Friday, October 31, 2008

Joe the Plumber the Idiotic Fucktard

I might be the last person to post this video, but a blogger has certain responsibilities. Kudos to Shep Smith of FOXNews for standing up to the bias of his fake news network and calling this unhinged bullshit for what it is.

Here are key portions of the transcript of this exchange:

A McCain supporter asked if "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel." [Joe the plumber] hardly batted an eye.

"I'll go ahead and agree with you on that," Wurzelbacher said. ...

Later Tuesday afternoon, Shepard Smith pressed Wurzelbacher on his comments, reminding the woefully misinformed McCain backer that Obama has consistently voiced support for Israel. Pressed several times to explain how he could agree with the conclusion that Obama would lead to the death of the Jewish state, Wurzelbacher was unable to come up with any good reasons aside from Obama's position in favor of negotiating with rogue regimes such as Iran.

"You don't want my opinion on foreign policy," Wurzelbacher said. "I know just enough to kind of be dangerous."

Smith seemed to agree with that assessment, implying that the only source for Wurzelbacher and the supporter's concern was "hateful things spread on the Internet." The host clearly worried that Wurzelbacher's endorsement of such a view might inspire violence against the candidate.

Why, Smith asked, would Wurzelbacher believe Obama was lying when he spoke of the importance of Israel's relationship with the United States.

Wurzelbacher was flummoxed. All he could offer was an appeal for people to "go out and find their own reasons ... go out and get informed." [emphasis mine]
Indeed Joe the plumber knows just enough to be dangerous: he knows that repeating lies is the best hope for McCain-Palin. He's pretty far past flummoxed.

"Socialist" Rhetoric and Its Uses

As is often the case, Matt Yglesias has an interesting point, this time about the gaming and positioning that's sure to ensue if Obama wins next Tuesday*:

Presumably, come January and February conservatives are going to be wanting to argue that Obama’s got no mandate, that Republican legislators have no need to fear him, and that Democratic legislators should live in terror of overreaching. To that end, it’ll be helpful to argue that Obama got elected as a tepid centrist. But in their last-ditch efforts to beat him, they’re doing the reverse, and dramatically overpainting Obama as a wild-eyed radical ready to unleash Marxism on the country. Well, if you spend a month or two running around saying that, and then the voters back the Marxist anyway, he’s got pretty much carte blanche to do what he wants if he wins.
Before the wails of "socialism" and "spreading the wealth" began in earnest, it was routine for the McCain campaign and its flacks to characterize Obama as "the most liberal" Senator.

Obama is not an extraordinarily liberal Senator, and he certainly isn't a socialist, but there is use to be made of these characterizations. In contrast to far too many Democrats, Obama does, fortunately, strike me as someone who understands how to seize political opportunities when they're presented, and moreover as someone who knows how to negotiate.** If he does win***, I hope he works hard to deliver.

* Polls schmolls! Obama's election is still very much an if -- do vote!!!

** Note to Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski: do you negotiate big purchases in the way you negotiate political deals? If so, I want to sell you a car, or some furniture, or a computer, or something. Call me.

*** Again! He has not won yet! -- do vote!!! McCain supporters are welcome to skip the fuss and take Tuesday as a day of reflection -- quiet, non-voting, reflection. Hang out with the kids. Do some yard work. Watch some re-runs of 24. Take a day trip to someplace nice.

Ocean Life Eye Candy

Ocean life is awesome.

Galapagos from Darek Sepiolo on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One Point Does Not Make a Line

CNN's Rick Sanchez took a chunk out of McCain-Palin flack Michael Goldfarb today. It seems even mainstream journalist types have started growing tired of the bullshit.

Embedded(?) CNN video:

The same sequence from youtube:

October Regret-Off: Stereolab v. Running

This is one of the images posted at Earth Patrol of the Stereolab show held here in sunny Portland on October 18. I didn't go because I had that silly half-marathon early the next morning, even knowing I'd regret not seeing both Stereolab and Monade. And it's true! I do regret not going -- just as I would have regretted skipping the Run Like Hell if my mood had swung the other way.

The truth is, I'm pretty conflicted about seeing live shows of my favorite musical acts. Live shows have been both the peaks and the troughs of my musical experiences, with more troughs than peaks. Consider that the first concert I ever attended was a Ratt show -- yes, Ratt. So you can see that I got off to a very doubtful beginning.

Pumpkins in Fall

A big field of pumpkins on Sauvie Island.

Another failed effort to take an ugly photograph of pumpkins.

A view of Sauvie Island overlooking a corn field; each of these corn stalks stands eight or nine feet tall, so it makes for an excellent maze. I tried to get the kids to be afraid of the Minotaur lurking in the maze, but they weren't buying it.

Turek v. Hitchens

Does god exist? Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek debate the question in this video.

As of this writing I haven't watched the entire thing, but I do note that the moderator deployed one of my favorite pet peeves when he described Hitchens as the author of "more than ten" books. That's "more than ten" as in, say, eleven? Twelve? One hundred and twelve? Three thousand two hundred and sixteen? It seems a small thing to ask that a definite count be given for something so countable. On the other hand, if the exact number of books that Christopher Hitchens has written is an unimportant detail -- I am willing to entertain this possibility -- why give a number at all? Why not just say he is the author of "many" or "lots" or "quite a few" or "several" or "buttloads" of books? Sheesh.

Turek vs. Hitchens Debate: Does God Exist? from Andrew on Vimeo.


Unlikely Hope

Andrew Sullivan's take on the 'Yes We Can' video:

The video that changed an election campaign. It's a video that still affects me. Mock it all you want. Mock me all you want. There is a reason this ad resonated. It has to do with eight long years of shame and drift and failure. It's a statement that Bush and Cheney are not who we are. They are not the America that has existed and will one day be regained. The stain of these dark years - years of torture and intolerance and fear and raw power - can be erased.

I have little to add to Sullivan's remarks beyond pointing out that I still have no idea who most of these people making cameo appearances are (full list here). I recognize Obama, of course; and I recognize Scarlet Johansson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and John Legend. The guy in the pork pie hat,, is supposedly famous, but his appearance on the Bill Maher show a few weeks back was, to put it politely, listless.

My snarks aside, yes we can. In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Please vote!

An Authentic Maverick Gives Investment Advice

I've previously noted the dubiousness of labeling oneself a maverick, but one sure way to make yourself one is to buy a sports franchise already called the Dallas Mavericks. Thus did Mark Cuban become an authentic maverick, and being an internet gazillionaire, it's no surprise he has a blog.

