LARD-ASSED SUBURBAN WHITE GUYS, CIRCLE THE WAGONS!

Posted in Rants on May 31st, 2007 by Ed

Wow. Well, I guess you have to give Bill O'Reilly some credit for just laying it out there. Unvarnished. No punches pulled.

Bill O'Reilly: But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you've got to cap with a number.

Quick! Pasty-faced Oakbrook Commandos, spring to the defense of the privilege that is your birthright in the USA! (No, not you, Jews….we approve of your whiteness but not your Christ-killing). Youtube video (priceless photographic proof of McCain smiling, nodding, and wholeheartedly agreeing) and longer transcript via the link.

CARTOGRAPHIC FUN

Posted in Rants on May 31st, 2007 by Ed

So much of the war in Iraq is completely abstract. We hear every day about the "Green Zone," the airport, "Sadr City," and so on. These places might be far out of sight but they are in fact quite real. As I've always been fascinated by maps, new (and publicly-available) satellite mapping is essentially my favorite toy. I think some of these images are a testimonial to the stupidity, futility, and utter lack of planning that define this conflict.

These images are relevant when you consider the new opulent US Embassy complex (the only part of the entire Iraq reconstruction process that was completed on time and on budget – I'm sure the Iraqis appreciate that) is in the GZ. And even when troop levels are drawn down, we're not abandoning that thing. That is, not until Iraq erupts into complete and full-intensity civil war without our military to absorb the punishment. Of course what this means is that we will eventually be faced with the prospect of evacuating the GZ "Fall of Saigon" style. Or if you prefer we could do "Fall of Phnom Penh" style.

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First, note the location of the Green Zone relative to Baghdad's lifeline to the rest of the world – its airport. While they're "only" six miles apart, the trip between the two routinely takes more than an hour. Completely unable to prevent regular attacks on the direct airport-GZ route, the military has taken to using convoluted and indirect routes to try to thwart insurgent attacks. It is tempting to ask what kind of absolute idiot would not set up a fortified position with its ass pressed directly against the escape route (i.e. the airport) but I'm afraid the answer would be rhetorical. Rule One is that you don't put yourself in a physical position from which you cannot extract yourself.

Rule Two is that you don't set up a defensive position with your back to a wall. If I'm not mistaken, setting up the GZ in a bend in the Tigris does exactly that. Smart. Very smart.

Rule Three is that you always have an alternate escape route. A backup plan. "Another way off the island" so to speak – and the metaphor is appropriate since the GZ is essentially an island. Look real closely at the next picture and tell me if you see another way out of the GZ. I (very crudely) marked a hint for you.

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Yes, that's right. Our alternative to an airport evacuation would be to evacuate the GZ via one two-lane bridge, which the military would be forced to hold indefinitely. What you hear right now is the sound of good planning.

At this point an impartial observer might begin to question the wisdom of holding a small fortified island in the middle of an otherwise uncontrollable and hostile sea of people. We have secured the airport, we have (essentially) secured the GZ, and nothing inbetween. I have no doubt that our military, were its full force brought to bear on the situation, could facilitate an evacuation (or continued re-supply of an otherwise isolated GZ) if necessary. But it certainly won't be pretty and, like everything else about this war, it will be made infinitely more difficult than it needs to be thanks for a combination of stupidity, hubris, and They Will Hail Us as their Liberators planning.

THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS

Posted in Rants on May 30th, 2007 by Ed

I hesitate to talk about this "news" item, because discussing them validates the idea that they are relevant, but…..our friends over at Free Republic (the most popular right-wing message board / commentary community) just purged themselves of all Giuliani supporters. Moderators for the registration-only site have, under the direction of the site's principal, stated in no uncertain terms that a Giuliani candidacy is unacceptable, Case Closed.

I'm perplexed. This story must be a huge mistake. Conservatism is the great Marketplace of Ideas! Purges and authoritarian thought policing? Well that's pure Stalinism right there. Only liberals would do that.

I think this dovetails nicely into an understanding of why the right-wing Blogosphere is so utterly irrelevant. While left-wing blogs organize, raise money, disseminate news items, and generally do more reporting than the mainstream media, their right-wing counterparts are essentially an extension of talk radio. That is, it's a place for angry white guys to agree with one another. Their idea of "reporting" or in any way contributing to the dissemination of news is to baselessly claim that everything they disagree with is made up. Remember this?

The left-wing blogs are all about spreading information. Their right-wing counterparts are all about opinion. Whether it's well thought-out opinion or bat-shit insane wingnut ranting, it's still just opinion. That's why their contribution to the political discourse is so blindingly insignificant – like AM radio, it's just a bunch of gas bags pissing and moaning simply because, when all of the facts are against you, there's nothing to do but A) change positions or B) piss and moan. And that's why nobody, and I do mean nobody, gives a flying shit about what any of these tantrum-throwing semiliterates have to say.

