Saturday, January 15, 2011

Try This at Home

Cheesy coffee, that it.

Yet More Comedic Geniuses

Some short while ago Sarah Palin insisted that the USA hung down and kill he rabid anti-Goodness mad dog Assange. Today she uses the poisoned fruit of the Assange tree to insist that now is the time to hunt down and kill Iran. When I say she I mean, of course, who ever it was she hired to write her stuff.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Comedic Geniuses, They Are

So, Sarah Palin misuses blood libel, the Washington Times', as distinct from the Post,
editorial defends Sarah Palin's use of the phrase "blood libel" in the wake of the Tucson shootings, by calling media criticism of Palin "the latest round of an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers."
It just doesn't get any funnier. What's next: the Liberal Romans have crucified Sarah Palin on a cross of blood libels with crown of pogramic thorns.

Yehuda Moon or Get Off My Lawn

I don't like to complain but the weeks, if not months, long slagging off of youngsters in bike stores has gotten old. Almost every shop I go into has workers who are younger than I am and, even though I know a lot about my bike, they know more and are no ruder or idiotic percentage wisely speaking than any other category of worker.  It's old and boring already.

Missing the Point: Right Wing Talking Points

Concerning the riots in Tunisia and nearby Algeria, Andrew Sullivan reposts, so one assumes he approves, some one demanding that the Right take a more active interest in the democracy now elements of the riots.  The problem here is that the Right has decided that all unrest now has to do with economics.  Fox, for example, insists that the riots are primarily about unemployment instead of about the corrupt, incompetent, and undemocratic political system. While it is certainly true that Tunisia's economy stinks, the demand for President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's, in office since 1987, immediate resignation and his announcement of not running in the next election is more than evidence of economic dissatisfaction but rather of a desire for better leadership.  The economy may be a proximate and necessary cause but it is unlikely to be sufficient.

Why are Fox and others on the Right emphasizing the economic and ignoring the desire for democracy? One reason might be the Glenn Beck theory of Soros' revolution. One other might be that they have been casting all unrest, whether in Greece or England, as evidence of the economic losers petulance at the neo-Liberal belt tightening serious politicians.

In other words, rather than admit that the social and political unrest is evidence of wide-spread dissatisfaction with a political class that under the guise of protecting the children from debt are, in fact, gutting education, health, and so forth, while ensuring that the rich continue to prosper.  The complaints, my argument is, reflect a rejection of neo-Liberal policies not because of some immediate economic problem but because the neo-Liberal solutions have been tried and found wanting and, whatismore, the neo-Liberal solutions cause immediate harm to the majority of any nation's citizenry without the benefit of improvement further down the line.

Or, in any event, that's how it seems to me.

Blood Libel

As I mentioned Sarah Palin's invocation of the the blood libel trope was wildly inappropriate.  Since then, Conservatives and others have been busy defending and justifying the comment and generally looking like buffoons.  Jeffrey Goldberg, who admits that Palin's usage was "gross," suggests that Palin's misuse of the term will create a teachable moment.  This is singularly and fantastically wrong. Any discussion that surrounds Palin functions like a blackhole into which facts fall and never emerge.  It's not just that she is a walking fact-free zone, it is that her defenders have no interest in facts; for if they did, they wouldn't defend her.  It's a fact.

Missing the Point: Policing Rhetorical Acts

So, in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, there have been all manner of calls for civility and toning down the rhetoric of war and violence against political opponents and their policies.  James Fallow, for example, is hold some kind of a webinar on the issue. Mixmaster over to Balloon Juice makes the much more important point that what we need isn't more civility it's less lying because the lying is what causes all the violent reactions.

Relatedly, Clear Channel is removing an ad for Rush Limbaugh because it uses the phrase "straight shooter."  If they're doing this because they think it is uncivil, they're over reaction;  if, on the other hand, they recognize that the claim is false, then good for them.