I'm not prepared to vouch for the blog as a whole, but I will say that his recent post "where to put your money right now" makes a great deal of sense. It's well worth a read, but here's a very brief executive summary: do what's necessary to pay off your credit cards, then cut them up and cancel them. Thereafter, use the junk mail solicitations for new credit cards as a free source of heating fuel.

Yes. Do that. I know, I know -- easier said than done. But it strikes me as the kind of very sound advice that we don't hear often enough.

(via Ian)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Of Fluoride's Hazards

A commenter with the colorfully perverse screen name of "Affordable Teeth Whitening" brought forth this tantalizing objection to an earlier post of mine:

"Fluoride in water improves the health of teeth, and has no negative side-effects. Therefore, we should fluoridize the water." I dont support this at all fluoride is a poison that accumulates in our bones and has been associated with cancer more than a few times! it is a is a corrosive poison that will produce serious effects on a long range basis.
So now way does it have "no negative side-effects."
Oh no, Affordable Teeth Whitening, you won't be sucking me into that. There was a time in my life when I devoted considerable time and effort evaluating the various claims and counterclaims about water fluoridation; when I read widely and in depth on the topic; when I consulted dentists, activists, men on the street, various forms of divination, the wisdom of the fathers. At the end of that long process, I came away firmly convinced of one thing, and I remain convinced of it to this day: I don't give a shit about water fluoridation.

Blue States & Red States

This has probably been forwarded around the internets a few trillion times by now, but in case you've managed to avoid it, your luck has ended. Actually I quite enjoy it, and it adds to the debunking of McCain-Palin's "spread the wealth" nonsense.

Dear Red States,

We've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon , Washington, Minnesota , Wisconsin, Michigan , Illinois and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New California.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss. We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama . We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the country's fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation's fresh fruit, 95 percent of America's quality wines (you can serve French wines at state dinners) 90 percent of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy Leagues and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford , Cal Tech and MIT. With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percent of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 62 percent of those in the Red states believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the death penalty or gun laws and 53 percent believe that Saddam was involved in 9/11.

Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they grow in Mexico.

Peace out,

Blue States
It is, of course, tongue in cheek. It's not as though I actually belong to a separatist organization or have a spouse in one.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Call It a Metaphor

This is a brief video in which John McCain chucks the log of Sarah Palin into the pond of the 2008 presidential campaign. Or something like that.

Spreading the Wealth In Fact (Not in Rhetoric)

As if to establish the point that "spreading the wealth" is a matter of measurable, empirical fact and not just a sloppy political jape, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation has compiled a list showing federal spending in each state per dollar paid in federal taxes.

Shock! The top beneficiaries of actual "spreading of the wealth" -- the states that have received back more from the federal government than they've paid in taxes -- are predominantly red. The top ten:

New Mexico $2.03
Mississippi $2.02
Alaska $1.84
Louisiana $1.78
West Virginia $1.76
North Dakota $1.68
Alabama $1.66
South Dakota $1.53
Kentucky $1.51
Virginia $1.51
Each of these ten went for Bush in 2000 and 2004, except New Mexico, which went narrowly to Gore in 2000. Of these ten, only Virginia and New Mexico are considered in play by both 2008 presidential campaigns (both currently favor Obama in the polls); the other eight are in the solid red column.

John McCain's Arizona ranks #21 on the list, receiving $1.19 back for every dollar it sends to Washington DC. Sarah Palin's fiercely independent Alaska ranks #3 on the list of spread-wealth recipients, receiving $1.84 on the dollar. Country first!

Barack Obama's Illinois comes in at #45, just one slot away from Joe Biden's #44 Delaware. Illinois is a net loser of the wealth-spreading, receiving only 75 cents for every dollar. Delaware gets back 77 cents for every dollar its taxpayers send to Washington.

The elements of the Wide Stance base who are most obsessed with the supposed horrors of "spreading the wealth" would do well to look in a mirror.

Married to the Sea, Wide Stance Edition!

Today's installment of Married to the Sea is among the best cartoons in the history of cartoons. It truly is the champagne of comics.

And speaking of the disgraces who people the Wide Stance political party, Ted Stevens is a convicted felon but he still wants to be re-elected to the Senate. Something tells me quite a few Alaskans will cast votes for Ted Stevens, John McCain, and Sarah Palin.


In Their Boots

I just learned that my niece, Elise Randolph, will appear in this week's episode of "In Their Boots" alongside her husband Kevin and their baby. I never really thought of Elise as an "army wife," let alone as a mom herself, but time has a way of changing things. Here's a preview of tonight's episode:

"In Their Boots" is described on its facebook page as an

exclusively online magazine show about the dramatic and emotional impact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on American service-members and their families. The series is webcast LIVE, once a week, Wednesdays at 7pm EDT/4pm PDT only at
Well worth watching, I'd say.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Robocop & Unicorn

It goes without saying that these days, everybody who's anybody has a favorite image of Robocop with a Unicorn.

This is my favorite so far.

(H/T Portland Mercury)

There is probably no god. Now start flinging poo.

There's a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad new advertising campaign in England that emblazons the slogan "there's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on the sides of buses -- where innocent children, old people, self-styled vicars of Christ, and supercilious Muslims can see it! Please someone fan Geoffrey Alderman before he succumbs to the vapors:

My relationship with God is an intensely personal matter, unrelated to any physical attribute or manifestation. ... So an attack on my religious faith must, of necessity, embody an attack on my personality, and whilst I am probably thick-skinned enough to withstand such an attack, others may be much more vulnerable. That is why all proselytising is dangerous. It is – or can easily become – a species of psychological warfare. That is no joke.
Let's review: god-belief is an intensely personal matter unrelated to any physical attribute or manifestation with the possible exception of a slogan on the side of a bus, which constitutes a grave attack on the believer's personality. Neat!

Alderman's sturdy analysis continues:
"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." This strikes me as extremely irresponsible, since there is – alas – plenty in life to worry about. "Become an atheist and stop worrying" – which is what the advert amounts to – is a foolish maxim, immature and inherently dishonest. What the atheists are promising is "heaven on earth" – something they can't deliver and I suspect know they can't deliver.
I suspect they know they can't deliver that, which is a very good guess of why they didn't promise it. At all. But for what it's worth, I do agree that "stop worrying" is, as stated, a poor and inadequate life philosophy. This may explain why it is a slogan written on some buses in England, not a full-blown theory of the human condition. It bears a family resemblance to such well-worn commonplaces as "loosen up," "lighten up," "settle down," "take a chill pill," "cool it," "take it easy," and many others, all of them widely known and used in English-speaking circles, and almost never evaluated as comprehensive normative systems.

