Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comments Elsewhere: Politics

It's been a day of heavy political discussion.

In a discussion of the recent elections with Anne Zook, I wrote:
1/6th of the population will reliably vote, and vote Democrat; 1/6th of the population will reliably vote, and vote Republican; 1/6th of the population, the most motivated of the remaining 2/3rds, will show up and vote their outrage, and the winner is determined by whether inconsistent voting Republicans are more outraged than inconsistent voting Democrats in any given cycle.

A lot of research about independent voters has convinced me that they actually constitute a very small share of the population compared to weak-voting Democrats and Republicans who only show up to vote when they're angry. So the "independent voter" in exit polls oscilates from cycle to cycle not because independents are changing their minds, but because different people are showing up.

Then, in response to Rich Puchalsky's declaration of late-blooming anarchism, I responded:

The problem with anarchism, for me, has always been the absurdly optimistic endgame: if we remove all the structures of oppression and power (and we can't tell the difference), we'll all be happy sharing people!

It feels weird, but as a Lockean/Millsian left liberal, I've become a kind of Burkean conservative: Look, we had these systems and traditions and they worked pretty well! Let's not change them too quickly or expect too much from people! Revolutions get out of control! Especially theirs!

More to the point, perhaps, is that I don't see how you solve the problem of scofflaws by abandoning the concept of law: if your ultimate goal is to create a society of decency, I don't see how law can be anything other than an insufficient but necessary condition of its existence.

We're potentially on the verge of a techologically-aided revolution in law and decency: the ability to document, share, and shame systems of power. Or maybe not, because the same systems of surveillance and publication can even more easily be used against us as methods of control, but it seems to me that fact that we're having the debate about Yoo and Bybee now, less than a decade after the crimes were committed, is a step forward from the decades that disclosure and reckoning used to take. Our skill at self-justification is as great as ever, though, so it might not matter as much as I think.

That said, I feel a lot like I'm clinging to something that really won't support us anymore. Puchalsky's right that the big winners in this process are the plutocrats and "the rule of law" has never significantly affected the national security aspects of the state or economy; Zook is right that the political process is a poisoned well surrounded by idiots.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Threading a Needle

In a discussion of US college campus representations of the MidEast conflict, I responded to Nadir Jeewa's incisive comment (in italics) with a variation of my own:

As an ethnic Muslim / religious atheist, I still identify with the Palestinian cause, and wouldn't want the issue to disappear completely from campuses. I just don't want to be forced to make a choice between supporting the Gaza blockade in the name of Israeli security (or becoming an anti-Semite), and supporting Hamas in the name of anti-colonialism (or becoming an Islamophobe). But, that's the options I'm given.*

As an agnostic liberal Jew, I still identify with the Palestinian cause, as well as some Israeli security concerns, and I wouldn't want either issue to disappear from our attention until they are no longer problems. Neither Hamas nor the Israeli government is worthy of energetic support at this point. I'm greatly supportive of Palestinian and Israeli people, and sincerely hope that sometime soon they get the leadership and opportunities they deserve and so clearly lack.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Limerick Elsewhere: Grammar Police

In response to a limerick-capped discussion of a new round of student-bashing English 'education', I had to respond (I think I got it right: it's in moderation):

We strive to teach students clarity
and sometimes we end up with hilarity
but if they don't learn
from betting that burn
they'll treat us with similar charity.

In other words, if we put our effort into teaching them to write precisely before teaching them to think effectively, they'll view us, quite correctly, as scolds and neurotics.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quoted: Kant's Categorical Party Imperative

Brandon Watson summarizes Immanuel Kant's guidelines for a successful dinner party:
(1) The number of guests should follow Chesterfield's rule: no fewer than the Graces (i.e., three), no more than the Muses (i.e., nine).

(2) The dinner party must exist not merely for physical satisfaction but also for social enjoyment. (This is the reason for the bounds on the number of guests.)

(3) Anything indiscreet that is said at the table stays at the table: there is a moral sanctity to the dinner party, and a duty of secrecy, because without the trust made possible by these it is impossible to have enjoyable culture. This is not a mere matter of taste; it is a matter of the fundamental preconditions that allows free exchange of ideas in social interaction.

