Monday, July 30, 2012

How the stupid gets mainstreamed

Fucking actuarial tables, how do they work?
They include gradually raising the retirement age to compensate for the fact that we now live, on average, 14 years longer than when F.D.R. signed Social Security into law.
Look, I don't expect Alan Simpson to understand this stuff; he's a pissed-off old dude who would be shouting at people for stepping over the line on the shuffleboard court if Obama hadn't stupidly plucked him out of retirement to give him another crack at fucking the country over. Plus, before he lost his mind to age he was a senator, which is a job that anybody with half a functioning brain is disqualified from getting. But Bill Keller until recently was executive editor of the New York Fucking Times and is actually believed by his readers to be able to tell the difference between his ass and a hole in the ground. And so I'd love to know how it's possible that Bill Keller doesn't realize that "life expectancy at birth" is the wrong statistic for this particular argument, and that the correct statistic, "life expectancy at age 65," shows that the increase he's talking about is roughly half of what he says it is.


Friday, July 27, 2012

i'm not that dumb, am i?

Why is it that the broadcasters at any event like a royal wedding, major funeral, or Olympic opening ceremonies feel like they have to explain everything for us like we're idiots? "That was JK Rowling, who is famous for having written the blockbuster 'Harry Potter' series of young adult books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide. Books are collections of words and possibly pictures printed on paper and bound together in order to be read. Words, you may know, are combinations of sounds intended to convey thoughts and concepts in verbal communication, and typically recorded in written form as several strings of letters." I'm only making part of that up. Am I wrong, do we need this stuff explained like this?

Update: Also, too. They really do think we're that dumb.

let me try something...

Other countries that aren't America are stupid. People who live in countries that aren't America are stupid and probably not even real people. The Olympics are stupid because we have to pretend that countries that aren't America are not stupid, and act like we like them when we should probably be doing War on them. The Opening Ceremonies of the stupid Olympics are stupid because the people who are in them are not Americans and probably not really people, but here they are doing some stupid not American dance when meanwhile they should be dead because we did War on their stupid not American countries.

Mr. Hiatt, I can has job please?


teardrops rolling down on my face, trying to forget my feelings of love

Back when I was a youth individual who was not the right height to be in sport, I used to have conservative friends tell me that conservatives were better than liberals because liberals are always appealing to emotion and squishy feelings while conservatives are all about cold, hard logic. That was total nonsense 15 years ago--movement conservatism moved from fact to emotion half a century ago when it decided the best way to take and hold power was to appeal to white America's racism and religious bigotry--but I wonder if any conservatives would even try to advance the argument now. The modern conservative gets drummed out of the club for accepting the science of climate change and/or evolution over religious pablum and voodoo capitalist wishing. The entire tax and economic platform of the Republican Party is built on an appeal to "morality," in the bizarro Randian universe where "morality" equates to "I got mine fuck you." We can't touch defense spending because we're terrified of everyone and everything, and you can't feel pride in America if we're not spending on military hardware as the next 20 nations combined. Gay rights, reproductive rights, contraception (WE'RE STILL ARGUING ABOUT CONTRACEPTION, FOR FUCK'S SAKE!); these debates are all had on Republican terms that are completely emotional, and of course only Republicans' emotions are allowed to have any relevance.

I was put in mind of this by a couple of things that have come out of Romney's campaign lately. First was Mitt's typically creepy reaction to the Aurora shootings, which was like "guns don't kill people, people kill people" except if you tried to make that point just after you'd eaten half a pan of pot brownies.