Another version of this commonplace was first published in 1611:
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.
Consider your personality attacked.

(H/T Norm Geras)

Do What Don Draper Does

Sound advice.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Valuing the Human

Giles Fraser feels an insult, I gather, but it's worth keeping a close watch on what he considers the target of the insult:

Humanists (and by that I mean secular humanists for now) would do much more to persuade me of their world-view if they took more seriously the idea that the human is of fundamental value.
Secular humanism fails to place a proper value on the human, says Fraser:
[I]t is clear that here is an admission that the value of human life is down graded by those who call themselves humanists. Human life is something that is deemed to have no value for the individual if that individual decides that it has not.

I am thinking, of course, about the support that so many secular humanists have given for the assisted suicide of Daniel James, the disabled former rugby player who felt, at the age of 23, that his life was not worth living.

My friend Jerry, at a similar age, broke his back in a motorbike accident, and could move only his head and tongue. With these he managed to woo his caregiver, marry her, have three children by IVF, and run a pizza franchise. Humanists see the difference between these cases as hanging from the fragile thread of individual choice. That is not good enough.
There is an admission worth noticing here, but it's not the one Giles Fraser indicates: it's the admission -- really the assertion -- that humanness amounts to nothing if its value originates in human minds, aspirations, sentiments, projects, bonds, histories -- in short, human agency. No, for Fraser, human life can only have "fundamental value" if an authenticating agency grants it, and his contempt for human agency is such that it can never suffice to supply that agency -- it is "not good enough." The authenticating agency must exist as far above the squalor and uncertainty of the merely human as the human stands above the merely bacterial.

Giles Fraser seems determined to see humans as the fruit flies or white mice in a cosmic lab, whose value is written on a ledger beyond our perceptions. But since we are creatures who can and do generate our own meanings and values, and since these values and meanings are real enough to live and die for, it seems both pointless and demeaning to press our faces against the imaginary glass and daydream about the grand scientist's schemes. All the more so since the scientist doesn't seem to exist at all, leaving the entire conceit more than a little suspect. Suppose instead there is no lab and no ledger and no scientist. We still live and die by our meanings.

Christians (and by that I mean Giles Fraser for now) would do much more to persuade me of their world-view if they took more seriously the idea that the human is of fundamental value.

There's more on this from Ophelia Benson.

An English Stick Figure Explains Climate Change

Here is a nice brief video on climate change, explaining many of the basics in an accessible and appropriately dramatic way.

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

(H/T Institute of Jurassic Technology, one of the best-named blogs in the galaxy)

This Film Thing Might Take Off

Matt Nisbet seems troubled -- I think that's the word for it:

Following on the heels of Expelled Obsession, a film warning of radical Islam, there's more signs that the Right has discovered documentary film as a strategic communication tool to shape policy and mobilize their base.
It was indeed only a matter of time before the American right discovered film as an expedient for reaching large audiences. That time was no later than 1915, barely after the advent of film, with D.W. Griffith's racist classic Birth of a Nation:

Skipping forward to 1941, "The Door to Heaven" -- the narrator's voice really sticks to the ribs:

Here's an instructional video on capitalism from 1948 featuring poor acting and quite a few mentions of "weenies:"

And so on. I think it's fair to assume that people on the right (and not only on the right) will continue to stumble on the idea of reaching large audiences and propagating ideas via film.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

New to Me: The Neti Pot

Apropos nothing in particular, there exists something called a neti pot, and this video demonstrates its use. Clearly the neti pot demonstrator worked hard to seem computer-generated.

Vivified Caribou Barbie Doll Runs Amok

The McCain campaign will put up with a lot of things -- willful ignorance, race-baiting, ceaseless lying, scurrilous innuendo, etc. But this?:

McCain sources say Palin has gone off-message several times, and they privately wonder whether the incidents were deliberate. They cited an instance in which she labeled robocalls -- recorded messages often used to attack a candidate's opponent -- "irritating" even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan.

... "She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.
The campaign now faces the ugly prospect of getting exactly what it asked for by picking Sarah Palin: an unpredictable dullard prone to believing the promotional campaign that labels her a maverick.

All My Friends Ran Marathons

Some guy on the internet has posted the top ten reasons not to run marathons, and they all sound very distressing. The reasons I should be dead include the following:

10. Marathon running damages the liver and gall bladder and alters biochemical markers adversely ...

9. Marathon running causes acute and severe muscle damage ...

8. Marathon running induces kidney disfunction (renal abnormalities) ...

7. Marathon running causes acute microthrombosis in the vascular system ...

6. Marathon running elevates markers of cancer ...

5. Marathon running damages your brain. The damage resembles acute brain trauma. ...Other studies indicate confusion in post-event marathon runners ...

4. Marathons damage your heart ...

3. Endurance athletes have more spine degeneration ...

2. At least four particiants of the Boston Marathon have died of brain cancer in the past 10 years ...

1. The first marathon runner, Phidippides, collapsed and died at the finish of his race ...
Sure, it damages vital organs, compromises necessary body functions, increases the risks of fatal ailments, induces confusion, and by legend killed its first participant, but it totally rocks your quads!

It also causes severe perspiration and occasions laboratory-perfect conditions for chafing.

Um, I smell a crank. But I am grateful for an excuse, if a thin one, for re-posting the greatest album cover of all time.

(via Cranium Creek)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bad Movie Scenes

This looks like a scene from a dumb movie, and in a way it is -- the dumb movie commonly known as the McCain-Palin presidential campaign:

And no worthwhile director would touch the scene involving the lady who carved a backwards B on her face and blamed it on an Obama supporter, making sure to specify her made-up attacker's race in the lurid account (hint: the race she chose was not Caucasian).

Any decent director would force the screenwriter to do these scenes over. They're too pat; these scenes aren't even good enough for Congo, and that's saying a lot.

Who Dares Call Combover Jesus a Liar?

I found a flyer titled "CREATOR OR LIAR?" lying on the street and picked it up hoping it would edify, and I was not disappointed: its convenient distillation of Protestant Christianity into 22 animated pages (circular logic and all!) includes, among other gems, the above image of combover Jesus smiling at a foot as he uses his super powers to heal it, or possibly enlarge or tickle it.

In the next pane, note how much has changed, and not all of it for the better: on the one hand, Jesus has grown back all of his hair -- not all of his healing miracles were strictly altruistic, claims of his "perfect life" notwithstanding! -- but the menacing look on that stereotypically Jewish face in the foreground bespeaks trouble ahead.