(4) When the dinner party is a full one, and there is plenty of time, the conversation during the dinner party should go through three stages:

(a) Narration, i.e., exchange of news
(b) Ratiocination, i.e., lively discussion of the diversity in judgment at the table
(c) Jest, i.e., play of wit

Thus the conversation should always begin with raising pertinent and personal material then move into lively discussion until, tired from the hard work of arguing and reasoning, everyone settles down into lighter talk that leads to laughter. According to Kant, with his nineteenth-century German skepticism about how interested a woman could be in heavy intellectual conversation, when women are present the last stage is especially important, so that by being given a chance to respond to teasing they can show their own intellectual merits.

(5) No dinner music whatsoever. Kant regards it as one of the most absurd innovations in his time.

Obviously, liveliness is the key to a successful dinner party. Fortunately, Kant gives us guidelines for that as well:

(6) Choose topics of conversation in which everyone is interested, and always give people the opportunity to add their own topics, if they are appropriate.

(7) Never allow an extended silence. There can be momentary pauses in conversation, but no more.

(8) Do not change the topic unless necessary and especially do not keep jumping from one topic to another. The conversation should flow naturally and exhibit an organic unity of its own. The reason for this is that in a symposium, as in a drama, the mind occupies itself in part by reminiscing over what has previously occurred and tying the various phases together. A conversation that keeps changing topics is as disconcerting as a play that keeps changing topics and themes.

(9) Dogmatism is to be forbidden absolutely, whether it be on the part of the host or on the part of the guests. When people get too serious and insistent, start making jokes to divert them back to play rather than business.

(10) When serious conflicts arive that really and truly cannot be devoted, self-discipline is essential so that passions do not run too hot. Tone is absolutely essential; even if very serious topics are broached, every effort should be exerted to avoid any estrangement of the guests from each other.

We tend to think of Kant as a dry and humorless moralist, but this is actually a very insightful description of social interaction.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Pointless Discussions

Someone claimed that "Hickory Wind" by Gram Parsons was "infintely better" than "Achy Braky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus. I responded
Cyrus is a better musician than Parsons, but the whole musical industry has raised technical standards so much, that it’s not obvious until you compare them side by side. And “Achy Braky Heart” is an entirely successful, intentionally funny song. It’s not lyrical poetry (and “Hickory Wind” is so full of faux sentimentalism and forced romanticism that I could barely listen to it once) but it’s a fantastically written and perfectly performed piece. The problem most people have understanding Cyrus’ work (and I’m not a huge fan, honestly, but this kind of stuff drives me buggy) is that they don’t understand that country (like folk music) has a deliberately and broadly humorous side and doesn’t actually take itself as seriously as the authenticity-hounds (or their mindless rejectors) seem to think.

For comparison, here are the two songs: make up your own mind:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Picture: Duck Family

Comment Elsewhere: Political tribalism

Kevin Drum was expressing his difficulty with getting into the conservative mindset, and I responded:
But on an emotional level, it just seems nuts. So I wish that I could figure out a way to feel it. To understand it.

It reminds me of the constant sense of embattlement the Jewish community in the US has been dealing with for.... well, most of the 20th century, I suppose. A hostile educational culture, institutional barriers to success, a presumption of cultural wrongness, the assumption that assimilation to the wide culture equates with a loss of principles, the sense of constant existential threat punctuated by episodes of actual existential threat, and the weekly drumbeat of concern/panic/self-criticism in religious life. A response which includes cultural combativeness, mutual aid within the community, attempts to present a unified front to the rest of the world, hypersensitivity to slights and slippery-slope dangers, creation of separate institutions of education, finance, culture, philanthropy. Celebration of infiltration into mainstream culture and institutions, combined with maintenance of parallel separate institutions.

The list goes on and on. What's surprising is the translation of an authentically tribal response to modernity into a political movement which has now transcended politics to be come a culture.