“Well, this person shouldn’t have had any kind of weapons and bombs and– and– and other devices. And– and it was illegal for him to have many of those things already...But he had them. And– and so we can– we can sometimes hope that just changing a law will make all bad things go away. It won’t. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential to improve the lots of the American people.”
As the great Charlie Pierce might say, this is all my balls, and that Mediaite piece is correct to note that if Obama had said something that stupid and borderline offensive, he'd have been getting reamed for it by right wing media all week. "Changing the heart of the American people"? Blow me, Mitt. The American people didn't massacre a theater full of innocents; that was one crazy person with weapons he was able to buy legally, despite being crazy, and one of which had a magazine that could hold a hundred fucking bullets. This is because we have no gun control laws to speak of, because Republicans long ago decided that the Bill of Rights should be trimmed down to the Bill of Right, and also because our mental health system is a complete disgrace, because Republicans long ago decided that the only legitimate function of government was to facilitate the upward redistribution of wealth from middle and working class Americans to bankers and defense contractors. As for his position on the efficacy of lawmaking or governance (the thing he's supposed to be running to do), I'm not sure if Mitt thinks we should eliminate all laws because, you know, bad things happen anyway, but that's the logical endpoint of what he said. The result is a total lack of real ideas to help combat the problem of dangerous people getting guns and then using them, just a nakedly bullshit emotional appeal to change Americans' hearts.

Second was Walking Bag of Puke John Sununu, on the Oh Really Factory, last night.
[Obama's] you built -- "you didn't build it" moment I think is really resonating around the country. (not really) And I know he's trying to walk away from it saying it's out of context but when you look at the context the context is worse. (no, it's not) And even worse than the context is the tone and the -- and the really arrogant and insulting way he's addressing people who have had success.
I want odds on how many more weeks John can go before the words "uppity n*****" slip out of his mouth. But here, again, it's all about feelings; Obama was arrogant, he insulted business owners, the Democrats are being mean to bankers, blah blah blah. Screw the facts, screw proper context (which, oh by the way, the fact that Romney is running a purely emotional campaign and also running maybe the most dishonest campaign in history, these are not unrelated things), nothing matters but how I feel and how I can make you feel. It's a lousy way to conduct your politics.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

not good

This, if accurate, does not sound promising...
One Arabic report has it that that the al-Assad regime has removed hundreds of Sunni officers from responsibilities for safeguarding chemical weapons stores and commanding helicopter gunships. They are giving these sensitive responsibilities to officers from the minority Alawite Shiite community instead, which dominates the upper echelons of the Baath government and military.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

random wonderments

Monday, July 23, 2012

if only they would stop making us shoot ourselves!

Assuming anyone were reading this, I would ask: "Have any of the vast numbers of people reading this seen the "Mormon" episode of South Park? The one with the song about Joseph Smith?" And then many of you would laugh, and say, "Oh yeah, that was a funny show," or something like that. Anyway, where was I?
Charles Lane, America's Dumbest Editorial Page: "Europe’s role in U.S. gun culture"
Charles Lane, he wrote a column, dum dum dum dum dum...

How can Europeans bemoan American gun culture when they're the ones who keep forcing us to buy their sweet, sweet guns? In fact, I think Europe was the real shooter here!
Exhibiting the same sober, reasoned line of thinking that blames dirt poor coca farmers in Colombia every time some rich white American kid ODs on coke, Charles believes that the real gun problem in America is not that we keep buying them or that nobody seems to have the brains or balls to push for proper regulation of them, but that these damn furriners keep selling them to us. No need to have a serious discussion about our total lack of firearm regulations, or our broken mental and behavioral health system! James Holmes was carrying a Glock, so it's all Europe's fault! This is actually orders of magnitude more stupid than blaming violent movies or video games for these kinds of shootings, and that's already really, really stupid.

Say nothing of the fact that it's not European gun manufacturers' responsibility to forego a marketplace because that marketplace has a batshit insane culture about their product. You don't expect McDonalds to refuse service to anybody with a BMI over 20, do you? What really takes us into the realm of the colossally stupid is that, while Holmes did have a couple of Glocks, the first two weapons he used in the massacre were an American-made shotgun and an American-made assault rifle! It was only after his AR-15 jammed (damn you shoddy American workmanship!) that he finally switched to the Glock. So add "The Actual Facts of the Case" and "Economics" to the List of Things Charles Lane Writes About Without Knowing Anything About Them.
A prohibitive tariff on weapons from Europe wouldn’t end U.S. gun violence, but it might reduce risks at the margin.
No, seriously, it wouldn't. It might strengthen the domestic gun industry though, so, um, woo-hoo? USA? USA?