Real Realism or Empiricism versus Glibness

Matt Yglesias, taking time out from being wrong about education, regulation, and frozen food, decides to be wrong about city planning and asserts that
[t]he number one factor in making a city a congenial place for cycling is . . . having lots of other people ride bikes.
And concludes that
[t]his is why I’ve tended to shift more in the direction of big picture stuff. If you have dense development and don’t have parking minimums, some people will start to bike around. And having those people bike around is the best pro-bicycle measure on earth.
He is, of course, wrong.

Take an actual city that has a lot of cyclists like Amsterdam.  It reputation for being cycling friendly is not an accident and is of recent vintage. Here (pdf) is a very brief overview of the history of cycling in Amsterdam.  The story is that despite pressure groups its high density as late as the 1970s Amsterdam was very much a city of cars.  Then, however,
[i]n 1978, a new City Council took office. It opted to conserve the cultural and historic value of
the city centre and to encourage the use of the bicycle and public transport. Soon measures to
encourage the use of the bicycle were taken. These included the construction of a 'Main
Bicycle Network', the improvement and expansion of facilities for cyclists, and the removal of
physical obstacles within the cycling infrastructure.
[i]n the 1980s, a working party was set up to oversee the realisation of the cycle infrastructure.
In addition to city officials, the group included representatives of the Cyclists' Federation. An
additional annual budget was made available to help resolve problems. In the 1990s, the City
Authority continued to put extra amenities for cyclists into place, including some outside the
Main Bicycle Network itself, such as storage facilities at railway and metro stations.
With a complicated plan going forward, it is clear that the development of a cycling friendly city waits upon regulation and related whatnottery designed to make a city more cycling friendly.

It would be nice if before sounding off on something the pundits of today had some consideration for the facts of the matter.

If you're wondering, I knew about Amsterdam's cycling history because over the years I have read quite a bit on cycling and urban development. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Enough, Already

A few days ago Matthew Yglesias, in a burst of integrity, admitted that he knew nothing about pedagogy. 
Today, however, when commenting on Detroit's disastrous school cutbacks, he confidently asserts that
[t]he city really should be operating fewer school buildings, and though large class sizes aren’t ideal it’s more important for kids to have access to effective teachers than for kids to have low student:teacher ratios.
So, it seems, that despite not knowing anything about how to teach, he knows enough to know that fewer teachers overwhelmed by larger and ever larger classroom size will be effective because dealing with a large number of often unruly students isn't exhausting; not a bit of it, its exhilarating.

Once you admit that you know nothing about something it's time to shut the door on commenting on the thing about which you know nothing.  In this case the farcical nature of his contribution serves to buttress his admission of ignorance.

Belgium Redux

I, too, will not shave until the land of make believe, aka Belgium, has a real government.


Missing the Point

One argument emerging from Congresswoman Giffords' shooting is that the rhetorical violence launched hither and yon in the hope of obtaining some sort of advantage, narrative, electoral, or other, ought to be dialed, as they say, back.  Yesterday, I think it was, Sarah Palin, long of lung and short of ideas, emerged from her northern fastness to accuse "journalists and pundits" of creating a "blood libel" against honest and plain-spoken Americans like herself and the rest of the mama grizzles. 

The use of "blood libel" rather than indicting the various pundits and journalist exposes Palin's fundamental lack of seriousness and her limited understanding of words and their meanings.  The blood libel is the long running anti-Semitic claim that Jews needed the blood of health young Christians for cooking and religious purposes.  Over the years, the blood libel led to and excused outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence and murder.  Arguing that demonizing your political opponents as enemies is wrong was something Conservatives and the Right more generally was happy to do when Obama said it; however, from Palin et alia's perspective asking that people stop rhetorically murdering one another or predicting that if the Democratic Party succeeds in providing health insurance to more Americans at a reduced cost means that America has become a Maoist dystopia is identical to accusing them of killing the young to bake their bread.  It is, in other words, an example of the rhetorical excess that makes reasoned debate difficult. 

It is also such a deeply unserious response that I wonder if Palin and her image makers have a clue concerning their client's image among those not convinced that Obama was born on the moon.