I've been concerned for a long time that the homeschool movement would be the foundation on which a true epistemic split would be created in American life, but perhaps it's Fox News and Liberty University, instead. Or perhaps it's all of a piece, but it isn't going away anytime soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Picture: Blue Darters and Friend

Archaeological Limerick

In response to a call for a poetic response to the discovery of an old sailing ship under the World Trade Center site, I wrote:
We build on the bones of the past
Small things first, then monuments vast
When things fall apart
we go back to the start
and sometimes dig up an old mast.

Maybe it would work better as haiku....

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Texas Republican Platform

A friend suggested that we read the Texas Republican Party Platform [PDF]. Wow. Here's some selected comments from the experience. I skipped over most of the anti-abortion, anti-homosexual stuff because it's been widely reported. It's pretty bad, really. But there's even more odd stuff there.
There's some stuff in there that I kind of like:

The Government shall not, by rule or law, exempt any of its
members from the provisions of such rule or law.

This would mean that police officers would have to justify the use of force based on the same standards as the rest of us, and tasers would be considered assault with a deadly weapon.

We demand elimination of presidential authority to issue executive orders and other mandates lacking congressional approval, as well as repeal of all previous executive orders and mandates.

Oh, wow.

Affirmative action falsely casts those who advocate merit as racist.

If the shoe fits....

We support limiting the definition of eminent domain to exclude seizing private property for public or private economic development or for increased tax revenues.

Yup, capitalism can go too far.

The state should have no power over licensing or training of clergy.

I wasn't aware that any such restriction existed.

the Republican Party of Texas urges local government bodies to determine their own policies regarding religious clubs and meetings on all properties owned by the same without interference.

Didn't they want strict adherence to the Constitution earlier?

Either party in a criminal trial should have a right to inform jurors of their right to determine facts and render a verdict.

Jury nullification, yeah! Especially for prosecutors!

We urge Republican Senate leadership to ensure that a record vote is taken on every judicial nominee.

Ending the judicial filibuster? I'm there!

We support full disclosure of the amounts and sources of any campaign contributions to political candidates, whether contributed by individuals, political action committees, or other entities.

Transparency in politics? Not bad. But congressional Republicans just turned down a chance to do this, so the Texans must be DFHs.

We support repeal of all Motor Voter laws; re–registering voters every four years;

Because too many people just show up and vote!

We urge changing the Election Code date of filing for the March primary from January 2 to the second Monday in January.


OMG, I'm only on page 5. Time to start skimming....

We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.

I've taught kids from Texas: this could be good!

We call upon governmental entities to protect all symbols of our American heritage from being altered in any way.

Yeah, like turning the Alamo into a theme park, and American Flag Swimsuits.

We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society

That sounds painful: I think they're doing it wrong.

Also, they have clauses against both RU-486 and the Morning After Pill. Nobody there, apparently, realized that they were the same thing?

Hmm. They're against gambling, but they're in favor of individual retirement investment accounts -- stock market gambling -- instead of social security.

We support the availability of natural, unprocessed foods, which should be encouraged, and that the right to access raw milk directly from the farmer be protected.

Wouldn't you rather get it from the cow? Oh, the farmer and the cowman will be friends....

We advocate equal educational opportunity for all students and the requirement that children with special needs be educated commensurate with their abilities.

Except for the bit about removing learning disabilities from the ADA....

Here's one for the professors!
We support Texas’ colleges and universities use of the same or substitutable textbooks for ten or more years in order to bring costs to students down and maintain some residual value for used books. We oppose restrictions on use of textbooks for multiple years, such as requiring annual access codes.

Granted, the two-year replacement cycle for textbooks is a bit out of hand, but would you want to use textbooks from 10+ years ago in your field?

Also, later: We support the removal of the system of tenure in Texas state colleges and universities.

I have my doubts about tenure, mind you, but I think they're going to have a problem with contracts....

We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.

There's something about 'self-sufficient families' earlier: I guess this is part of that.

As a prerequisite, we urge passage of a constitutional amendment
prohibiting imposition of state regulations on private and parochial schools

That's a level of school choice that goes well beyond anything I've ever seen before.

We strongly oppose Juvenile Daytime Curfews.


We support the parents’ right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children. We oppose medical clinics on school property except higher education and health care for students without parental consent

Aside from the grammatical hash of the last sentence, how much medical freedom are we talking about here? Also, I'm pretty sure there's no medical care for minors without parental consent already. At least based on the paperwork I've seen.

