NPF: SICK BURNAGE

Two things.

1. I enjoyed reading the Guardian's back-handed insult of an obituary to Jesse Helms. Although it was restrained – more condescending and glib than mean – it reminded me of some others I've enjoyed, including The New York Times' scathing obituary of John C. Breckenridge (warning: contains old-timey 1860s-speak) or H.L. Mencken's over-the-top vituperative send-off of William Jennings Bryan. Though written 70 years ago, it could be cut-and-pasted for Helms today:

Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile.

This Helms-inspired trip down memory lane reminded me of just how much I enjoy a vicious, scathing piece of journalism, some deserving person or thing being ripped to shreds. Outside of the obituary page, my favorite example has to be Matt Taibbi's review of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat (read it. seriously, read it.)

On an ideological level, Friedman's new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans.

Let's keep this theme going: what are your favorite examples? Nasty book reviews, movie reviews, music reviews, obituaries, restaurant critics….anything. Help me out here.

2. Hold on, I have to go step in front of a speeding train because this band and this band not only exist but, with 100,000+ myspace friends apiece, are about 1082820865 times more popular than mine. (make sure your speakers are turned on! wouldn't want to miss the good stuff!) Seriously, fuck it. I'm just going to start a "band" of rapping clowns. It will be 1780s-themed and called Articlez of Krunkfederation. Unless you have a better idea (note: all suggestions must incorporate the word "krunk.")

UFC 86: PLUTOCRATS VS. XENOPHOBES!

Are you ready for some knock-down, drag-out cage match action? For just $49.99 on DirecTV Pay-per-View you can tune in all summer to watch a gang of vicious Wharton-Schooled MBAs battle a disorganized rabble of mulleted retards from the Florida panhandle. It's a clash of the Republican base titans!

Julia Preston (of noted commie pinko rag The New York Times) writes that as the talk of cracking down on immigration heats up in the political arena, business is becoming increasingly willing to fight back in federal court, local governments, and state legislatures. She cites many examples of the business backlash, including:

In Oklahoma, chambers of commerce went to federal court and last month won an order suspending sections of a 2007 state law that would require employers to use a federal database to check the immigration status of new hires. In California, businesses have turned to elected officials, including the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, to lobby federal immigration authorities against raiding long-established companies.

Our immigration double-standard has been a source of comedy for the better part of four decades. The INS is like Industry's wingman in a quest to bang illegal immigrants. They make a big show of standing on the border and sternly shouting "On ne passe pas!" but then, when Industry is about to try for second base, loudly announcing "OK, well, I'm going to go to bed now, leaving you two all alone along this big, dark border. Good night!"

The Republicans have exploited the hell out of wedge issues in recent elections. I wonder if the tables are being turned. What a fine tightrope they must walk – how does one appease business's endless need for expendable human chattel when Republicans rely so heavily on voters who really, really don't like them brown people with the mexican-talkin'?

Immigrant-bashing infuriates me. The "average" American should thank god that these impoverished people are willing to do the back-breaking, depressing labor that subsidizes the low prices you pay at the grocery store, at the mall, and in restaurants. The same mouthbreathers who rant and rave about building border fences would be the ones complaining the loudest ("Why is everything so expensive? Goddamn liberals and their taxes!") if their xenophobic impulses were taken seriously as matters of policy. As the linked NYT piece illustrates, the current compromise between moneyed interests and rural America involves passing "tough" anti-illegal immigrant laws followed up with dozens of loopholes for employers. How long will these people fall for that trick?

Oh, wait. We're talking about adults who watch monster truck rallies, wear Rebel flags, and spend an appreciable portion of their Speedway paychecks on "dip." It might be a while.

ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 21: A SPECIAL NON CAUSA

It's been a while. Let's jump back in with a very special kind of non causa fallacy. Longtime Fox News fans are going to feel right at home here.

Like emotionally-healthy former President Richard Nixon, Bill O'Reilly has an "enemies list" of sorts. He calls it the "Coward List." It contains more than two dozen names across the political spectrum, including Dick Cheney, "the heads of oil companies," Howard Dean, "NPR" and Jane Fonda. This list of people – and entities, I suppose – share one thing in common. They all refuse Bill's generous invitations to appear on The Factor. They refuse to do this because they are afraid, of course, to expose themselves to the superior intellect and rhetorical powers of Bill O'Reilly.

Early in this presidential primary season, nearly every Democratic candidate refused to appear on a Fox News-sponsored debate. Their motive, of course, is that they were too afraid to expose their indefensible, hysterical politics to the light of truth and fairness that is a Chris Wallace/John Gibson moderated debate.

There is a subset of people in the world with very high opinions of themselves, opinions as high as their rhetorical skills are shitty, who interpret your refusal to have anything to do with them as an endorsement of their beliefs. You don't want to debate Bill O'Reilly because, goddammit, you just know he's right. Your refusal is enough evidence to prove that you are wrong. If you're right, why wouldn't you go on the show? Makes sense to me!

