evaluate it. In addition, the format of legislation makes it look significantly longer than it actually is. "For example, if the immigration bill is about 1,075 pages, in terms of the number of words, it's about half the length of Sarah Palin's first book," writes Benen.

Benen goes wrong, however, in his penultimate paragraph. He writes, "So why does this talk persist? I think it speaks to the post-policy anti-intellectualism that too often plays a role in conservative commentary. Big bills must be bad bills because they're, you know, big."

That, I think, is unfair. The greater the length and complexity of a bill, the more time is needed to read, understand, and evaluate it. Now, Republican complaints about the Affordable Care Act were pure bullshit. They had plenty of time to study that bill. But I can imagine cases in which the length and complexity of a bill could be a legitimate concern, and certainly there have been actual cases in which it has been. The USA PATRIOT Act, for example, became law a mere one and a half months after 9/11, and it's 132 pages, single-spaced. Could our elected officials think clearly about that bill, while Attorney General John Ashcroft is warning them "that further terrorist acts were imminent, and that Congress could be to blame for such attacks if it failed to pass the bill immediately"? I doubt it.

But Benen seems to think that there are no good reasons for concern over the length of a bill. Well, I think he's shoveling it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

McConnell is whining

Here's something from Media Matters that I found especially interesting.

(Now before I start, I should say that I am well aware that Media Matters has its critics. Some people think that Media Matters should not have tax-exempt status. That has no relevance to the accuracy of its reporting, however. Since Media Matters targets only the conservative media, others consider them biased and therefore don't respect their research. But the fact that Media Matters targets only conservative media does not show that their research isn't worthy of respect. This blog focuses on the conservative media, but I have what I take to be very good criticisms of my targets and they must be judged on their own merits.)

Oliver Willis quotes Sen. Mitch McConnell's speech at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday as follows:
Last June I stood here and warned of a grave and growing threat to the First Amendment. That threat has not let up at all. Our ability to freely engage in civic life and organize in defense of our beliefs is still under coordinated assault from groups on the left that don't like the idea of anyone criticizing their aims. And from a White House that appears determined to shut up anybody who disagrees with it. Now on the outside there is a well-documented effort by a number of left wing groups like Media Matters to harass and to intimidate conservatives with the goal of scaring them off the political playing field and off the airwaves as well. An internal Media Matters memo from January 2010 showed the extent to which these tactics have been turned, literally, into a science. In it, we learned of the group's plan to conduct opposition research into the lives of on-air news personalities and other key decision makers over at Fox News. And to coordinate with 100 or so partner groups to pressure the network's advertisers and shareholders to, get this, by the threat of actual boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, shame, embarrassment and other tactics on a variety of issues important to the progressive agenda.
Willis writes that, in response to McConnell, Media Matters president Bradley Beychok said, "Mitch McConnell seems to be implying there is something underhanded or sinister about what Media Matters does. That is not the case. We monitor and correct conservative misinformation in the media." I have been reading Media Matters long enough to know that Beychok's assertion is generally true. And that, by the way, is good enough: absolute perfection in the pursuit of one's goal is too much to ask.

Let's think carefully about what McConnell said, granting, at least for the sake of argument, that Media Matters' mission is exactly what Beychok says it is.

McConnell complains that organizations like Media Matters are trying to "harass and intimidate conservatives" with the intention of "scaring them off the political playing field." How are they doing this? By using "boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, shame, [and] embarrassment" to apply pressure to Fox News advertisers and shareholders. Why? Because they disapprove of criticism of their liberal agenda. At stake is the freedom of conservatives to "engage in civic life and organize in defense of [their] beliefs."