To help instill lifelong healthy eating habits, we support making only foods of nutritional value available in schools during school hours and served in appropriate serving sizes

So, they can take any medication their parents approve of, but they can't eat junk food.

We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state.

That'll end well.

We support the individual right to enter into real estate contracts without Government interference or regulations.

You know that's about compacts and restrictions, right?

Child abusers should be severely prosecuted. However, we
oppose actions of social agencies to classify traditional methods of discipline as child abuse. We support enactment of a homicide-by-abuse statute that provides punishment for abusing a child to death without intent of killing.

Ick. What I can't tell from the platform is if "homicide by abuse" should be punished more or less severely than other forms of murder: is it more like involuntary manslaughter, or murder with special circumstances?

They also want to replace all taxation -- income, property, whatever -- with sales taxes, except for internet transactions (at least, I think that's what they mean. They might just be opposing those 'government will tax your email' chain letters, though).

Here's one of my favorites:
We strongly believe that the United States of America must protect and defend its national sovereignty as given in the Constitution to the people and remain free of external control or influence and be governed independently of any foreign power, especially with regard to the formation of the North American Union/Community as proposed by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR). ... later: We oppose relinquishing United States supremacy to any foreign powers on our soil. We support prohibition of all foreign or international military bases within the United States.

Yes, the Texas Republican Party Platform is written by people who believe chain letters. Later, they oppose one-world government and one-world currency, along with withdrawl from the UN and expulsion of the UN from US territory. On the other hand, they want to reinvigorate NASA's moon program, so it's not all bad!

Recommittment to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention into the MidEast (by declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel) and Asia (by declaring Taiwan a sovereign nation) that are sure to get us even further into trouble. Gotta love the foundations of their foreign policy: "Our policy is based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations
and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise."

There's a legislative summary at the end, which is oddly inconsistent with the body of the platform.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: College Sports Prophecy

In a discussion of the conference readjustment going on in NCAA football, I predicted that
For every school president that ’sees the light’ and goes against alumni and conventional wisdom to shift funding, there’ll be two whose fundraising office and resume-building impulse will lead them to double-down on the athletic bet.

To be fair, I've known college and university presidents who were academically serious, ethical, farsighted and responsible. Even they had major investments in athletics, and often little control over the athletic departments. I've also known presidents who were fickle, ambitious, self-serving and borderline stupid, and the only thing that kept them from investing more in athletics was ... well, nothing, but the limits of the budget and need to maintain the fig leaf of accreditation.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Our current Catch-22

Terry noted an attempt by anti-immigrant groups to invoke environmental rhetoric in defense of their racism. I responded:
They tried this tack with the Sierra Club a couple of years back: a bunch of anti-immigrant activists began running for positions on the board, conflating these issues, and came awfully close to having some real influence on environmental activism.

We do have a bit of a catch-22 here: if everyone wants to live like we do, the planet can’t sustain it. Either we have to accept and enforce gross inequality, or we have to accept that our material standard of consumption will decline as the rest of the world becomes more economically successful. These yahoos want to do the former.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Entitlement Issues

Terry posted an unintentionally hilarious Fox&Friends disquisition on the evil cultural effects of Mr. Rogers (don't get me wrong; Terry knew how absurd it was) and in the discussion following, asked me
You’re a prof – do you see much of the “I’m entitled to an A” attitude that the article cites? I would guess that a bigger problem with entitlement comes from wealth and class than from educational TV aimed at middle class and poorer kids, but I could be wrong.