It's this kind of bizarre and self-serving ranting about Christianity or family values or whathaveyou that leads many to criticize Conservatives as more interested in whipping up division than in resolving crises.

With measured rhetoric like this, who needs deranged maniacs?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Free Marriage

A really nice and concise fact-based discussion of marriage that exposes the stupidity and cupidity of opponents of the coming marriage for all.

One More Thing

The American people should not heed various Senators and Congressmen and women blathering about the need for greater security, either in the totally crazy sense of carrying their own weapons or the unnecessary sense of body guards and plexiglass, because the security state is already too large and already threatens to undermine the Republic.  We don't have to (again) be stampeded into a bad decision because of a tragedy.  If we want to take steps to limit this kind of murderous rampage, whatever the cause, the answer is increased care of the sale and possession of guns.  It won't be perfect, and who said it would be, but better restrictions on guns on increasing police and expanding the state's power panopticon powers. We don't, in other words, have to back Austria's invasion just because someone got assassinated.

Here at The New Yorker

As might be expected, Jill Lepore's essay on the Constitution and its interpretation is real gem of a thing. Well written, insightful, analytically sound, and, in general, designed and implemented to illuminate a fundamentally important set of issues.  Yeah "The New Yorker."

On the other hand, in the same issue, for reasons that remain unclear, David Brooks perfects the art of making up stuff and writing at an undergraduate level. In this case the construct is
the Composure Class rose once again. Its members didn’t make their money through hedge-fund wizardry or by some big financial score. Theirs was a statelier ascent. They got good grades in school, established solid social connections, joined fine companies, medical practices, and law firms. Wealth settled down upon them gradually, like a gentle snow.
If these people exist as such an obvious class that he ought to be able to develop some verifiable statistical categories that show who, how many, what import, etc.  He can't, of course, because that would take work and rely on facts and Brooks hates facts like Ebert hated social revolution. So he makes stuff up:
You can see a paragon of the Composure Class having an al-fresco lunch at some bistro in Aspen or Jackson Hole. He’s just back from China and stopping by for a corporate board meeting on his way to a five-hundred-mile bike-a-thon to support the fight against lactose intolerance. He is asexually handsome, with a little less body fat than Michelangelo’s David. As he crosses his legs, you observe that they are immeasurably long and slender. He doesn’t really have thighs. Each leg is just one elegant calf on top of another. His voice is so calm and measured that he makes Barack Obama sound like Sam Kinison. He met his wife at the Clinton Global Initiative, where they happened to be wearing the same Doctors Without Borders support bracelets. They are a wonderfully matched pair; the only tension between them involves their workout routines. For some reason, today’s high-status men do a lot of running and biking and so only really work on the muscles in the lower half of their bodies. High-status women, on the other hand, pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks with their bare hands.
Ha, Ha, see if he can make stuff up he can make fun of the stuff he makes up and then his investigation of a non-existent, so far as he can show, "class," and I think he mean sociological category in stead of class, becomes comic sociology.  As by the way a cyclists thighs:

So having made up and mocked a "class" of people and having misstated the effects of riding a bicycle, Brooks offers a brief and more or less useless discussion of modern notions of the conscious and unconscious mind, and he concludes that
[t]he cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q. It allows us to tell a different sort of success story, an inner story to go along with the conventional surface one.
As by way of further illumination, Brooks makes up a member of the class he made up and discusses how nature and nurture played a role in creating him, making up all the influences and effects along the way.  It's just great.  If you take an series of abstractions, contentment class, cognitive revolutions concerning nature and nurture, and then apply them to a further abstraction, Harold the imaginary member of the made up class, you can prove nearly anything you'd like.