The penultimate page of "CREATOR OR LIAR?" lays out the stark choice faced by any person who picks it out of the gutter:

"YOU MUST DECIDE!," it proclaims in the four-ply earnest of bold, underline, all caps, and an exclamation point. The decision does not merit italics too? But just look at those sign-wielding atheists -- they look so unhappy. And we so are. We stand there with our signs looking dumpy, grim, and petulant all the time. It's a problem.

The fundamental pitch of "CREATOR OR LIAR?" comes down to Lewis's Trilemma, which I've discussed previously. Suffice to say it's no more compelling when picked off the curb: if those are my choices, then I guess I'll go with liar.

Update: an anonymous commenter points out this is one tract among many by the same wacko outfit.

Bill's Equivocation

It's so common that it really should be a drinking game: someone accuses FOX knuckle-dragger Bill O'Reilly of being a right-winger or a conservative, an accusation that's trivial and inarguable insofar as we're dealing with reality and using words according to their actual meaning.

In reply, O'Reilly (or in this case, his handlers at FOX) insists he's "an independent."

Note that Bill-O has replied with party affiliation to a charge about political philosophy.

The fact is, he is a creature of the right wing, regardless of his membership or non-membership in any political party. He seems ashamed to admit he holds right-wing views, and so would any decent person, but that's beside the point.

I am not a Keynesian! I have never been a Keynesian!

Recession or none, John McCain will freeze spending, balance budgets, make earmark sponsors famous, and otherwise sober up the drunken sailor of government's heedless spending -- except when he won't:

During a visit to Florida last week, Sen. McCain said he, too, favors an additional $2 billion in spending. Asked by a local TV station, News 13, about his broader pledge to freeze spending and whether that would affect NASA’s budget, he said: “Of course not, of course not. It means we’re going to move money around ... Space is vital.”
Of course not! Duh! Space is vital! And so is defense, veterans care, Social Security, health care, science, worker retraining, aid to Israel, military housing, and seemingly every other example of spending that anyone has brought to McCain's attention (a long and growing list).

The maniacal railing against spending calls to mind the mad barkings of another Wide Stance politician's very loud public proclamations that differed rather sharply from his deeds.

Whatever we make of McCain's confused rantings, Paul Krugman has this right.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Surprisingly Unsurprising

Oh looky! Another far right politician has been found to be gay:

The successor to the Austrian rightwing populist Jörg Haider, Stefan Petzner, has shocked the staunchly conservative country by revealing in a tearful interview that they shared a "special relationship".

Petzner, 27, who was confirmed yesterday as the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO) after Haider's death in a car crash two weeks ago, made the admission on Austrian radio, effectively confirming long-standing rumours that he and Haider were lovers.
I suppose it counts as slightly surprising that the secretly-gay anti-gay politican is not American this time, but only slightly. Evidently this form of psycho-sexual-political malady crosses national and linguistic borders. (Not to mention boundaries of time and fiction/non-fiction, as The Wife astutely points out. It's only a matter of time before another Dolschtoss is proclaimed and someone, or something, is seen dragged behind a chariot around the walls of Vienna.)

On a human level, it's a shame. It's a shame that people seem so capable of taking the prejudices they've been fed, mixing those with their own innermost feelings as human beings, and converting the volatile mixture into an overloud, histrionic anti-gay ideology.

On a political level, whatever works. If this dynamic continues play out in case after case, and if it continues to discredit the political and religious bigotry it feeds and feeds on, that's fine.

Shocking Apostasy

Alan Greenspan was there at the founding:

Mr. Greenspan met [Ayn] Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of “The Fountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles. Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met every Saturday night in her New York apartment. Rand did not pay much attention to Mr. Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples, according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.” ... Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”
To call Alan Greenspan a true believer in the god of market fundamentalism would be akin to calling Moses a true believer in the god of the Old Testament -- he was on the scene as the plates were etched, inhaling the very vapors rising from the burning bush. That being so, it's difficult to overstate the gravity of this deconversion:
Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said Thursday that the current financial crisis had uncovered a flaw in how the free market system works that had shocked him.

Mr. Greenspan told the House Oversight Committee on Thursday that his belief that banks would be more prudent in their lending practices because of the need to protect their stockholders had proved to be wrong.

Mr. Greenspan said he had made a “mistake” in believing that banks operating in their self-interest would be enough to protect their shareholders and the equity in their institutions.

Mr. Greenspan said that he had found “a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”

Mr. Greenspan, who headed the nation’s central bank for 18.5 years, said that he and others who believed lending institutions would do a good job of protecting their shareholders are in a “state of shocked disbelief.”
This is the equivalent of Moses waking up one morning and realizing that it had all been an absurd dream.

And as it happens, it was.

Reality Takes a Swing

I began this post intending only to post this splendid image (via), but while I'm here and referring to the Wide Stance's richly-deserved political troubles, here's John McCain speaking, um, maverick-ly in a recent interview with Don Imus (via):

I think [Palin's] the most qualified of anyone recently who has run for vice president to tell you the truth ... I'm frankly entertained at the elitist attitude toward a person who is a proven leader ... She [Palin] did fine in the interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. She did a great job in those interviews ... It's easy to make fun of people and ask them gotcha questions but I don't think that the American people buy that baloney.
Campaigns and parties represented by people who are this detached from reality deserve to fail -- early, often, finally, totally. Whiff. Strikeout.

Of course the stakes go well beyond an unhinged dotard's defense of his latest crush. Consider this exchange between Doug Cassel, a professor of law at Notre Dame, and John Yoo, one of the chief legal advisors of the Bush-Cheney administration:
[Cassel]: "If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?"

John Yoo: "No treaty."

Doug Cassel: "Also no law by Congress—that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo [while Yoo was a Justice Department attorney]."

John Yoo: "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that."
Here is more of Yoo's filthy tribalist relativism which, it should be said, amounts to nothing unless and until someone with power puts it to effect.

The rightness or wrongness of torture does not hinge on which political leader acting under which flag is doing it. The quality of Sarah Palin's answers to basic questions and her readiness for the vice presidency do not turn on imbecilic prating about "elitism," quite aside from the brazen hypocrisy of a multi-millionaire railing against elites on behalf of a woman parading around with $150,000 in clothes.

Reality bats last. May the polls hold true and let reality have a very strong at-bat on November 4.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crazy Tracy and Ugly Americanism

I don't even really mean physically ugly, but the exaggerated facial expressions do call to mind a ventriloquist-in-training overworking the doll's face controls:

It's difficult to formulate a response to Crazy Tracy's level of ... I'm struggling for a proper name for it. Mendacity? Delusion? Idiocy? Inanity? Offal? Somehow these words don't do it justice.