Like all non causa fallacies, this statement could potentially be true. Maybe Jane Fonda really is afraid to be proven wrong and she knows BillO will do it. Yeah, that's one possibility. I guess. Or maybe she doesn't want to debate him for the same reason that she doesn't want to debate the homeless guy who drops his pants for nickels at the bus station.

Declining to debate a person or group probably has a lot more to do with your maturity level and tolerance for stupidity than the validity of your argument. Maybe you don't like arguing with people who aren't intelligent enough to realize when they are proven wrong. Maybe you don't enjoy people who refuse to admit being wrong no matter how obvious you make it. Maybe you're not out to change the mind of every retard you meet on the internet or in a bar. Maybe you can detect situations in which another person simply wants to yell at you rather than have a real discussion. These are all valid reasons, all of which are more plausible than fear.

When someone makes him- or herself a rhetorical pariah, refusing to play the game makes perfect sense. What makes no sense at all is drawing a conclusions about an argument based on how willing people are to argue with their drunk, ranting uncle or the guy talking to himself on the bus.

JONAH GOLDBERG GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

OK. Once. Once and only once am I doing this to Jonah Goldberg. He falls into the Brooks category, i.e. every single thing he's ever written is riddled with enough idiocy to merit dissection but I'm not about to donate my sanity to the process of rebutting him regularly. Jonah's brand of knee-jerk, fratboy libertarianism is very tough to stomach (accordingly I've edited out some repetitive or irrelevant portions of his lengthy column) so we will only do this to ourselves once. Click the "FJM" tag at the end of the post to learn more about the origins of this game.

The piece: "Obama's Real Patriotism Problem" syndicated in USA Today (h/t non-seq). Ready?

Barack Obama has a patriotism problem that even Monday's flag-waving trip to Independence, Mo., can't squelch. And it doesn't have anything to do with his lapel pin.

Great! That lapel pin thing was so stupid. Good on you, Jonah Goldberg, USA Today and its parent corporation Gannett News. Thank you for rising above that kind of irrelevant nonsense, which I'm certain, given the introduction, this piece is about to do.

In part because liberal commentators have such a hard time grasping why patriotism should be an issue at all, and the GOP is so clumsy explaining why it's important, the debate often gets boiled down to symbols.

Maybe the right-wing definition of patriotism is symbolic. That is, there really is no more to it than waving flags around and shouting "America! Woooooooooo!" It appears that Jonah doesn't like people who oversimplify patriotism, boiling it down to blind jingoism and symbols (this sentence is an example of a literary device known as "foreshadowing")

Like so much else about Obama, his position on the lapel flag changes with the needs of the moment. After 9/11, he wore it. During the debates over the Iraq war, he stopped because he saw the flag as a sign of support for President Bush. (He started wearing it again in May.) "I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest," he added in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and, hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

"That lapel pin debate is so stupid. Now I'm going to slam Obama for his various positions on what I just defined as an unimportant, irrelevant debate!"

Read that line again: "What I believe will make this country great." Not to sound too much like a Jewish mother, but some might respond, "What? It's not great now?"

Holy crap! We will now try to wrap our heads around the cerebellum-dissolving idea that some Americans might not be blindly enamored of their country's present level of Greatness!!! Greatness researchers at the University of Greatness can give you reams of data about how fucking great America is!!! How could this country not be great? Look at all of our malls! The NFL! Kenny Chesney! Monster Thickburgers! No federal estate taxes!

This sense that America is in need of fixing in order to be a great country points to Obama's real patriotism problem. And it's not Obama's alone.

Hmm, he's not alone. That's going to be a relevant statement if, hypothetically, Goldberg goes on to argue that Obama is out of touch because most Americans are really, really patriotic. Boy it sure would be embarassing if that happened.

Definitions of patriotism proliferate, but in the American context patriotism must involve not only devotion to American texts (something that distinguishes our patriotism from European nationalism) but also an abiding belief in the inherent and enduring goodness of the American nation. We might need to change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem, but at the end of the day the patriotic American believes that America is fundamentally good as it is.

(grabs butterknife, repeatedly slashes at both wrists in the appropriate "Up the river, not across the street" fashion)

YOU MADE ME DO THAT, JONAH. I CUT MYSELF BECAUSE YOU LIVE.

As I bleed out, let's enjoy the irony of someone who just wrote a book entitled Liberal Fascism talking about how all citizens "must" share a "devotion to American texts." Let us recite the Articles of Confederation for the glory of the fatherland! He is suggesting that we should love the country like a three year old loves Mommy: Mommy is perfect and Mommy is always right and everything Mommy does is wonderful and Our Mommy is better than yours.