The last line is my favorite; after noting that the EU has already restricted sales of sodium thiopental to America since it is used for lethal injections (Chuck never passes up an opportunity to bitch about somebody interfering with his favorite pasttime, killing criminals), Lane notes that Holmes might face the death penalty, but that, because of the sodium thiopental restrictions, "Thank goodness his blood wouldn’t be on Europe’s hands." Wow. All this time, these shooting massacres have just been European bullies playing "stop hitting yourself" with poor, innocent America. Um, USA? USA?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

a thought on colorado

Aside from boilerplate shouting about The Only Constitutional Amendment That Conservatives Recognize, has anybody actually made the case as to why 100-round drums or 33-round clips should be legal? I don't understand how outlawing these things would violate the Second Amendment, since nobody is curtailing anybody's right to own any gun or type of gun. What is the actual justification for their continued legality? Self-defense? Because if you couldn't bring an attacker down in the first 15 shots, you're sure to stop him with the next 18? Hunting? What kind of deer are we hunting that require a hundred semi-automatic rounds to bring down? Are they cyborg deer? Because maybe if they were cyborg deer, I could understand.

Seriously, what am I missing?

Friday, July 20, 2012

not much worth saying

Senseless violence and tragedy. Thoughts go out to the victims and their families.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

you people?

Hey, um, Mrs. Romney?

democracy: you're doing it wrong

Bernard Finel, newly arrived at Balloon Juice, on the difficulty liberals have when it comes to Arab Spring movements that result in elected fundamentalist governments:
The tension arises because I would argue that the three core tenets of a progressive foreign policy ought to be:

  1. A skepticism of the utility of military force, with a resultant anti-militarist orientation. (Not anti-military, but anti-militarism.)

  2. A deep respect for the concept of self-determination which often manifests itself through adherence to anti-imperialist principles.

  3. A commitment to promote fundamental human rights.
The third is less historically grounded in the progressive tradition than the first two, but it is becoming increasingly important. The notion of a “responsibility to protect” as a fundamental limitation on state sovereignty is increasingly broadly accepted, and I think it is, in any case, a logical corollary to a human-focused conception of “self-determination.”
There is a reason why "[t]he third is less historically grounded in the progressive tradition," and that's because it seems frequently to get wielded like a cudgel to pummel tenets one and two into submission. Speaking for myself, but I imagine most/all liberals would agree, human rights are a fantastic thing. We could use more of them here at home, come to think of it. Heck, probably most conservatives would agree that "human rights" are cool, as long as you defined "human" to exclude women, gays, atheists and practitioners of Other religions, and minorities, but whatever. Let's stipulate that human rights are nice. I would think that most people would agree that "self determination" is one of those rights. So what happens when a population rises up to oust a dictatorship, as in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, maybe Syria soon enough, and then freely elects a government that will, in all likelihood, deny basic human rights to women, gays, religious sects, ethnic groups, and the like? What do we do if the Syrian people overthrow Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawi sect and a repressive thug if ever there was one, and the freely elected government that follows him decides to legalize the repression of Syria's Alawi population as payback for Bashar's excesses?

The "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, described here, is hard to argue with:
  1. States have the primary obligation to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. This responsibility also includes prevention of these crimes, including incitement.
  2. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility.
  3. The international community should support the UN in establishing an early warning capability.
  4. The international community also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means under Chapter VI and VIII of the UN Charter to help protect populations threatened by these crimes.
  5. When a state “manifestly fails” in its protection responsibilities, and peaceful means are inadequate, the international community must take stronger measures including Chapter VII measures under the UN Charter, including but not limited to the collective use of force authorized by the Security Council.
This is (obviously?) justifiable in clear cases of ethnic cleansing/genocide, because a government that engages in or permits such atrocities has almost certainly lost the consent of the governed anyway. But when R2P moves into areas that could be called "crimes against humanity," in areas like women's rights, gay rights, protection of religious freedoms, things that, let's be honest, the United States of America doesn't have all that great a handle on yet even if we're better on them than the Muslim Brotherhood, it seems to me that there starts to be a problem. As horrendous as forced genital mutilation is, does it justify "the collective use of force authorized by the Security Council"? In our example above, if all a new Syrian government did was place oppressive economic and cultural burdens on the Alawi population rather than outright exterminating them, would that justify "the collective use of force authorized by the Security Council"? What if Alawis began dying in deprivation because of the government's actions? These are arguably, if not definitively, crimes against humanity, but international military action does not seem as justifiable to me in either case. If a heinous situation is heinous, but doesn't rise to the level of justifying the final stick in the R2P bag, can the international community realistically act and expect to achieve success?