My answer, which is necessarily incomplete at this time of the year, was
I think, and this will come as no surprise to you or to anyone who know me, that the causes are multiple and the situation much less dire than they’re making it out to be. I have to think this through more carefully after the grading is done, but here’s a short list of things I think have made a difference: smaller families (i.e., more parental attention/investment in children’s success), the installation of college as an expectation (over a third of students go on to higher education, and the number’s higher if community college is included), the self-esteem movement in education and parenting (including, but not limited to, the idea that “we’re all winners” even when we’re not), social promotion, “fairy tale” stories in which talent is inherent (often discovered more or less full-blown; e.g. American Idol, etc.) rather than accumulated through training (or, if training is required, it’s the honing of innate abilities; e.g. Jedi), the conflation of fame with importance, the quantification of educational achievement (testing, esp. multiple choice testing, combined with teaching to the test) allowing students to pass by doing a bare minumum, marketing which emphasizes style as measure of worth (and style as a talent, but also purchasable), and a pervasive anti-intellectualism (going back a century or more, but intensified in late 20c) in American culture (note: geeks are exempted, but their skills are seen as talents and innate, not gained through practice and education).

It’s also worth saying that there are substantial numbers of students in our schools who are bored by the lack of challenge, and who are willing to work hard and long at things they consider worth doing. There are large numbers of students who accept well-defined standards and well-explained grades without protest (though the connection between grade expectations and teacher evaluations is troubling), unlike the vocal minority who make such an impact on teachers’ time and energy.

In retrospect, I think most people would take issue with my definition of "short list"...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Civilization over yet?

It's been one year since the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. Has civilization crumbled yet? Has Iowa suffered any significant declines or setbacks related to this?

I'm just wondering.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Moderate Middle Muddle

In response to a particularly egregious David Brooks false equivalence, I wrote:
The two parties have drifted further to the extremes."

What? The Republican party certainly has eviscerated it's own middle, but the Democratic party has, if anything, expanded its 'big tent' to include even more of the moderate middle muddle to the point where 'extreme' (i.e. liberal and progressive) views are being marginalized.

Tweetle Beetle Paddle Battle references are left as an exercise to the reader.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: The Uncensored Palin

In a discussion at Acephalous about Sarah Palin's recent speech in Hamilton, Canada, I wrote
...the whole performance really has to be taken in context to be understood. It's a collage of elements picked up in her rise to Governor, the pregnancies, the VP run, the post-election scandals and resignation, the palm-writing incident -- and that says everything to me, that she's still flogging that hand-note schtick as though it were actually funny, as though she'd scored points somehow instead of embarassed herself and her party (R or T, whatever). That speech is the sum total of her experience, politically and personally, without editing or organization (I defy anyone to outline that monstrosity!) except that she is at the center, that she has never been wrong, and that her place in the world is in service to a greater good. Which is why she's not going away.

It's really worth reading the speech. There are a few public and academic figures I've known who seem to defy experience and get worse at public speaking as time goes on. I'm not sure how that happens, but it does.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quiz: The Only American Emperor

I'm Joshua Abraham Norton, the first and only Emperor of the United States of America!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey. [via]
I first learned of Emperor Norton, as so many of my generation did, through Neil Gaiman's Sandman
The bio offered by the quiz accords quite well with Gaiman's version:
Born in England sometime in the second decade of the nineteenth century, you carved a notable business career, in South Africa and later San Francisco, until an entry into the rice market wiped out your fortune in 1854. After this, you became quite different. The first sign of this came on September 17, 1859, when you expressed your dissatisfaction with the political situation in America by declaring yourself Norton I, Emperor of the USA. You remained as such, unchallenged, for twenty-one years.

Within a month you had decreed the dissolution of Congress. When this was largely ignored, you summoned all interested parties to discuss the matter in a music hall, and then summoned the army to quell the rebellious leaders in Washington. This did not work. Magnanimously, you decreed (eventually) that Congress could remain for the time being. However, you disbanded both major political parties in 1869, as well as instituting a fine of $25 for using the abominable nickname "Frisco" for your home city.

Your days consisted of parading around your domain - the San Francisco streets - in a uniform of royal blue with gold epaulettes. This was set off by a beaver hat and umbrella. You dispensed philosophy and inspected the state of sidewalks and the police with equal aplomb. You were a great ally of the maligned Chinese of the city, and once dispersed a riot by standing between the Chinese and their would-be assailants and reciting the Lord's Prayer quietly, head bowed.