It's the "good as it is" part that has vexed many on the left since at least the Progressive era. Marxists and other revolutionaries obviously don't believe entrepreneurial and religious America is good as it is. But even more mainstream figures have a problem distinguishing patriotic reform from reformation. Many progressives in the 1920s considered the American hinterlands a vast sea of yokels and boobs, incapable of grasping how much they needed what the activists were selling.

Don't you love Jonah's trademarked history-in-two-sentences-as-segue-to-talking-points introductions? I do!

The Nation ran a famous series then called "These United States," in which smug emissaries from East Coast cities chronicled the "backward" attitudes of what today would be called fly-over country. One correspondent proclaimed that in "backwoods" New York (i.e. outside the Big Apple): "Resistance to change is their most sacred principle." If that was their attitude to New York, it shouldn't surprise that they felt even worse about the South. One author explained that Dixie needed nothing less than an invasion of liberal "missionaries" so that the "light of civilization" might finally be glimpsed down there.

That sounds like a great idea to me. Before I completely exsanguinate can we note this as the first good idea Jonah Goldberg has ever presented in print?

These authors simply assumed, writes intellectual historian Christopher Lasch, that " 'breaking with the past' was the precondition of cultural and political advance." Even today, writes Time's Joe Klein, "This is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right."

"Close with sentence quoting contemporary Democrat, even though this thought is completely disconnected from, and in no way supported by, the preceding 5 sentences in the paragraph."

"I am absolutely certain," he proclaimed upon clinching the Democratic nomination, "that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." So wait, America never provided care for the sick or good jobs for the jobless until St. Barack arrived?

No, it used to. And then it stopped when you fuckwads took over. Obama is unlikely to be canonized for the simple yet powerful act of not being one of you.

That doesn't sound like the country most Americans think of when they wave their flags on the Fourth of July.

Do you know how many undergraduates I have handed D's and F's for making baseless, unsupported, generalized attributions about what "most people" or "many Americans" think? Think about that, Jonah. You are a syndicated columnist and your writing would not merit a passing grade at an undergraduate level. If we're going to play the generalized attributions game, it might be more accurate to replace "most Americans" with "Republicans" or "Old people who sit outside the VFW all day" or "Jonah Goldberg." Who the hell are these people? Seriously, raise your hand if you spent July 4th "waving (your) flag."

Obama went on to say that he will "remake" the country. Well, what if you don't want it remade?

That's fine. There are always people who Stand in the Schoolhouse Door. History remembers them well, mostly because they are always victorious in holding back the evolution of ideas and social progress.

Michelle Obama — who believes America is "downright mean" and is proud of America for the first time because of her husband's success — insists that Barack will make you "work" for change and that he will "demand that you, too, be different." What if you don't want to work for Obama's change? What if you don't want to be "different"?

Then you vote for John McCain and devote one hour per week to watching Jonah Goldberg's excruciating, torturous webcasts. You raise your ignorant kids on Contemporary Christian and Discovery Institute textbooks, send your contributions to James Dobson, and cram your arteries full of Doritos and Hamburger Helper.

Liberals might giggle at what to them sounds like paranoia. But if you aren't already entranced by Obama, Obamania can seem not only vaguely anti-American but also downright otherworldly. Star Wars creator George Lucas recently proclaimed that it's "reasonably obvious" Obama is a Jedi Knight.

And now for a nice, non-sequitur Obama-bashing conclusion. It'll really help to quote metaphorical references out of context and take them literally! George Lucas (suspend disbelief and pretend that anyone gives a flying fuck what George "Creator of Jar-Jar" Lucas thinks) honestly believes Obama is a Jedi, because Jedi are obviously real. He meant this statement literally. The mitichlorians are strong in him! Many Bothans died to bring you this candidate. To be elected he must slay the Rancor.

Even NBC's Chris Matthews has been entranced by Obama's Jedi mind tricks. Obamania, he says, is "bigger than Kennedy. … This is the New Testament."

So wait, you're admitting that he's a Jedi? And Chris Matthews is your example of someone enraptured by Obama? Chris "Ask me what John McCain's cock tastes like and I will reply that it is slightly garlicky with some peaty notes and a hint of hickory" Matthews?

The notion that what America needs is a redeemer figure to "remake" America from scratch isn't necessarily unpatriotic. But for lots of Americans who like America the way it is, it's sometimes hard to tell when it isn't.

How many people like America the way it is, Jonah? Since you never leave the sweat-panted comfort of your mother's basement, you rely on this cute little mental image you've concocted of what "Americans" think. Go out and talk to some people, Jonah. Maybe even leave the big cities whose elitism you constantly criticize. I suspect that the only people who truly like America the way it is – love the war, love the obscene gas prices, love the horseshit economy – are the wealthy who are finding a way to profit from all of it. But in JonahWorldtm everyone spent July 4th painting themselves red, white and blue to match the flags we spent the entire day waving, remembering with every wave what a great, perfect country we have and how, as JonahPatriotstm, we fundamentally think it's just fine as-is.