And speaking of youtube videos that expose the hideously stupid:

In the spirit of this perfectly good pity party, let's charitably assume that each of the Joe-the-Plumbers profiled here makes over $250,000 per year and is therefore subject to Obama's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad proposed tax increase. Some people speak of the proposal as though Obama will shackle high-earning people in a rat-infested debtor's prison and, say, deny their habeas corpus rights, but the truth is considerably less dramatic, even boring: the proposed increase would take their earnings above $250,000 from today's 35% rate to the 39.6% rate that we saw under Bill Clinton. Agog?

This is from the independent Tax Policy Center's analysis of the two candidates' tax proposals, showing that the very wealthiest will pay somewhat more under Obama's plan. Everyone else will see a net increase in "take home" pay vis-a-vis federal taxes.

Obama's plan calls for somewhat more to be paid by the very wealthiest Americans. Somewhat more. Hmm, where have we heard that phrase before -- "somewhat more"?

Gay Beetles

Why do beetles go gay? The answer has eluded us for ages, but now science is on it:

Gay sex – in beetles, at least – gives males a chance to indirectly fertilise females they may never encounter directly.

Homosexual copulations are common in insects, where they pose the same conundrum as in mammals: what evolutionary advantage, if any, might such apparently fruitless activity provide?

Over the years, biologists have proposed a range of explanations. Homosexual activity might, for example, help males practise for straight sex, or they might offer males a way to assert dominance over one another.
Well, yes, I suppose. But isn't it also possible that several thousand years ago, the beetle god created beetles in his image and placed them in a garden? And then instructed them never, ever to roll around a particular ball of dung? But one of the beetles -- the female, it's always the female -- fell under the thrall of a slick-talking nematode who convinced her to go ahead and enjoy the dung, after which she talked the male beetle into enjoying the dung, whereupon the beetles were expelled from the garden. From there the story more or less writes itself: beetles now bear the taint of sin and undertake all manner of transgressions against the beetle god, including but not limited to gay sex.

Who knows? One version seems just as plausible as the other. As you weigh them, follow the link to see actual video of beetles engaged in gay sex. It will forever change the way you think about beetles unless you already think they're gay.

(H/T Andrew Sullivan)

Lady Also's Opulent Finery


The Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.
$150,000 and it only results in a woman not quite as hot as Tina Fey? This speaks volumes about the Wide Stance's anti-elitist cant and arguably says even more about the potential return on investment from places like Nieman Marcus and Sak's Fifth Avenue. No matter how many layers of fine clothing and makeup you drape over an unqualified moron, she's still an unqualified moron.

I haven't spent $150,000 on clothes and makeup over my entire life, and I'm quite sure that holds true even if you count cars as clothes or makeup.

Securing My Right to Complain

By the time this post posts, I will have cast my vote for Barack Obama and rendered it into the hands of the county election officials. Travel safely, little ballot.

I also voted for Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (who stands approximately 1 in 1,000 odds of not retaining his seat) and against every initiative in any way associated with the odious Bill Sizemore.

I didn't care very much about the other items and races on the ballot, but I voted this way or that way on each of them, in a few cases taking the trouble to locate and flip an actual coin to determine my vote. (Not really.)

So ... jacta alea est, the moving finger writes and having writ moves on and all that.

May all votes be cast and counted honestly in all places.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

With Grandpa on the Beach

This is Barack Obama with his grandfather, one of a series of childhood photos from the Chicago Tribune. Striking resemblance!

The child in the background may or may not be Senator Tom Coburn or "first dude" Todd Palin about to hurl a stick at the revellers.

Patriotic Reflections Upon Marine Mammal Protection Act Anniversary Day

Today is the 36th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a piece of landmark environmental legislation of the kind we don't see 'round these parts very often. Without it, it might well have been impossible to take this snapshot of humpback whales off the waters of Boston earlier this year, and clubbing seal pups would be as quick and easy as getting a gaming license, some baseball bats, and a few 40-ouncers. Sweet freeeeedom!

Who knows? Without this Nixon-era legislation, the movie Orca would still have been boundlessly terrifying, and it still might have played on continuous loop on HBO circa 1982 -- when some of us in at least one corner of small-town America, the real America, the pro-America America, thank you very damn much, didn't yet know that cable wouldn't always be quite this terrible in quite this way -- but it can't have established precisely the same tone or thematic resonance. Orca insinuates itself into lifelong nightmares by literary inversions on Moby Dick worthy of Yakov Smirnoff: In Orca, insane black whale hunt you!

Yes, Bo Derek clings, but don't dare say she's bitter.

Boston? Get a rope.

Another McKinney Voter?

According to the glassbooth questionnaire, which takes into account both your opinions on public policy and your weighting of the policies, my preferences align with the presidential candidates as follows:

Cynthia McKinney: 89%
Ralph Nader: 88%
Barack Obama: 75%
John McCain: 41%
Bob Barr: 34%
And then I took it again a second time and got similar results across a few different questions:
Cynthia McKinney: 93%
Ralph Nader: 88%
Barack Obama: 66%
John McCain: 39%
Bob Barr: 35%
How about you? It's an informative tool.

I'm somewhat suprised to see that I'm aligning with Wide Stance John McCain more closely than with Libertarian Bob Barr. I think Barr is roughly half right, and very right on that half, whereas I think John McCain is wrong on damnnear everything. But in the areas where I disagree with Libertarians like Barr -- their cracked notion of "economic freedom" -- I disagree very strongly. So I am burning hot and freezing cold with Barr, which works out to a low but somewhat misleading aggregate score.

Yes, I have strong affinities with the Green Party on paper, but the presidency does not occur on paper, and electoral politics certainly do not.

(H/T Token Offerings)

Costume Drama

This seems prudent enough, but I do see room for inverting the idea and staging Palin-only Halloween costume parties, in which every person, regardless of age or sex, is required to dress as Sarah Palin. Maybe.

(H/T John Cole)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Also Sprach Palin

I am on the Wide Stance's mass e-mailing lists, and today that blessed my inbox with an appeal from Sarah Palin herself -- or I should say an appeal appearing under her byline but written by someone who can compose complete English sentences, the kind that don't, for example, use the word also as punctuation. The appeal opens with these dramatic lines:

If you caught my guest appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend, you may have seen an ad or two (or twenty) from Senator Obama's campaign.

This barrage of advertising is adding up to the most expensive negative ad buy in political history. And these ads are funded with the nearly $200 million the Obama campaign and the DNC raised in September.