TIME WELL SPENT

Posted in Rants on May 29th, 2007 by Ed

I'm glad that The Half Hour News Hour took three months off between episodes – surely that would give them plenty of time to write, you know, some material that is actually humorous.

Never mind, of course, the fact that its arch-rival The Daily Show cranks out a truly hilarious product every 24 hours without much difficulty. Hey, that's fine. Some people are tortoises and some people are hares. Let's not mock our conservative bretheren just because it takes them 50 times longer to come up with 1/2 hour of funny or relevant material.

No, let's mock them because after three months off, this is the dreck they were able to come up with. Must have been a slow news…..year? Quarter?

I swear to god, that show's jokes are written by a committee of 60 year-old white guys and Phyllis Schlafly interns.

THIS IS WHAT A TERRORIST LOOKS LIKE

Posted in Rants on May 22nd, 2007 by Ed

A 19 year-old student at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University was arrested after his family told police he had made six improvised explosives with which he planned to "deal with" anticipated protestors at Rev. Falwell's funeral.

Hmm….someone within the United States making bombs, plotting to detonate them in public places, and intending to cause many casualties. Haven't "The Commander Guy" and his colleagues coined a term for that sort of person during their seven-year reign? I think it's terrorist if I'm not mistaken. Let's see how eagerly the Justice Department leaps into the breach to arrest and try this domestic terrorist. Oh wait, they won't. Terrorists are scary brown people yelling things about Allah, not nice white Christians. I'm sure your Heck-of-a-Job Attorney General (side note: isn't it amusing how Bush Votes of Confidence are the new kiss of death?) will be along shortly to explain why this individual's case is "different" and he is not in fact a terrorist.

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

Posted in Rants on May 22nd, 2007 by Ed

In the 68 hours of oral arguments that have taken place during the Supreme Court's current session, Clarence Thomas has not uttered a single word according to Court transcripts. Since transcripts began attributing comments to specific Justices in 2004, Thomas has spoken a grand total of 281 words. In that same timespan, Antonin Scalia and Steven Breyer have hammered attorneys with 30,000 and 35,000 words of questions, respectively.

35,000 to 281. That is, in case you do not feel like doing the math, a ratio of 125:1.

Anyone else wonder if Clarence's often-praised "pensiveness" and Silent Bob-esque reputation for saying little but making it count (like his extraordinarily brief dissent in Lawrence v Texas) is actually….well, stupidity?

AN OPEN SET OF OUTCOMES

Posted in Rants on May 21st, 2007 by Ed

Today I want to say something that amounts to little more than a good bitch about an issue of relevance only to academics (and even then, often only marginally so). You've been warned.

I hate rational choice-based social science research. I really do. Rational choice models, like 99% of what social scientists do, are simply an outdated technique stolen from economics and ham-fistedly rearranged to accomodate non-economic behavior. Constantly dealing with rational choice-based political science is probably the most irritating part of what I do in a professional setting.

Rational choice has its place. It does. It really does. But that place is not "everywhere" and at all times. Unfortunately that is the place it appears to have assumed. I despise it because rational choice social science is a rigged system that plays to the basest Awe of Science and Big Numbers in uninformed people and usually amounts to no more, in my opinion, than unfalsifiable pseudoscience.

The inherent flaw is the idea (implicitly encouraged by some practitioners but explicitly stated by others) that everything can be quantified. We all understand where the Prisoners' Dilemma falls apart – if the crooks are Mafiosos, they're not going to talk. They value Not Dying more than Utility Maximization. Rational choice research too often picks up at this point and, like a snake-oil salesman, soothingly tells you not to worry because Fear of Dying can be incorporated into your model as a latent variable.

The second I read something and see a "utility" variable (or, even more disingenuously, a quantitative variable used as a "proxy" for utility) I realize that it has become safe to stop reading. It is usually a cheap effort to continue applying a rational choice framework to a situation to which it does not apply. Far, far too often these arguments quickly reduce to tautologies.

If Frank is a Union plumber and he has a choice between the pro-Union Democratic candidate and anti-Union Republican, rational choice theory suggests quite obviously that he will choose the candidate who maximizes his personal utility. Fine. If Frank does choose the Democrat, then everything works out swell. Unfortunately sometimes Frank chooses the Republican, and that's when the bullshit starts to fly. Start making up "qualitative" variables and "measures of utility" and, voila, you've got a published paper.

You see, if we add in a variable for "social conservatism" (either a fabricated measure made from sunshine and farts or a "stand-in" like self-reported church attendance) and suddenly Frank's Republicanism is Rational After All. Amazing!

