BEHOLD.

Posted in No Politics Friday on January 31st, 2008 by Ed

So here it is – the all-new ginandtacos. It was created by the Courtney, and she did it for free. She is amazing. Her theory, posited several months ago, was that one of the things holding back g&t was its lousy mechanics. The search and archives sucked, updating the layout was cumbersome, and it generally looked dated. I think many of those problems have been solved.

First of all, I encourage everyone, be you new visitors or long-time readers, to use the comment function to let me know what suggestions you have. Is everything easy to read? Laid out logically? Are there bugs? "Design" is not exactly my specialty so please point out anything that isn't where it should be.

Second, I'd like to add to the Blogroll. Post a link to your site in the comments and I'll probably add you. Strong preference is given to the reliable regular commenters and friends of g&t, of course.

Lastly, good god almighty does MoveableType suck dong compared to WordPress. I'm not sure I can mathematically express how many times more straightforward and user-friendly this is.

So that's that. I'm pretty goddamn excited about it, but obviously there's always room for improvement. Let me know, and enjoy.

ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 15: P.B.A./INEXPLICABLE

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on January 31st, 2008 by Ed

(Note: Be sure to check in tomorrow – big things on tap. So excited.)

As my friends over at Non-Sequitur point out, some logically flawed arguments are so bizarre, convoluted, and flat-out…wrong that they defy description. We've all been there, confronted by an argument so incoherent and stupid that we don't even know where to begin responding. Non-Seq and other logic-oriented writing dump these arguments into general categories with names like Unclassifiable, Uncategorizable, Inexplicable, Things that are False, or Plain Bad Argument. Ending up in this netherworld means that one or more of the following is true of an argument:

  • It is so nonsensical that it doesn't even rise to the lofty height of being a logical fallacy. Fallacies, after all, have rules.
  • It is internally inconsistent and therefore not an argument.
  • It contains so many different fallacies that it's impossible to pick one that defines it.

    Now, if you're particularly cynical you might feel a slight tickle in the back of your head that says, "Ha ha! What is Ed going to do now, bring in David Brooks?" Yes, here comes David Brooks. If you've ever visited this site before, you'll know that I hate very few people like I hate this blob of penile cancer. I actually smell sulfur in the presence of his columns. Leaving aside the fact that he's condescending, disingenuous, and boring, the guy also can't construct an argument to save his soul. Look (if you dare) at his latest, a 600-word explanation/solution of the entire subprime crisis. You might think it's a complicated issue, but as usual David explains just how simple it all is – alongside the proper conclusions to be drawn. Let me summarize if you dare not read it:

    1. No one is responsible or to blame for the subprime mortgage crisis – it just happened, apparently independent of any actor or action.

    2. There's no reason it should be a campaign issue, since it is no one's fault.

    3. It will fix itself, so long as we are willing to be Good, Reasonable People and let the infinite wisdom and majesty of the market fix it. As it fixes all things.

    It's amazing how many different fallacies he manages to incorporate. A college instructor could make an excellent assignment out of this. See if you can count'em all, kids! David's editors sure can't. And you're brighter than the people who hired Bill Kristol, aren't you?

    One more example, which was my original inspiration for this post a few weeks ago. I ran it by amateur logician and regular commenter Matthew L., hopeful that he could categorize it for me. I believe his response was "I'm really not sure that this is sophisticated enough to be a logical fallacy. Unless you count being an idiot as a fallacy." Indeed, Matthew. Indeed. Consider the following argument made by sportswriter Dave Buscema, who is arguing why a particular player should not be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

    I can let the mediocre win-loss record go a bit because he played for so many poor teams and excelled in the postseason when given the chance, but ultimately I still would have liked to have seen at least a little better winning percentage … and more than one 20-win season in 22 years."

    Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ. Fortunately we are only talking about sports here and not something important. The writer does not mind the player's mediocre Wins vs Losses record, but his winning percentage (Wins / Wins + Losses, obviously) is too low. And he didn't win enough games. Folks, this is how an argument negates itself through the sheer brute force of its idiocy. And that's how an argument can be so bad that its incorrectness can scarcely be described.

  • COMRADES, UNITE IN DEFENSE OF THE MOTHERLAND!

    Posted in Rants on January 30th, 2008 by Ed

    I make a habit of telling my students to keep in mind one of Karl Marx's fundamental theories for analyzing socioeconomic and political issues: Ask yourself "Who pays?" and "Who benefits?" I do this not because I desire to turn them all into Marxists, as I find much of Marxism quite stupid. These questions greatly increase the odds that one's understanding of why something that may or may not make sense is happening. It's also a useful way to figure out who's getting it broken off in their collective ass – and who's doing the breaking.

    Let's apply these very basic questions to Our Leader (and Congress) as they cook up another nauseatingly cynical "stimulus" plan that consists of sending people big checks 4 months before the election. First of all, why is "stimulus" necessary? For the past 7 years – hell, up until just a few weeks ago – the economy was So Goddamn Strong That We Can Hardly Believe It. It was the Greatest Story Never Told. President Bush, his Treasury Secretary, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, Fox News….they were breathlessly extolling the magnitude of our economic power. Press fast forward and leap from early December 07 to late January 08. Now economic indicators are "mixed," Americans are "worried," and the economy needs tens of billions in stimulus. Boy, that was fast.

    Who's paying? You are, dumbass. Setting aside the stock-footage, often-promised-but-never-fucking-works Supply Side nonsense about how tax cuts/rebates pay for themselves (several times over!) this is simply another (conveniently, of course, long after Bush is history). It's like a cash advance or payday loan. It's a little more like John Doe 2008 borrowing from John Doe 2010. Most of all, it's another example of the "Me! Me! Me!" generation of baby boomers borrowing from their kids while they crank up the Limbaugh and give us all the finger.

    I digress.

    So who benefits? The knee-jerk reaction might be to say that low income taxpayers do (given that the benefit of an even payment across all incomes is regressive). But honestly, tell me what $600 is going to do for someone whose home is being foreclosed. Or on the brink of bankruptcy. Or balls-deep in debt, getting the utilities disconnected, and so on. If any of that applies, $600 is going to forestall the inevitable for a few more weeks. At best. No, the actual beneficiaries are lenders. They're the ones getting a huge infusion of cash as opposed to the peanuts and individual person will receive.

    Our Leader does not give a rimjob from a $3 whore about you, your financial problems, or your mortgage. Regular Americans have been having problems with these issues in increasing numbers for a couple decades. No, what changed between 12/1/07 and 1/29/08 is that the stock market took a dive, mortgage lenders (and banks in general) have released cascading waves of gloomy forecasts and poor results, and the financial industry as a whole is starting to get very uneasy about the bottom line.

    A CNN poll (and forgive me, I can't find it at the moment) showed 50% of the respondents indicating that they plan to use their check to pay bills, with about 30% of the remaining half either lying or not very bright ("Ima spend me this bitch on onea dem Vizio TVs!"). I guess the President and Congress thought it might ruffle some feathers to announce "Government to hand banks $150 billion" so setting up the taxpayer as a middleman makes good public relations sense.

    Cynical? Borderline Marxist? Paranoid? OK, well, offer me a better explanation of why the economy was fantastic 8 weeks ago and in need of billions in handouts today. Please.

    HEY! LOOK! OVER THERE!

    Posted in Rants on January 29th, 2008 by Ed

    I think that if I had to boil 8 years of George W. Bush down to one essential characteristic it would have to be the doggedness with which he attacks the third or fourth most important cause of any given problem. We as a nation do not have much difficulty identifying problems. It's that next step that leaves half of us stunned and confused. The other half is apparently very easily distracted.