With this new money, they'll only step up their media buying efforts to flood every network with ads attacking our shared values. These ads are full of inaccurate information designed to mislead voters in key media markets. [emphases mine]
I am intrigued in the absence of specifics concerning the nature of the "shared values" attacked and "inaccurate information" presented in the ads, a vagueness that is not matched in the prior paragraph's details of Obama's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fundraising successes ($200 million) and history-making ad saturation ("most expensive ... in political history.")

To answer governor Palin's ghostwriter's implied question, I did not catch the governor's appearance on SNL, so I did not witness the pro-Obama ads in question. While it would be naive, at best, to insist that all of Obama's ads were scrupulously accurate, I am struck by Palin's failure to either cite the misstatements or link to a resource correcting the factual record. But the e-mail provides no such corrections, and no such links -- not to the independent, for example, not even to a McCain-Palin-sponsored resource.

I am also on the Democrats' e-mailing lists, and they do provide such resources. The Obama campaign's supplications routinely refer people to its Fight the Smears site, for example.

One gets the impression the McCain-Palin campaign doesn't actually care about the truth (an impression strongly reinforced by their endless lying), but are acutely and genuinely concerned about fundraising. They certainly do want money; there's no mistaking that. Does also go here?

The Point of Inquiry? Reasonable Doubts

The latest Reasonable Doubts podcast sounds like a good one if you're into that sort of thing:

[T]he Doubtcasters present their critique of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). This celebrated argument attempts to demonstrate that natural selection, if unguided by god, could not produce beings with reliable cognitive faculties capable of discerning the truth. But is EAAN all its cracked up to be? Also on this episode: The Doubtcasters consider William Lane Craig's rebuttal to Euthyphro's Dilemma, answer listener e-mails, and discuss Bill Maher's new movie Religulous.
It sound like a rich episode of a very fine podcast.

While I'm on the topic of podcasts that threaten to unmoor you from your favorite god's harbor, recent Point of Inquiry podcasts have been hit and miss:
  • Ed Tabash discusses the stakes of the presidential election vis-a-vis perilously close Supreme Court decisions. Some very fundamental questions of law -- on abortion, privacy rights, church-state separation, gay rights -- hinge on the outcome on November 4. Tabash isn't allowed to endorse particular candidates, but I am, and Barack Obama is extremely likely to appoint judges who will protect many of our cherished rights, while John McCain is extremely likely to appoint judges who will strip them away. A vote for McCain-Palin is a vote for at least one more Supreme Court justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia. Be afraid, be very afraid.
  • Lawrence Krauss discusses physics. Eh. The man shows every sign of knowing his stuff extremely well, but his stuff doesn't move me. I will say that he comes as close as anyone has to piquing my interest in the Large Hadron Collider. Your mileage may vary, of course.
  • Michael Lackey works hard to reconcile naturalism with postmodernism as part of a very interesting discussion of African-American humanism. I keep meaning to circle back and see if I can determine, finally, whether he successfully walks the tightrope between "science is merely a discourse" and "science is a means of achieving reliable truths." PZ Myers doesn't hate the guy's ideas, so that has to be a good sign. Right?
  • Greg Long talks about Bigfoot. As my fascination with Bigfoot topped out sometime in the 1980s and has declined steadily ever since, I didn't expect much from this episode, but it was surprisingly informative. For whatever it's worth: I still think it would be very cool if Bigfoot were real, it's just that Bigfoot is not real. It's that stubborn lack-of-evidence thing again.
  • Justin Trottier blabbers about what he has been doing to promote secular humanism on college campuses. Please make it stop. I am not saying the work is unimportant, I'm just saying I don't want to hear someone talk about it.
I feel the need to point out that all the podcasts I've mentioned here are free of charge, and free is a very good price.

Whew! Glad That's Over With.

Oil prices are down and promise to remain down for the next thirty or forty minutes, possibly longer, so we can dispense with all that stuff about fuel-efficient cars and alternative energy:

One type of oil shock has given way to another. Even more swiftly than the price of oil rose, it has tumbled to the range that seemed far-fetched when Reinert spoke and oil was more than $130 a barrel. Now that drop threatens a wide variety of game-changing plans to find alternatives to oil or ways to drastically reduce U.S. consumption.
Fabulous. It is once again every American's unassailable patriotic duty to go into hock to buy the largest, most gas-guzzling SUV within reach.

One would hope for someone to take the long view on all this, perhaps someone from the ranks of political leadership. It is, after all, conceivable that oil remains a finite resource welled predominantly in subterranean keeps subject to the territorial control of people who hate us.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blogs, Non-Blogs & Superficiality

In the current issue of The Atlantic (but also available online), Andrew Sullivan has issued a "dead tree" overview of what blogging means to him. The essay is well worth reading for anyone interested in the current state of what used to be called letters, and of particular expository value to the people who don't already read blogs and wonder what the fuss is all about, but I was disappointed to see this bit of boilerplate:

The blog remained a superficial medium, of course. By superficial, I mean simply that blogging rewards brevity and immediacy. No one wants to read a 9,000-word treatise online. On the Web, one-sentence links are as legitimate as thousand-word diatribes—in fact, they are often valued more. And, as Matt Drudge told me when I sought advice from the master in 2001, the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.
I'm put off by "no one wants to read ..."; I would simply say that the proper length of a blog post is as settled as the proper length of any other piece of writing: it's entirely a question of how deeply the writer wishes to go (or dares to, or knows how to, or what have you), and in blogs no less than lyrical poems, novellas, autobiographies, or philosophical treatises, the reader may or may not choose to follow.

But the more troubling word is "superficial," an idea that Sullivan expands on his blog in the course of promoting his "dead-tree" piece and the magazine in which it appears:
The essay is a defense and celebration of blogging - but not as a replacement for long-form writing or in-depth journalism. In fact, I think blogging makes the long, deep take more important in our ADD culture.
To the extent that we exist in an "ADD culture" beset with "superficiality" -- it would be foolish and false to deny that we do -- it is the quality of thought, not any particular medium of expression or word-count threshold, that stands at risk.

The most immediate evidence for this claim is the essay under discussion and the blogger whose blog it treats, because the "dead-tree" essay stood out (in this reader's mind) for saying nothing that Sullivan didn't already say in his blog over the course of the last two years. Surely the essay sews all those briefer insights and threads together and presents them in a single whole, but those of us who have been reading Daily Dish for any length of time -- and actually paying attention, as befits reading -- found nothing new.

Reading or writing a blog often means jumping hither and yon and back again in tone, subject matter, emphasis, level of detail, etc. This is because blogs flow along in real time in the manner of actual events, not in the manner of a polished literary whole. It does not follow that either the writer or its readers are rendered incapable of abstracting coherences, consistencies, themes, and lessons.