Any 18 year-old who has passed an Intro to Logic class knows about Moving Goalposts as an inherently flawed rhetorical technique – i.e., Our justification for invading Iraq was WMD, but if we don't find any then our justification was Liberating the Iraqi People, but if they resent our presence then our justification was Ties to Al-Qaeda, but if there were none then our justification was X or Y or Z. This is essentially what the "turn it into a variable" game does in rational choice. We arrogantly assume that we know Frank's decision must be rational, so if he makes a decision which appears irrational based on our theory we are simply looking at the wrong variable. So change the variable until we find one that works in our model to "prove" just how rationally Frank is acting.

This is the Webster's definition of a tautology. Such logic assumes its own conclusions – that individuals act rationally is both the conclusion and the basic premise of rational choice models. Frank will choose the candidate who maximizes his utility. We thought, from his Union membership, that the Democrat would be the choice. But we were wrong: apparently the Republican is the candidate who maximizes his utility. How do we know? Because that's the one he chose. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how often this logic presents itself or is implied in research I read.

It gives me the feeling that researchers create a hypothesis, do some hesitation wound-style "pre-testing" research, and then go back to create their model and choose their variables once they see the results. The end result is a bunch of cocky assholes who gloat about the glories or rational choice, the perfect theory that essentially Explains Everything. Whenever they are wrong, they simply add a new variable that will give them the conclusion they want and start over. Thereby can this simple theory, originally intended to explain a narrow range of economic decisions, be made to explain the entirety of individual and collective human behavior.

And don't even get me started about the New Coat of Paint technique of calling it "bounded rationality" to milk 10 additional years of publications out of a stale idea.

HYPERVENTILATING

Posted in Rants on May 20th, 2007 by Ed

OK, I seriously cannot explain how f'n excited I am to see the new Transformers film. Frankly it's a little embarassing. But now that we can finally see a full theatrical trailer in hi-definition, I'm pretty comfortable with assuming that this is going to be awesome.

As I said in my last post about this film a few months ago, I know it's Michael Bay. Michael Bay sucks. I know. The dialogue will be stilted, the plot will be ridiculous, and there will be a dramatic monologue or three. I could not possibly give less of a shit. All I know is that they absolutely f'n nailed the visuals. Watch the hi-def trailer and tell me you do not think this is going to be a big-screen feast for the eyes. Look at these clips (especially Starscream on the Hoover Dam or Blackout attacking the military base – holy crap) and tell me it doesn't make your balls jiggle with delight.

If only they could reincarnate Scatman Crothers to do the voice of Jazz (a la the cartoon movie) my life would be complete. Getting Hugo Weaving to do Megatron is a decent consolation prize, though.

Just….a few…..more……months……

COOPIE 'N ME

Posted in Rants on May 18th, 2007 by Ed

Today's NPF is possibly the greatest video ever made. I know that's a fairly bold and sweeping claim, but off the top of my head I am having a hard time thinking of anything more amazing and life-affirming.

The following is a music video from the defunct band Shorty, which was fronted by Al Johnson who later went on to lead US Maple. The latter of course put out some terrific and unique albums before Johnson decided to start "singing" (as opposed to the coughing, grunting, howling, and whatever else you'd call his vocalization for which he is famous). Once that happened, US Maple got unlistenable. In a hurry.

Kids and suburban housewives agree: Al Johnson is the balls.

SUMMERS AT CAMP CHICKENHAWK

Posted in Rants on May 15th, 2007 by Ed

Every time I think I've seen rock bottom from our friends on the Right, it is only a matter of moments until something more disgusting comes along. So while I'm tempted to say that this is as bad as it gets, this is definitely the most revolting thing I've seen in quite some time.

So, let's say you're the average pasty, lard-assed, $100k-per-year neocon white guy in the suburbs. Summer's coming quickly; the kids will be out of school in a few weeks and they're certainly going to need something to do for the summer. I mean, that 8 hour per week job at the ice cream place (they're learning that work builds character!) isn't going to occupy them. If only there were some way you could instill in them values like Leadership and Teamwork.

Wait! How about Freedom Alliance Military Leadership Academy?!?!

Brought to you by an old, familiar face (Lt. Col. Oliver North) and some friends, the FAMLA (please do not confuse it with the communist, welfare-queen giveaway Family and Medical Leave Act) gives your spoiled, arrogant teenager the opportunity to experience the real military lifestyle…..without actually having to do any military service! Yes, that's right. It's like being in the Army minus the unpleasant risk of death and contact with Negroes!

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From the photos and brochures, the program looks like it consists mostly of taking kids for rides on military equipment and having them do "basic training," a.k.a. going for a couple hikes. But Ed, you say, couldn't this be a valuable experience for young people? It sure could be! I just…can't….shake the feeling….that there's some other way that healthy 18 year old kids could "experience the military lifestyle." Maybe, you know, enlisting. So they can go get shot full of holes. Like all the 18 year old kids whose parents don't have money to send them to ridiculous camps – or, you know, college.

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The materials claim that the camp's graduates go on to:

"…pursue careers in the military and as DOD civilians, such as the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, while others go to college or directly to the workforce.