    Take tonight's SOTU (ginandtacos tip: read it, which takes 5 minutes, as opposed to 90 minutes of televised torture) for example. Our Leader believes that we're having some problems with our national pocketbook. We all agree, right? The solution: an executive order that will eliminate a small percentage of earmarked discretionary spending. Yes….um….that is clearly the solution. I might, on the contrary, posit that the quarter-billion-dollar-per-day Iraq sideshow is the actual cause of our financial conundrum.

    This fits a pattern quite nicely. People can't afford healthcare, so we need tort reform (malpractice insurance apparently comprising 90% of the cost of healthcare). Terrorism is a problem – let's invade Iraq. Precipitous decline in blue-collar employment? Extend the richest 5 percent's tax cut. Foreclosures out the ass? Send everyone a check for $600. It really amounts to little more than an extended exercise in seizing upon available current events as remotely plausible excuses for railroading 30 year-old conservative talking points through Congress. In 2000, I think this man entered office with a chart; on the right side were three solutions ('Cut taxes", "Send everyone a check", and "Invade Iraq") and blanks for the problems.

    It's amazing, isn't it? Imagine conducting your own affairs this way. I'm having trouble with my dissertation – better sell my car. My health isn't great, so I've decided to learn how to lay hardwood flooring. Let the wisdom flow. The one benefit of all this is that it will not be hard for future generations of children to be given an example when they ask what "specious" means.

    PERSPECTIVE

    Posted in Rants on January 28th, 2008 by Ed

    Among important stories about John Edwards' haircuts, Hillary Clinton's tipping habits, Mike Huckabee's band, and Rudy's impending/stirring comeback in Florida, the mainstream media seem to be missing a very important point about the primaries thus far. Shocking, I know.

    With 1.5 exceptions (Nevada and the Hillary vs. no one Democratic non-primary in Michigan) the nominating contests thus far have shown significantly higher turnout on the Democratic side. While I'd strongly caution anyone from reading too much into this too soon, it's certainly interesting in light of a decade worth of Rove Era GOP "turnout machine" handjobbing in the media. They've long relied on the idea of a smaller yet far more reliable and committed base. It has reached Conventional Wisdom status. But I wonder if that confidence holds for 2008.

    Consider, just for starters, that Barack Obama (295,091) got more votes in South Carolina than the top two GOP finishers combined (McCain and Huckabee, ~279,000). Look at the balance of participation thus far, bearing in mind that SC, IA, and NH are not exactly hotbeds of liberalism.

    South Carolina (Total)
    – Democrats: 530,322
    – GOP: 442,918
    – Margin: +87,404

    Iowa (Total)
    – Democrats: 239,000 (state party estimates; individual votes not tallied)
    – GOP: 118,691
    – Margin: +120,309

    New Hampshire (Total)
    – Democrats: 284,104
    – GOP: 233,381
    – Margin: +50,723

    Now, I wouldn't go to Vegas and bet my life savings ($32.10) on the general election based on these results. Primary turnout is so pitiful that drawing conclusions or extrapolating general election outcomes is quite tenuous. Less than 20% of Iowans participated in the Caucus, whereas nearly three times that amount will vote in November. So this does not mean "Slam Dunk Democratic victory assured." Neither is it irrelevant, however. It's not an accident that Republicans (and independents) don't feel as compelled to show up. It's an uninspiring field with no clear leader, and it shows.

    I'm sure Chris Matthews understands this and factors it in to his incisive commentary at all times.

    SO IT HAS COME TO THIS – AGAIN

    Posted in No Politics Friday on January 25th, 2008 by Ed

    Welcome, No Politics Friday ™. We need you.

    My roommate and I have a running joke at the moment. Whenever we see a TV commercial for a new (obviously half-baked) reality show, we pause and say, "Goddamn you, writers' strike." TV was already loaded to the gunwales with horrendous cheaper-than-original-scripted-programming reality shows. But even my jaded ass was horrified to see that the cupboard of ideas is so unbelievably bare that NBC brought back American Gladiators. American Fucking Gladiators. Again.