Now, think about that, and ask yourself, what really is wrong with any of this? I know for a fact that there is much misinformation in the conservative media. Correcting it does not necessarily imply or require a political agenda. None of my criticisms of Lori Ziganto's anti-abortion posts, for example, took issue with her position; rather, I criticized her bad arguments and misinformation in support of her position. But suppose that Media Matters has a political agenda. Again, what is wrong with this? Fox News has a political agenda. Mitch McConnell has a political agenda. Shouldn't conservatives disapprove of criticism of their agenda? Why wouldn't they? Would there be anything wrong with conservatives using boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, and so on, to apply pressure to, say, MSNBC advertisers and shareholders? No. No activity McConnell mentions is against the law. And freedom of speech does not protect anyone from having to confront those who disagree with them. Rather, the "grave and growing threat to the First Amendment" is represented by those like McConnell who believe that they have a right not to be challenged in the marketplace of ideas. Seriously, who is a bigger threat to the First Amendment: those who protest against Fox News, or those who have a problem with such protests? And McConnell's claim that conservatives' freedoms are endangered is ludicrous. Conservatives have all the freedoms everyone else has. But conservatives also have to face the consequences of exercising those freedoms, just like everyone else. If you want to broadcast the crazy shit one is apt to find on Fox News, people are going to get upset. And by the way, isn't that what you're counting on? You want your own people to get upset so that they'll write those checks, right?

What's really going on here is that McConnell is whining. Never have I heard as much whining and moaning from Republicans as I've heard since Obama was elected in 2008. They complain about NPR because NPR refuses to lean to the right and consequently they want to defund the CPB. (You might think that NPR has a liberal bias. I listen to NPR every day, and I can tell you that you are wrong.) Broadcasting should be privately funded, they surely believe, especially tea party types. Well, if Fox News has to compete in the marketplace with everyone else, then they will have to put up with consumers, some of whom are well organized, who don't like them.

Now, you might say that my reasoning is good, but the assumption that I began with is false: Media Matters' mission is not what Beychok says it is, but is in fact some other sinister thing. My challenge to you is this: show me that you're right. Show me your evidence. Make a case for your point of view. I am open-minded enough to consider good arguments, and I have in the past gone where the evidence has taken me and changed my mind. (Once, I thought that the death penalty is morally justified. How wrong I was about that!)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Here's what shuffle play spat out at me

So a friend of mine published an iTunes shuffle play playlist on Facebook the other day. I told him that I couldn't publish a similar list because I have too many guilty pleasures on my iPod. He said that if I like a song, I have no reason to feel guilty about it. He may be right. So I thought about publishing a shuffle play playlist here, and here it is.

It's not very interesting. I like progressive rock, alternative or college rock, and classic rock most. And that's what's on the list. And no guilty pleasures, so publishing this was easy.
  1. Oceansize, "Remember Where You Are," Effloresce
  2. Simon & Garfunkel, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," Wednesday Morning, 3am
  3. Astra, "Quake Meat," The Black Chord
  4. Coldplay, "Viva La Vida," Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
  5. Mr. Bungle, "Retrovertigo," California
  6. Death Cab for Cutie, "Company Calls," We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes
  7. Moby, "Inside," Play
  8. The Left Banke, "Lazy Day," There's Gonna Be a Storm
  9. Bjork, "Isobel," Post
  10. Foo Fighters, "Everlong," The Colour and the Shape
  11. Pink Floyd, "Sysyphus: Part Three," Ummagumma
  12. Tom Petty, "Time to Move On," Wildflowers
  13. A Perfect Circle, "Lullaby," Thirteenth Step
  14. The Chameleons UK, "John, I'm Only Dancing," Strange Times
  15. Ultra Vivid Scene, "Medicating Angels," Rev
  16. Electric Light Orchestra, "Everyone's Born to Die," On the Third Day
  17. Daniel Amos, "It's Sick," Vox Humana
  18. Sonic Youth, "Shadow of a Doubt," Evol
  19. Frank Zappa, "The Man from Utopia Meets Mary Lou," The Man from Utopia
  20. De La Soul, "Eye Know," 3 Feet High and Rising
  21. The Wolfgang Press, "Question of Time," Queer
  22. Dead Kennedys, "I Am the Owl," Plastic Surgery Disasters
  23. Rush, "Limelight," Different Stages
  24. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, "Heart In Your Heartbreak," Belong
  25. Stan Ridgway, "Drive She Said," The Big Heat
  26. Thinking Fellers Union Local 242, "Cup of Dreams," Strangers from the Universe
  27. Andy Partridge, "The Tiny Circus of Life," Fuzzy Warbles Vol. 6
  28. Peter Schilling, "Fast Alles Konstruiert," Fehler Im System
  29. Interpol, "Wrecking Ball," Our Love to Admire
  30. Killing Joke, "Wintergardens," Brighter than a Thousand Suns
  31. Todd Rundgren, "Word Made Flesh 1.0," No World Order
  32. This Moral Coil, "Loose Joints," Blood
  33. Fleetwood Mac, "Hypnotized," Mystery to Me
  34. Mew, "Reprise," No More Stories Are Told Today...
  35. Electric Light Orchestra, "Letter from Spain," Secret Messages
  36. Ben Folds Five, "Steven's Last Night In Town," Whatever And Ever Amen
  37. Thomas Dolby, "Dissidents," The Flat Earth
  38. The Futureheads, "Skip to the End," News and Tributes
  39. The Cure, "Bananafishbones," The Top
  40. Elbow, "The Fix," The Seldom Seen Kid
  41. The Smiths, "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side," The Queen is Dead
  42. Chevelle, "Closure," Wonder What's Next
  43. The Cure, "I'm Cold," Join the Dots
  44. Ride, "Here and Now," Nowhere
  45. Big Country, "Wonderland," The Crossing
  46. The JV Allstars, "Today's Going to Be a Long Tomorrow," Take Me Back to Spectre
  47. Sigur Ros, "Avalon," Agaetis Byrjun
  48. Cheap Trick, "Oh, Candy," Cheap Trick
  49. The Cure, "Jumping Someone Else's Train," Boys Don't Cry
  50. The Cure, "The Baby Screams," The Head on the Door