(And, this is a digression but while I'm nitpicking, what happens when a situation reaches the point where R2P should be invoked, but one of the Great Powers on the UNSC vetoes any action? This last point is inevitable, and has certainly already happened, with the US vetoing resolutions over Israel's actions in Gaza and Russia vetoing or threatening to veto any UNSC resolutions over the actions of the Syrian government or of Russia itself in Chechnya--something that would never even come to a vote on the UNSC because the veto would be so obviously coming.)

I think some historical context is in order. There seems to be an expectation on the part of Western powers that once non-western, in this case Arab, populations win the right to vote, we can expect them to vote The Right Way, for secular democracies that want close relations with the West and that will protect the rights of their most at-risk populations. But, of course, a brief stroll through our own Great Experiment in Self Rule would show that it took us from 1776 to 1865, including a frighteningly violent civil war, just to agree, or at least to force universal compliance, with the idea that some human beings should not be allowed to own other human beings as chattel property. The same population that was treated as property for the first ~89 years of this country's existence then had to fight another full century to have something approaching normal voting rights in some parts of this country, and if the new push for voter ID laws tells us anything, it's that the fight for voting rights still has not ended. Women were denied universal suffrage until 1920, and you still today can find conservative, um, "thinkers" who regret it. The point is not that, hey, we suck, but rather that, hey, it took us a long freaking time to figure out what The Right Way is or ought to be, and frankly we're still figuring it out in a lot of respects. The demand that Egyptians, who, until this year, never in recorded human history had been given the chance to freely vote for their leadership, get everything "right" (according to our definition of what is "right") from the get-go, is frankly ridiculous and carries more than a whiff of "white man's burden" about it.

So let's say that someday things get so bad for some segment of the population in hypothetical democratic Syria, or in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood, or in bombed-into-FREEDOM Iraq, that the international community under R2P doctrine feels the need to intervene. This doesn't mean military intervention, necessarily. Bush Administration policy toward Palestinian Authority, toward Yasser Arafat, really, included the demand for free elections in the territories. They got their wish with what were by all accounts free parliamentary elections in 2006, and...Hamas won and the Quartet (UN, US, EU, and Russia) immediately imposed severe economic sanctions on the Palestinians for voting The Wrong Way. I don't suppose it occurs to any sage Western leaders that, when you go around the world demanding that non-western peoples institute democratic reforms and then, when they do, tell them "NO YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!" and slap sanctions on them for it, you look like a bunch of hypocritical assholes. But you do. And so when you start making the rounds demanding that non-western peoples protect the basic human rights of their populations, they're as likely to tell you to cram it as they are to listen to what you're saying.

There's another consideration, which is the extent to which that kind of intervention actually works. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833, 32 years before the 13th Amendment did so here in America. Imagine if the British had invaded America, or instituted a blockade on her shipping, on the pretext of doing away with chattel slavery. Do we suppose that Northerners, or even just abolitionists, would have rallied to the British cause and allied with the invaders or cooperated with the sanctions? Maybe some would have, but in all likelihood a heavy-handed British intervention would have damaged the cause of emancipation in this country as most Northerners made common cause with the South against the foreign meddling. For a recent real-world example of this hypothetical, witness all the cheering, rose-offering Iraqis who so warmly welcomed the American military into Iraq. You couldn't have missed them; they were all over the place.