Once arrested, you were swiftly pardoned by the Police Chief with all apologies, after which all policemen were ordered to salute you on the street. Your renown grew. Proprietors of respectable establishments fixed brass plaques to their walls proclaiming your patronage; musical and theatrical performances invariably reserved seats for you and your two dogs. (As an aside, you were a good friend of Mark Twain, who wrote an epitaph for one of your faithful hounds, Bummer.) The Census of 1870 listed your occupation as "Emperor".

The Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, upon noticing the slightly delapidated state of your attire, replaced it at their own expense. You responded graciously by granting a patent of nobility to each member. Your death, collapsing on the street on January 8, 1880, made front page news under the headline "Le Roi est Mort". Aside from what you had on your person, your possessions amounted to a single sovereign, a collection of walking sticks, an old sabre, your correspondence with Queen Victoria and 1,098,235 shares of stock in a worthless gold mine. Your funeral cortege was of 30,000 people and over two miles long.

The burial was marked by a total eclipse of the sun.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Freud's Projector

In a response to a post noting a particularly unhinged bit of public paranoia, I wrote
Some people really need to apply Occam's Razor more often. And Freud's Projector less.

I thought I was just being a little clever with the parallel construction, but Scott claims (and Google seems to confirm) that I was actually being original: the phrase "Freud's Projector" doesn't seem to appear elsewhere on the internet. I'm inordinately proud of this.

Say what you like about Freud -- I certainly do -- but the concept of 'projection' remains a powerful tool for diagnosing social pathologies.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Humorless

In comments at Grant Jones' blog I responded to Mr. Jones comment
Jack, I agree that Breitbart will have to be careful of doctored video being submitted as "proof." I wouldn't put such attempts past Progressives who believe that our means justify their ends.

with a well-deserved


Breitbart, after all, is the employer/sponsor of the infamous James O'Keefe, whose heavily doctored, fraudulent ACORN videos caused so much ruckus.

Mr. Jones has deleted my comment. To my knowledge, it's the first time he's done this, and he's certainly within his rights to do so. But it stinks.

(Also, as an aside, I'm not sure what "our means justify their ends" actually means...)

Picture: There will be Latkes

Also need eggs, onion.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Political Messages

I just sent this to someone who's getting a lot of attention right now:
Rep. Stupak,

Please inform your "bloc" of supporters in the House that I am going to be directing my political donations in 2010 to your and their primary opponents and to political action committees which support both health care and a woman's right to control her own body.

At this point I don't actually care whether you support the present bill or not, though it may affect the amounts that I'm willing to give.

No, I'm not a constituent. I live in a district represented by a callow and useless Republican. I depend on the Democratic Party, which I've supported quite faithfully in the past, to represent my views even though I live in a district which is hostile to them.

You, sir, and your allies are failures as Democrats.


Picture: Snowflakes

If it's warm enough above for big snowflakes, but not too warm, and cold enough that the snowflakes don't melt when they hit....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Fighting Fire with Laughter

In response to concern about whether Alan Grayson's tone versus Sarah Palin was too caustic to be helpful, I said:
I’m ambivalent about this, honestly. There are times when a bully has to be stopped, and stopped hard. Palin’s been rude, borderline racist, divisive, evasive and manipulative; she got lucky in her career, but she’s abused her position at every opportunity. She should never have been a national political figure, and she’s neither newsworthy nor noteworthy, but the press has no idea how to report on issues, so her attacks get transmitted through the media, repeated endlessly, forcing Democrats to finally respond or look feckless. It’s classic abuser behavior: pushing and pushing, then whining about ‘fairness’ when someone stands up to them.

The only way to get the press to stop taking her seriously, to defang her politically, is for Democrats to stop taking her seriously, and to make the press look foolish for bothering to follow, quote and enable her. Grayson’s rhetoric has a hard edge on it, to be sure, but it’s pretty mild compared to Santorum or Steve King, or Issa, or McConnell, or a half dozen other Republican Congressional flamethrowers I could name. And, unlike most of their incendiary allegations, Grayson’s comments are based on verifiable facts and reasonable inferences.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Picture: Hostile Squirrel

In fairness, the squirrel probably doesn't actually have any hostile intent. But he's not friendly, either.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Picture: Standing Slush

Comment Elsewhere: Freedom and its Discontents

In response to a fascinating discussion of recent news and law in the privacy and free speech field, I said:
Part of the problem is a failure to think things through: people want freedom to do or say anything, but they also want something done if someone else does something harmful or hateful. And our tolerance for risk is nil, so we're more inclined to over-react (if it's public).