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Fine Art of Bullshitting 5: Please do not be mesmerized by this woman.

I am immediately skeptical of anything I hear or read that comes from a conservative news source. Why? Allow me to present an example.

I saw a link to this on my Facebook news feed. (By the way, I'm not sure why so many of the suggested posts I see in my news feed are for conservative Facebook pages. Zuckerberg knows me better than that. He must be trying to sell me something.) According to the author, Kristin Tate,
It must get exhausting constantly dancing around the numerous scandals currently engulfing the White House. President Obama needs a vacation!  
The president and his family are taking a vaca to Africa later this month. It’ll only cost us taxpayers $60 to $100 million — gotta love how frugal those Obamas are!  
Most of that taxpayer money for the trip will go to security for the President and his family. Hundreds of US Secret Service agents will be joining the family in Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania during their extended trip. A Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, fully staffed with a medical trauma center, will also be stationed off shore. Ya know, just in case of an emergency!  
Also on the receipt: military cargo planes, lifting 56 support vehicles into the air. This includes 14 limousines (gotta travel in style!) and trucks fully packed with sheets of bullet proof glass, to cover windows of the first family’s hotels.  
Fighter jets will be flying in shifts giving the family 24-hour security. From airspace, they will be able to intervene if a threatening plane gets too close. 
Where did Tate get all of this information? Tate writes,
The Washington Post obtained a confidential internal planning document, that outlines the incredible security provisions. 
Really? So I did a few simple searches at Google and The Washington Post and found the story here. Could Tate have failed to mention any pertinent information, I wonder? Why, yes, I believe she did! According to the Washington Post,
The elaborate security provisions — which will cost the government tens of millions of dollars — are outlined in a confidential internal planning document obtained by The Washington Post. While the preparations appear to be in line with similar travels in the past, the document offers an unusual glimpse into the colossal efforts to protect the U.S. commander in chief on trips abroad.
So the measures are like those taken to protect previous presidents. Go on.
The first family is making back-to-back stops from June 26 to July 3 in three countries where U.S. officials are providing nearly all the resources, rather than depending heavily on local police forces, military authorities or hospitals for assistance.
Really? And why wouldn't they depend on the locals for the necessary resources?
“Even in the most developed places of Western Europe, the level of support you need for mass movements by the president is really extraordinary,” said Steve Atkiss, who coordinated travel as special assistant for operations to Bush. “As you go farther afield, to less-developed places, certainly it’s more of a logistical challenge.”
Because the locals are not able to provide them. I see. How could the need to vacation justify this great expense, though?
White House officials said the trip was long overdue, marking Obama’s first visit as president to sub-Saharan Africa aside from a 22-hour stopover in Ghana in 2009. The emerging democracies on the itinerary are crucial partners in regional security conflicts, Rhodes said.  
Obama will hold bilateral meetings with each country’s leader and seek to forge stronger economic ties at a time when China is investing heavily in Africa. He also will highlight global health programs, including HIV/AIDS prevention.  
The first lady, who toured South Africa and Botswana without the president in 2011, will headline some events on her own during the week. The stops will add to the logistical challenges, because she will require her own security detail and vehicles, the planning document shows.
So the first family is not going on vacation? They're actually working during this trip? But Kristin Tate told me that it was a vacation! You mean I can't believe everything Kristin Tate tells me?