    I make one basic assumption about media – if something (music, movie, TV, whatever) struck me as abysmal and puerile when I was 9 years old, it is very, very unlikely that it will strike me as less so as an adult. This is not an exception. But I'm sure this will be as popular as the original. Which makes me wonder – what's wrong with me? What's wrong with any of us? I have a hard time believing I am of the same species as people who like this – and most of America seems to do so.

    I must reeeeally be out of touch. How anyone can watch these HGH-sweating mongoloid retards hitting each other with plastic sticks – and like it - is simply beyond me. Half a minute of it is enough to put me down on my knees, praying to an assortment of deities that a comet will strike the Earth and wipe out humanity. We have clearly failed and need to hit the reset button.

    See? My reaction is atypical. I'm a bad American.

    I'd like to identify the exact point of divergence at which I parted ways with my WWF/American Gladiators-loving countrymen. In my more cynical moments (i.e., when I am awake) I wonder if that moment was when I learned how to read.

    Goddamn you, writers' strike.

    NOBEL LAUREATE IN BEING A TARD

    Posted in Rants on January 24th, 2008 by Ed

    (Many thanks to my political science colleague David Schwab, who made these arguments so clearly in an email that I am very heavily quoting/paraphrasing him here. David, you're a game theory monster.)

    The chair of my department sent out an email today suggesting that we check out an "interesting" piece by Nobel Laureate Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post. I say "interesting" because it is a direct quote…and because I believe the column might better be described as "retarded."

    I am somewhat in disbelief in response to Mallaby's argument. That is, I simply can't believe that he's really this stupid. He's a Nobel Laureate. He brashly, nauseatingly titled the column "A Nobel Laureate's Primary" to remind us all that he's a goddamn Nobel Laureate. They're smart, right? Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we could conclude that he is simply dumbing this topic down for a general newspaper audience. But academics should never, ever do that. Whatever they gain in mainstream notoriety, they will lose to the sharpened claws of their colleagues in the field. Ask James David Barber.

    Simply put, Mallaby, a Nobel Laureate in mechanism design (a specialized area of game theory), could show such a complete and appalling lack of understanding of the mechanisms of voting. His proposal is essentially to find a Condorcet winner, which is a concept that any first-year grad student (and many knowledgable laypeople) can explain. Said grad students could easily explain that not every election can or will have a Condorcet winner. Then what, Sebastian?

    The heart of his proposal has some appeal to the average reader – let's end up with the candidate who is preferred by the largest number of voters. Let's let voters indicate orders of preference among multiple candidates. Mallaby seems to think he has proposed a system that will do this…and more! It'll help you lose weight, too. It will make you more attractive. Apparently he had his fingers crossed that no one has ever heard of Kenneth Arrow or the General Possibility Theorem, which (again, most undergrads could explain this) proves that, given several generally-accepted criteria for rationality, renders any preference aggregation system involving more than two choices irrational.

    I'm not sure Mr. Mallaby proved much aside from the fact that he can wave around an honor he has received like a flag of authenticity while simultaneously giving ample reason to question the Nobel folks' decision. Maybe a fancy title, a "novel" idea, and some big words are enough to create the appearance of authority in the eyes of high school graduates reading the paper during the morning commute, but I wonder why he'd let his academic colleagues see something that shows such an embarassing lack of understanding in his field of "expertise."

    (Thanks again, Dave! You explained it a lot better than I could have.)

    FILE UNDER "SUPPORTING THE TROOPS"

    Posted in Rants on January 23rd, 2008 by Ed

    Since I got some pretty good traction on my rant about the V-22 Osprey boondoggle (and its habit of plummeting from the sky and killing enlisted men) I thought I'd bring you another clipping to file under "Oh Hell Yeah, We Are Supporting the Shit Out of the Troops."