Freedom is a balance, and there are risks. Otherwise, it's not freedom.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Academic Psychology an oxymoron?

In a discussion of one of the least impressive bits of well-publicized psychology "research" I've seen in years, I avered:
Cherry picking and confirmation bias! Without them, psychology would hardly exist as an academic discipline. I understand the inclination to give these people databases and statistics packages as a corrective, but you have to fix the, if you'll pardon the reference, underlying psychology first.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Google Creep

In a discussion of the failure of Buzz, I remarked
Frankly, the more services Google tries to bundle, the less I like them. Maybe it's just because I appear on the internet in both pseudonymous and epynomous forms, but the ability to keep political, family, shopping and professional issues separate is actually quite important to me. There have been about a half dozen cases in the last few years where online service mergers made my online life more difficult, not more convenient.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: Bad Genetics Counseling

In response to a great but difficult question on genetic testing, I wrote:
It's very important to get good information on genetics -- I'm not saying you're not, because you clearly know how to read scientific material critically, but my blind spouse talked to a "genetics counselor" before we were married who literally didn't know the difference between recessive and dominant traits, and freaked us out (until I could get over to the medical library and do some research, this being pre-WWW).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pop Quiz: Politics or Theology? Wait, there's a difference?

Trinitarian debate or Republican mythology?
He's nothing like the father! He doesn't share the epistemology of the father. He doesn't have the nature of his father, the knowledge -- he has nothing in common with the father.

This actually comes from a discussion of Pres. Ronald Reagan and what, in theory, he would think of Sarah Palin. [via] It's a member of the current conservative commentariat telling Ronald Reagan JR. that she has a better grasp on his father's political judgement than he does. At one point she seems to conflate Reagan with the Founding Fathers, and concludes by saying that Ron Reagan, JR. must never have really met his father. Politically speaking, presumably.

The metaphysical discussion of political legacy aside, what actually struck me about this exchange is that Ron Reagan, JR. seems to have a higher (and better supported by recent evidence) opinion of his father's abilities and judgement than the so-called conservative he's arguing with, who seems to have absorbed the common liberal opinion about Pres. Reagan's essentially emotional/anti-intellectual approach to governance.

Update: to make things more interesting, Michael Reagan is getting into the act, raising the possibility that the Reagan legacy could split into opposing camps....

Friday, February 05, 2010

Comment Elsewhere: The Evil of the Clone Wars

Towards the end of a discussion of character and continuity in the Star Wars universe I commented:
Am I the only one who thinks that the animated Clone War series is a cruel trick on children, who will think of Anakin as a mildly annoying but basically heroic figure, only to discover that he’s really a mind-shatteringly evil person outside of that very limited storyline? Also, all the characters they are getting attached to get wiped out in a vast slaughter, except for the ones who eventually get killed one by one....

I really don't understand what they're thinking: they're creating a generation of children who will view their movies as a vicious betrayal. With luck, I suppose, the franchise will wither and die as a result. One can only hope.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quotation: Mark Twain's "The War Prayer"

I got the Babylon 5 series over the holidays, all five seasons plus Crusade and some movies. Yeah, I'm a geek. Anyway, we were watching the episode The War Prayer and noted, after it was over, that the War Prayer itself was never directly invoked in the show. It's there by implication, but not more. In the course of the discussion, I realized that my spouse, who's usually much better read than I, especially on anti-war stuff, didn't know the source of the reference, Mark Twain's very short story "The War Prayer." It's worth noting that the link to the story, the first link in the google search, is to a B5 fan site. I found it, and read it aloud, which was surprisingly hard.

It seems appropriate, in these days of struggle, passion, and overweening faith, to quote the core of it, the usually unspoken prayer behind a prayer for God's aid in victory:
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

Read the whole thing. Even having read it before, even knowing this core bit, the whole thing has a great power. We must be careful when we pray.

Picture: Radiator Web