Still, what about that safari the first family had planned during this trip? That doesn't sound like work to me!
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also made trips to multiple African nations involving similarly laborious preparations. Bush went in 2003 and 2008, bringing his wife on both occasions. Bush’s two daughters went along on the first trip, which included a safari at a game preserve on the Botswana-South Africa border.
You mean W. and the family went on a safari in Africa, just like the Obamas had originally planned? Well, good for them, I suppose.

So, here's what we have. The first family is not going on a vacation. Rather, in an effort to promote the United States' security and economic interests, the first family is going on a diplomatic mission to Africa. Since the host countries cannot themselves provide the resources needed for the trip, the president will bring them with him, and this contributes to the trip's relatively high price tag.

Discovering the true story was easy. All it took was a few searches and some light reading. Yet I'm confident that the fine folks who commented on the story couldn't be bothered to do the slightest bit of research, as the following sampling shows:
Janice Simpson
It would be worth it if they only receive one-way tickets, then lock and bar the doors! 
Kim Triesler · Madison, Alabama
Sounds like they're life style is "Let 'em eat cake!" while the economy is on the skids, unemployment is still way too high (I should know, I'm in that rut myself and it sucks!), and yet they go out and about like they haven't a care in the world. 
Dan A. Zembsch · Washington High School, Cherokee, IA
Come on folks he just wants to take his family to his native country. Maybe he wants to show them where he was born and where the next presidential library will be. 
Eric Kessen · North texas horseshoeing institute
I find it totally disgusting the way they are abusing their positions to get free stuff ! This shouldn't be allowed period ! Besides ; why all that security when all they got to do is go native since they would blend in so well with the locals and according to him guns don't keep us safe ? Lol . 
Walter Sterling · Account Executive at Country Legends Radio
Can't he just stay with his brother in his shack or his family hut that he grew up in? 
Jack Eaton ·  Top Commenter · Truck Driver at Old Dominion Freight Line
Let him go visit his homeland on his own money. He has swindled enough out of us already.
The problem for conservative news sources, however, is that even independents will eventually learn that they are being deceived by the bullshitters, and will no longer trust them. That's one reason why conservatives aren't doing so well in elections for national political office. More and more, the only people who believe what conservative bullshitters tell them are conservative voters, i.e., the people who were going to vote for Republicans anyway. They can thank motivated skepticism for that, along with a bit of racism, I think. (Our former, whiter presidents stayed in hotels and traveled in limousines. This uppity one should stay in a shack and take taxis, I suppose.)

Kristin Tate's most conspicuous redeeming quality is that she would be conventionally regarded as incredibly hot:

(At first, I thought, "This picture is part of an ad for a dating website, right?") So, good for you, Kristin! Now instead of trying to keep conservatives' "partisan donors in a constant state of agitation to keep them ignorant, jumpy and writing checks," why not put your writing skills to good use and stick with the facts?

Gentleman: please do not be mesmerized by this woman. She is part of the conservative media's strategy of shutting your brain down while they shovel the bullshit. Not everything that is beautiful is good and trustworthy. Believe me, I know this from experience.

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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