Not content with making stuff up and then applying it to made up situations and people, Brooks offers such stunning insights resulting from his discussion of nature and nurture as this:
Harold insisted that he was a tiger who had been born on the sun. His parents tried to get him to concede that he was a little boy born in a hospital, but he would become grave and refuse. This formulation, “I’m a tiger,” may seem like an easy thing, but no computer could blend the complicated concept “I” with the complicated concept “tiger” into a single entity.
Computers, get this, aren't people.  Whoda thunkit.
He offers this brilliant apercue on what American culture is all about insisting that
[t]here’s a debate in our culture about what really makes us happy, which is summarized by, on the one hand, the book “On the Road” and, on the other, the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The former celebrates the life of freedom and adventure. The latter celebrates roots and connections.
Yes, Keroac is all about freedom and adventure and has nothing to do with connections like the comradeship of the road or building communities between and amongst those left who either voluntarily or because of social prejudice are excluded from the dominate connected community.  This is another in a series of examples of Brooks' inability to read and think critically.

One of his better bits of magical, just-so-stories way of thinking, if thinking it can be called:
Erica was impressed by him: women everywhere tend to prefer men who have symmetrical features and are slightly older, taller, and stronger than they are. But she was more guarded and slower to trust than Harold was. That’s in part because, while Pleistocene men could pick their mates on the basis of fertility cues discernible at a glance, Pleistocene women faced a more vexing problem. Human babies require years to become self-sufficient, and a single woman in that environment could not gather enough calories to provide for a family.
Yes exactly, the two made-up people behave exactly the way a bowdlerized version of evolutionary psychology says they would because they are made up people from a made up class in a made up world where David Brooks' understanding of the cognitive revolution determines behaviors and attitudes. No woman on meeting a man for the first time might be "guarded and slower to trust" because of the possibility of, say, sexual assault, could she? Not when the more obvious explanation is what may or may not have happened in dimmest of pasts.

And so on and so forth. Why, I ask plaintively and with a strong feeling of betrayal, did "The New Yorker" see fit to publish this stuff and nonsense.  It's not like Brooks doesn't have a bi-weekly gig with the NYTimes and weekly gabfest in which his content free bloviations about the world as it isn't compete with the reliably flabby views of his competitor that guy from somewhere on the East Coast no one ever pays attention to.

Monday, January 10, 2011

By The Way

Republican campaigning in no way advocated violence against enemies/opponents.
One of the shooters at the Tuesday evening event was Robert Lowry, a Republican candidate hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. Lowry's target had the letters "DWS" next to the silhouette head.

Doncha Kinda Sorta Miss the Old Days

Taking Responsibility

I think we can all agree that Paul Sr. is responsible for the family dysfunction. It strikes me as a much harder case to implicate Sarah Palin et alia in the Tuscan tragedy is a bit more complicated.  Conservatives and the right more generally, as the gnash their teeth at the unfairness of it all, might do well to pause and remember all the hyperbolic rhetoric they and their allies heaped on the heads of, for example, the rock and the rollers as the cause of the decline of western civilization or the Ponnuru's "Party of Death" gobbledygook.

Palin et alia ought, it seems to me, not use the kind of language and imagery they use and those seeking to exculpate them ought read ED over to GinandTacos; indeed, we might all benefit from asking the unasked question.

One thing that is clear, to me in any event, that this kind of flippant nonsense from Jonah Goldberg is doing no one any good.

It is also the case that folks like Palin et alia cannot simultaneously give themselves encomiums (encomia?) for changing the conversation without at least considering that the nature of the conversation, its tone, matters. See also, too:


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Settled Law

Mark Krikorian claims to support law of the soil citizenship but he finds the stridency of law of the soil proponents irksome.  Why?  Because of arguments like this:
[Linda Chavez] writes:
The language is unambiguous: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
By “unambiguous,” of course, she actually means “ambiguous,” since the meaning of the “jurisdiction” part is not at all obvious and is the focus of the whole debate.
That's right, if you point out that all the Supreme Court decisions, like this one, dealing with "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" mean being here regardless of how you got here makes the legal meaning of the 14th unambiguous you're "sneering" at those constitutional Conservatives who only want to "debate" the possibility that American values require the creation of a second class of non-citizens.