Avoiding superficiality requires paying attention, and there is no substitute for paying attention regardless of the medium of expression.

(H/T Cranium Creek)

Running's Like Hell?

I ran like hell at today's Run Like Hell half-marathon and finished in 1:34:20, which works out to a 7:12 minute/mile pace (updated to reflect official results).

I didn't go into this race with any particular plan in mind, and in fact I had a hard time deciding, even after the race had started, whether I wanted to put in a good time or just enjoy the day. By the mile one mark, according to no particular logic, I decided to try to make a good time out of it, and for whatever it's worth, I'm pretty happy with the results. I have covered 13.1 miles faster than this at least one other time that I can "prove" (because someone actually timed it) -- the first half of the 2007 Portland Marathon -- but this was my best half-marathon per se.

I was one of the many lame-asses who didn't take the opportunity to dress in keeping with the Halloween theme for this event, but there were some very good costumes out there. I especially liked the women dressed as bees and the couple dressed as the Wonder Twins.

It's not the race organizers' fault that it was damn cold out there today -- still 42 degrees several minutes after I had finished -- and for some reason, I decided to run the thing in short sleeves and shorts. Brrrr.

Outwitting Drosophila, Barely

I eat unholy quantities of fruit, and somewhere along the way a group of fruit flies came home from the grocery store and established a thriving colony in and around the counter area where I keep bananas, pears, and apples. I bought the fruit for myself, not for tiny swarming flies, so what to do?

They're too small to kill one by one, and besides, life is too short to be spent smushing flies in one's fingers. I don't want to spray insecticides on the very food I intend to eat. These flies will simply not listen to reason, and their fear response is to swarm for a few seconds before forgetting what startled them and returning to munching on whatever is fruitiest, so they're essentially too dumb to scare away. And they're too small to arouse the cats' predatory interest.

Give up on fruit? Burn down the house? I found something that seems to have worked: I hid away all the fruit and other sweets and then loaded the dishwasher with sugar-soiled dishes -- they're very strongly drawn to the last traces of red wine in a glass, for example -- but left the dishwasher door open. Once I was sure that nearly all of them had clustered inside the dishwasher, I quickly closed the door and went all Noah's Flood on their asses by turning it to HIGH HOT.

Any rainbow you see is purely incidental and should not be construed as a promise I won't do it again to finish off the few who managed to escape the first round.

I trust I represented our species well.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rocky Politics

This news story mentions that McCain plays the theme from Rocky at his campaign events. Granted, it's been quite a while since I watched Rocky, but I recall it's the story of a washed-up white boxer who can barely speak. The mentally-defective white boxer takes on a younger black boxer and yells "Adrian" in a poignant fashion, but the black guy wins the fight.*

Country first!

* I realize I'm not the first person to note the strangeness of McCain's choice of movie.

Islam and Homosexuality Redux

Regarding homosexuality and Islam, commenter Nazir says:

regarding homosexuality; you being science beliver and also rationalist you know it prety well that all un-natural method of sex including homosexuality is medically prohibited.thus; with; without; and inspite of its prohibition in religion ; you ought to have straightway belived in its negative effects.
Several of the words are spelled correctly, but this is wrong in every important particular, to wit:
  • For the sake of argument let's assume that the naturalness of homosexuality matters such that if it is natural, then it is morally acceptable, and if it not natural, it is morally unacceptable (this seems to be your implication). As a matter of fact, homosexuality is not unnatural, but has been documented in a wide variety of species apart from ours (link 1, link 2) and has been observed in human society as far back as historical records can trace (link 1, link 2).

    Do you mean to say homosexual sex does not make pregnancies? True. So what? It does not follow that it is unnatural, nor does it follow that it is morally unacceptable. We routinely grant a moral pass to sex acts that do not make pregnancies -- sex involving one or more infertile persons, sex with contraception, sex that is not intercourse, etc.

  • Homosexuality is not "medically prohibited" in any sense. Unsafe sex, regardless of the gender of the participants, definitionally involves medical and/or psychological risks. Homosexuals are perfectly capable of having medically-safe sex; heterosexuals are perfectly capable of having medically-unsafe sex. Gay/straight and safe/unsafe are entirely independent categories.

  • It's not the most important point in contention, but it's worth noting I am not a "science believer," as the idea of a "science believer" is incoherent. I have addressed this point in more depth previously.
The rest of your comment confirmed what was already obvious, that orthodox Islam -- the Koran, the hadiths -- condemns and forbids homosexuality. We see from your account of homosexuality that this Islamic teaching has ill-served you by buttressing prejudices with demonstrable falsehoods. This is what centuries-old fables written by primitives do if not exposed to clear-eyed scrutiny. I invite you to wake up and take a fresh look around -- people have actually learned quite a bit since the eighth century CE.

Friday, October 17, 2008

That First Lady Differs From Vice President

I found this to be another interesting and revealing moment from the last Obama-McSame debate:

McCain: [Palin] also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to find out what's causing it, and we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children. She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I'm proud of her ...

Obama: I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we're going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about. And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we're not going to be able to do it. That's an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs ...

McCain: But again, I want to come back to, notice every time Sen. Obama says, "We need to spend more, we need to spend more, that's the answer" -- why do we always have to spend more?
To review: McCain touts Palin's commitment to special-needs children; Obama responds by saying that in the real world, doing things like medical research costs money; and McCain responds by ridiculing the idea that government contributes to solving problems by spending money.

So what? It's not just that this is a pretty drastic scaling back from McCain's prior claim that "she knows more about energy than probably anyone else" in the USA. Evidently that absurdity is too much even for McCain by now, but she still knows something about something and for that he's so very proud.

But beyond that, it sounds like McCain pictures putting Sarah Palin in the kind of feel-good, unfunded, ceremonial advocacy role traditionally assigned to first lady.

Does McCain realize that first lady and vice president are, and are supposed to be, quite different? Does he realize that his second wife, Cindy, is already lined up for the first lady role? If not, he should. He really should.

Poem of the Day: "We Are Real"

The third line of this poem is worth the price of admission, but there's plenty more where it came from. David Berman is an artist whose woundedness and struggle is never far from the surface, so there's a car-wreck-style guilty fascination with what he does. This is a Silver Jews song well worth counting as one of your own.

David Berman, "We Are Real"

Up the hill past 694, at the stone wall make a left,
And I will see you soon my friend if these old directions still direct.
Is the problem that we can't see or is it that the problem is beautiful to me?
The birds of Virginia are flying within you
And like background singers they all come in threes.