    I'm not the kind of person who watches the Military Channel and masturbates to the various gun porn now playing 24-7 on satellite TV, but looking at these issues from a nuts-and-bolts perspective offers an excellent snapshot of how "Support the Troops" means "Support the Military-Industrial Complex" in practice. When the choice comes down to saving the lives of the (poor, rural, or colored) enlisted people or building some $30 billion flying coffin to appease Lockheed Martin, there's really no choice at all. That's why we have 19 year old kids getting shot up in poorly armored, poorly defensible Hummers, body armor that is proven to be far inferior to an alternative product now available, helicopters that fall out of the sky and now rifles that occasionally don't fire.

    Part of this stems from the generalized tendency of the military to resist change. It's in the military doctrine to convince themselves that whatever they're using is the best, and therefore replacements are always viewed skeptically. But the recent tests of the M4A1 standard battle rifle shows that the military is also capable of sticking its head in the sand, ignoring empirical data, and disregarding the complaints of men and women who are forced to use a weapon in which they have questionable confidence.

    Briefly, the M4A1 is a very old design, modernized over the past three decades but based on the 1960s-vintage M16 design that fared so poorly upon introduction. Essentially the M4 is a carbine (lighter, with a shorter barrel for use in close quarter combat) version of the M16, using the same flawed action and equally difficult to keep clean and prevent jamming. If you're not familiar with the saga of adopting the M16 in Vietnam (it was originally designed as a cheap, plastic rifle for guarding stateside military bases, not for being dragged through swamps) you can get some background here. Let's just say it proved very difficult to keep clean, tended to jam regularly, and did not endear itself to soldiers.

    After years of Congressional prodding (led by GOP Senator Tom Coburn) the Army finally conducted an "extreme environment" dust test of its rifle alongside competitors used, or under consideration, in other branches. Not to put too fine a point on it, the M4A1 was the Dennis Kucinich of this competition. Each weapon fired 6000 rounds (cleaning every 1200) in an "extreme dust" environment, like, you know, one finds in Iraq or Afghanistan. For example.

    The prototype XM8 jammed 127 times, followed by the Special Forces SCAR (226) and the Marine Hk416 (233). The M4 pulled up the rear – and that's being generous – with 882 jams, nearly 4 times as many as its nearest competitor. To put that in perspective, that is 1 in 68, and a clip holds 30 rounds. So the average soldier can expect his or her rifle to jam and refuse to fire approximately once every two clips. Not to get too heavily into the mechanics of warfare, but…let's just say that one's rifle not firing is a bad thing. Imagine trying to disassemble, clean, and reassemble your toaster while someone is trying to kill you. That'll give you a rough estimate.

    Of course the fine folks in command have decided that the tests were bunk, in no way influenced by the new, massive deal signed with manufacturer Colt Firearms. Top buyer General Mark Brown responded to the tests with, "The M4 carbine is a world-class weapon. (Troops) have high confidence in that weapon, and that high confidence level is justified, in our view, as a result of all test data and all investigations we have made."

    Huh. That's an interesting interpretation of the test data.

    Once again I suppose it's up to Congress to do something, as unlikely as that seems, because the likelihood of the Executive Branch or military-industrial gangbang dealing with an issue by prioritizing lives over lobbyists is statistically equivalent to zero. Why the military seems to believe that "pretty good" is the gold standard, irrespective of the number of superior alternatives, is baffling by any other logic.

    PRIMARY LAG

    Posted in Rants on January 22nd, 2008 by Ed

    So what happened this weekend? Well, history started to redeem itself.

    I've been teaching classes on the presidency and presidential elections since 2005, and every semester students seem very interested in learning how to make accurate predictions – to impress friends and family, I assume. There's a very simple way to predict who will win the nominations. Just look at who has raised the most money. Really. It's that easy, as long as you eliminate as outliers a few eccentric billionaires (Steve Forbes, etc).