America has made itself the champion of democracy throughout the world, and for us to now start telling these people who just fought for their right to self-rule that they can only exercise that right if they do so according to America's demands, even when America's demands are for things that we can all agree are right and good, that kind of thing doesn't play all that well. I am all in favor of a robust global human rights regime and of bringing as much light to rights abuses and as much pressure to bear on ending them as possible. But at some point, if we value self-determination as a good thing in and and of itself, we're going to have to accept that sometimes people vote The Wrong Way and there's not much we can do about it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

random wonderments

what happens when i google myself*

I find something I wrote a long time ago on a godless communist blog called Balloon Juice, and it makes me laugh so I'm putting it here because whatever, it's my blog, I can do what I want, the end.
Dear Average PatrIOTIC US AmeriCAN~
permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you. I have the believe you are a reputable and responsible and trustworthy person I can do business with from the little information so far I gathered about you during my search for a partner and by matter of trust I must not hesitate to confide in you for this simple and sincere business.
I am SARAH PALIN 47 years of age the only daughter of late Chuck Heath whom was killed in his spirits by the villain Obama panels of death. I ran to Arizona the meth capital of us america from were I am contacting you. Before the death of my father’s spirit he told me that he has needs for a sum of US$15,000,000(Fiveteen millions united states america dollars) delivered in a satchels of leather to Alaska in my name as the next of kin,
Dear Patriot american, in the capacity of the next of kin and with all the documents in my hand now, I am contacting you with due sence of humanity that you will give it a sympathetic and mutual consideration.
I am honourably seeking your assistance in the following ways.
(1)To contribute to me this amout of 15 millions us america monies or some part of the total sums
(2)To make arrangement for me to come over to your domisile to further my knowings as to your financial accomidations and suitablity for future partnerships of remunerative nature
Moreover, I am willing to offer you 15 % of the total sum collection as compensation for your effort /input after the successful transfer of this fund to my nominated account overseas, before the investments starts.and I have maped 5% for any expenses that might be incured during the course of this transaction.
furthermore, you can indicate your option towards assisting me as I believe that this transaction would be concluded within a stipulated period of time you signify your interest to assist me.
Anticipating hearing from you immediately.
Thanks and God bless.
Best Regards.

 * Don't pretend you don't do it too.

dvr commercials?

I like to read Alyssa Rosenberg's stuff at ThinkProgress, because then I can pretend to be engaging in high-minded progressive pursuits while I'm really feeding my TV and movie addiction. No, seriously, she writes very thoughtfully on pop culture and its impact on society, and I'm a big fan. So having said that, of course what got me interested this morning was a bit she picked up from Deadline about whether people have become too lazy to fast-forward through the commercials on their DVRs. Apparently DVR commercial skipping is down about 2.5% over the past year, and the obvious explanation is sloth of, let's be frank, terrifying proportions, but Alyssa is hoping maybe people are watching the commercials because they know that advertising still pays the bills for a lot of quality programming:

I’d like to think folks are watching ads they have the capacity to skip with their DVRs because they recognize it’s a way of keeping the shows they love in business by convincing advertisers they’re still going to capture impressions. But if laziness gets folk sitting through more commercials, I suppose I’ll take that, too.

First off all, I applaud anybody who has reached what must be the apex of modern laziness, not even mustering the energy to press the fast-forward button on their remotes. No, wait, scratch that. FIRST of all, I would like to say that it kind of freaks me the fuck out that people know if I've been fast-forwarding through the commercials. Hell, apparently they know if I'm watching what I record within 3 days of recording it, which is maybe a little terrifying too? But my point here was the laziness thing, or the laziness vs. doing-right-by-advertisers thing, because I've been noticing that I increasingly don't skip commercials on the DVR myself, and it's not for either of those reasons. I kind of like having the commercial break to go get something in another room or catch up on email or my news reader and, sure, I could just pause the program, but why not just use the breaks they give you already? Is this weird or do other people also do this?

oh, hi! you're here, but probably not.

I can't imagine anybody will ever read this, but I'm always thinking I should write more so here it is. If anybody ever happens to stumble upon this page and is offended by anything I've written, you may direct your complaints to my complaints staff.