Won't soul music change
Now that our souls have turned strange.
Once a day, twice a day...
And when on and off collide
We'll set our souls aside and walk away.

We've been raised on replicas of fake and winding roads
And day after day up on this beautiful stage
We've been playing tambourine for minimum wage
But we are real, I know we are real.

Repair is the dream of the broken thing.
Like a message broadcast on an overpass
All my favorite singers couldn't sing.
My ski vest has buttons like convenience store mirrors
And they help me see, that everything in this room right now is a part of me.

Won't soul music change
Now that our souls have turned strange.
Once a day, twice a day ...
When on and off collide
We'll set our souls aside and walk away.

Realizing is how it feels inside when it happens to you.
So I took a shot of sugar like snow dumped into the blood
And children wander off into the ultra-economic
But we are real
I know we are real.

Brain Fight

I try to be fair and balanced as well as self-critical. I don't always try hard, but I do try.

Case in point: PZ Myers recommends the web site Stop Jenny McCarthy. The point of stopping Jenny McCarthy is that she's spreading false information about autism, and since it's about autism and how best to approach, treat, and think about that condition, and not just about some bloodless chewtoy of a topic, it is indeed important to stop Jenny McCarthy.

Parents should know that contrary to what Jenny McCarthy and her allies say, vaccines do not cause autism. Withholding vaccines will not prevent autism, but will leave your child -- and potentially other children -- exposed to serious, even fatal, conditions.

But here's the thing. I find Jenny McCarthy very attractive, and have for as long as I've known there was a Jenny McCarthy. I'm right now resisting the excuse this post affords me to google up an image of her and add it to this post. I won't, but part of me wants to. A particular part wants me to.

So there it is, and therefore when men sign on to the Sarah Palin bandwagon because (or even partly because) they find Sarah Palin attractive, I disagree with them but I can't claim I am innocent of such wanderings from the straight path of reason.

Still. Sarah Palin? She's a proven liar and shockingly incompetent.

And Jenny McCarthy is spreading dangerous untruths.

Of Wealth Redistribution

Here are just a few of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fruits of wealth redistribution -- or if you prefer, "spreading the wealth:"

  • Paved streets.
  • Cops.
  • Soldiers.
  • The stealth fighter.
  • Fire fighters.
  • Public school teachers.
  • Traffic signals.
  • Guaranteed bank deposits.
  • Medicare.
  • Public school buildings.
  • National parks.
  • State parks.
  • City parks.
  • Bridges.
  • Interstate highways.
  • State highways.
  • World War II.
  • The CIA.
  • The FBI.
  • The VA.
  • The DHS.
  • Every dime of salary collected by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney since 2001.
  • Every dime of salary and health care benefits paid to John McCain since he entered the Congress in the 1970s.
  • Every dime of salary paid to Ted Kennedy since he entered the Senate in the 1960s.
  • The Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC.
  • The most recent Iraq War.
  • The least recent Iraq War.
  • Pell Grants paid to millions of college students over the decades.
  • The Jefferson Memorial.
  • The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  • Public libraries.
It's a long list and yet I've barely scratched the surface. Everything listed here came at taxpayer expense, and that means it all represents a redistribution of wealth. At some time or another, a government agency collected some portion of Americans' private wealth and used it to fund every item on this list.

In turn, some of us have made use of these items while others have not. For example, I use public roads regularly, but I have never had to call directly on the services of a fire fighter.

Whether we like or dislike the items listed has no bearing on whether they have been funded by means of wealth redistribution. Suppose you cherish the bridge you cross on your daily commute and the crime-fighting work of the FBI. Suppose you hate the $10 billion per month spent on the Iraq occupation and would prefer that the Jefferson Memorial be razed and the site sold off to a burrito vendor. No matter -- redistributed wealth has funded all of the above.

I lay this out for the sake of hapless conservatives who might have stumbled across this precious, precious blog, as they are confused on this basic truth about political economy, and seem convinced that they're contributing something worthwhile by shrieking about redistributing wealth every time someone proposes fiscal policies they find disagreeable. We are well past the point of arguing over whether wealth will be or won't be redistributed by government. The only arguments remaining are (a) the amounts -- as in, whose wealth and in what amounts; and (b) the ends to which the money will be spent; and (c) the most effective ways of achieving those ends.

Of Squigglies

If elected or appointed god, Nate Silver would scrap the squiggly, the dial-test graphs displaying audience reaction as used on CNN broadcasts of the presidential debates. Silver:

It's not that the squiggly lines aren't fun to watch. Rather, they're too much fun to watch. It's hard to avert your eyes from them. It's hard to separate your own, independent reaction from theirs. And it's certainly hard to integrate back into to the non-squiggly universe once you've gotten hooked on the squigglys.
He makes some reasonable points, but Daniel Davies is not convinced and speaks adoringly of the squiggly:
I love the crawler and think that it really helps you understand what’s going on in the debates – in particular, it helps you take one step back from your own prejudices. It’s also just about the only input into debate commentary that comes more or less unmediated; the anonymous “undecided” focus group participants might be dumb or irrational, but they’re at least not pushing an agenda.
I agree with Davies on this and disagree with Silver; I have no trouble separating my reaction from the reaction I see registered onscreen, and in fact I find it fascinating, as Davies does, to see what lines of argument succeed and fail at duping convincing people.

That being so, there's a defect in the system I'd like to see corrected. Participants turn the dial to indicate either approval or disapproval, but this creates ambiguity. Suppose John McCain says something idiotic in a debate, such as the following:
I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around. You [indicating Obama] told him you wanted to spread the wealth around. The whole premise behind Sen. Obama's plans are class warfare, let's spread the wealth around.
If the dials turn to "disapprove" here, what's being disapproved? That McCain's attack is unfair, baseless, detractive? Or is the audience signaling agreement with the attack and disapproving along with McCain in the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad prospect of "class warfare" that doesn't favor the wealthy? It's genuinely unclear.

Toward resolving this, I heartily second a recommendation made by Matt Yglesias:
[W]hy do the dial as a positive-negative axis rather than an Obama-McCain axis? The way they do it makes it very hard to interpret what’s happening when McCain attacks Obama and the dial goes negative. Does that mean the attack is working or that it’s backfiring?
This makes a lot of sense: turn the dial one way to indicate that what's being said inclines you to support candidate A, turn it the other way to indicate what's being said inclines you to support candidate B. It's slightly subtler than approve/disapprove or positive/negative, perhaps, but I think it's well within the capabilities of people, even the utter lunkheads undecided voters who participate in these measurements.