    Romney is someone who got written off early – too early. He's less terrifying than Huckabee, less of an idiot than Rudy, and not 80 years old and pathetic like McCain. Basically, he's a good looking guy who successfully protrays himself as a moderate…and he has raised more than any of his opponents. All signs point to yes.

    Hillary has outraised every candidate in either party, which historically would suggest her as a shoo-in. However, Obama's fund raising has essentially kept pace. He has raised less than Hillary, but not by much (and he's far ahead of any Republican). The fact that they're so close makes it essentially a toss-up, hence the split decisions we've seen thus far. I'd rather be the Democrats right now, as they are splitting the primaries because there are multiple strong candidates, than the GOP, who are splitting races because all of the candidates are horrendous.

    One of the best races no one's talking about is the winner of the Wesley Clark Award – I can't tell if it's Fred Thompson or America's Mayor ™. I mean, are they a couple of sacks of shit or what? Genital herpes has generated more public enthusiasm. Savor their spectacular failure, for they are failures of historic proportions, and think back fondly to the summer of 2007 when Rudy and Freddie were the front-runner and the GOP's imminent savior, respectively.

    If Hillary manages to win South Carolina, I take back everything I said last week. It's over and she's the nominee. If Obama wins, as I suspect he will, the thick plottens.

    THAT SPINNING SOUND

    Posted in Rants on January 21st, 2008 by Ed

    While I'd normally talk about the primaries in light of this weekend's action, I think the holiday deserves some thought today.

    Martin Luther King, like "the Holocaust" or "the Founding Fathers", has become a perfunctory public relations tool. White America has the annoying tendency to bring him up as a form of tokenism, a la "And to show you how I'm down with the colored folk, I will now talk about how great I think MLK was." He's a backdrop for cheesy advertising, motivational speeches, and sidebars in textbooks. We bring him up a lot on our patronizing photo-op Trips into Harlem ("I support Dr. King…..and mandatory minimum sentencing!"). He's lauded for his "peaceful" and dignified approach (unlike that nasty Malcom X, who doesn't make white people feel quite so good about themselves). We remember and talk about, in essence, everything except what he actually stood for. We go as far as to innocuously call the holiday "Human Rights Day" just to completely de-contextualize and water down any potential discussion of the racial elephant in the room.

    Let's not talk about how there are now more black men in prison than college – and that the black prison population has risen from 150,000 (in 1980) to 800,000 (today). A 350% increase in 25 years seems reasonable. Like many white Americans, I was raised to believe that there are more black people in the justice system because more black people commit crimes. I guess no one thought it strange that they apparently started committing all of these crimes in 1980. Maybe they had a national meeting and decided to go on a spree. We can't talk about that, because that would entail talking about how the entire "War on Drugs" is little more than a thinly-disguised War on the People We Don't Want In Our Neighborhoods. Of the black men born between 1978 and 1982, 16% are either dead or in prison. Think about that for a second.

    Let's not talk about black/white income inequality, or the torrent of race-baiting we see from the media, talk radio, and elected officials, or the white hysteria about "reverse racism" and "racial quotas." Instead let's just warmly applaud a 45-second news story about that likeable man who had some sort of dream, a dream that, whatever it was, apparently worked out OK.

    We live in a country in which intelligent people still raise their kids to roll up the windows in "black neighborhoods," to believe that everyone on welfare is black (and they're on it because they're too lazy to work), to think that the ignorant black people are going to unfairly take the law school spots that are rightly Ours, and to think that one can believe all of these things and somehow Not be a Racist. We live in a country where we don't debate racial issues, we debate Free Republic propaganda about how MLK, if alive today, would be rubbing elbows with Trent Lott in the GOP caucus. Can't blame the right wing for trying to claim him, since he and his message have been reduced entirely to Dalai Lama-esque mascot status.