More and more like Andy Rooney every week.

GOD FIXES A MISTAKE

Jesse Helms is dead. The autopsy revealed the cause of death to be our benevolent Lord fixing a mistake He made 83 years ago.

Helms, and the high esteem with which he is held in the modern conservative movement, is the GOP's dirty little secret. Skeleton in the closet. Elephant in the room. Pick a metaphor and run with it. As we wade through the cloying paeans to this "champion of conservative values" and "unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty" (as our President put it) there is a lot of winking and nudging going on. For modern conservatives fall into two categories regarding a relic like Helms: either they are embarassed by him and issue mild, perfunctory tributes or they praise him as a proxy for what they want to say but can't.

Make absolutely no mistake about it, regardless of how many innocuous, high-minded terms we have adopted in the last 25 years to obscure it: Helms wasn't about "state's rights" or "conservative values" or "limited government", unless those terms are euphamisms for segregation, segregation, and segregation, respectively. He was a racist. He was a hardened, mean, explicit, brutal racist. He believed in white supremacy (as we shall see in a moment) both politically and ideologically. He opposed every conceivable piece of civil rights legislation in the past half-century because he solidified his worldview in 1948 and refused to update it. He didn't stand virtually alone in opposing the MLK Holiday for any of the pseudo-principled reasons he espoused; he did it, like everything else he did in his Congressional career, to strike a symbolic blow for white Americans who wanted to, but couldn't, put them colored fellas back in their place. Too harsh? Like a caller during his 1995 appearance on Larry King Live said, his admirers thanked him “for everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers.”

Helms replied, “Well thank you, I think.”

But wait, there's more. On the superior intelligence of whites:

“No intelligent Negro citizen should be insulted by a reference to this very plain fact of life. It is time to face honestly and sincerely the purely scientific statistical evidence of natural racial distinction in group intellect. … There is no bigotry either implicit or intended in such a realistic confrontation with the facts of life."

A Helms-written campaign ad for Willis Smith in 1950:

“White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races.”

We could do this all day. He called the Civil Rights Act the "single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress" and asked:

"Are civil rights only for Negroes? White women in Washington who have been raped and mugged on the streets in broad daylight have experienced the most revolting sort of violation of their civil rights. The hundreds of others who have had their purses snatched by Negro hoodlums may understandably insist that their right to walk the street unmolested was violated."

And don't forget something I've posted on this site before, the single most despicable piece of campaign advertising devised in the modern era – the 'White Hands' commercial from Helms-Gantt 1990.

The National Review's Michael Graham stated "This is one of the disturbing legacies of Jesse Helms. (He) was in fact an avowed and unapologetic segregationist." The meek David Broder was even more blunt in his homage to Helms' retirement, "Jesse Helms, White Racist." That the right glosses over or ignores this fact is telling. When the Christian Post writes a piece on Helms' death and only slips one sentence in at the end – "But Helms' hardline conservatism did not leave him unscathed by critics. He was criticized for commentaries he made in the 1960s against civil rights…" – one must question their motives. That's it? We note that "critics" (unappeasable, hysterical liberals who would criticize anything a god-fearing man like Helms said) objected to "commentaries he made in the 1960s" (none of which we'll quote here!) against "civil rights." If they think that those comments and beliefs were restricted to the 1960s, they stopped paying attention to Helms in 1970.

No, the Christian Post and President Bush and far-righters everywhere don't praise Helms in grand, vague terms because they don't realize he was a racist. They praise him as a proxy for their own beliefs, beliefs that only Helms was willing to spout publicly in the modern political environment. And unlike George Wallace or Strom Thurmond, Helms never, ever yielded. Never repented. Never backpedaled. Never softened. The Heritage Foundation calls him a "champion" and a "man of principle," a comment explicable only if "White Power!" counts as a principle.

This is what the mainstream conservatives of today, especially younger ones, want to forget. They want to forget how heavily their post-New Deal dominance, starting with Goldwater and continuing today with the Bushes and Brownbacks and Limbaughs and Richard Burr (Helms' successor), has relied on simple racism as a rallying point. They can tell themselves that they would be a majority without inbred, backwoods racists in rural-heavy states, but the math doesn't lie. So they trot before the cameras and put dog-whistle politics into practice, praising Helms' dedication to "conservative values" to let this crucial GOP demographic know, "We know what his real message was. Wink." Where the GOP would be without constant race-baiting of rural white America (whether we call it Civil Rights, state's rights, welfare, Affirmitive Action, urban policy, "the inner cities", or any other euphemism-of-the-moment) they dare not imagine, even if they find the practice distasteful.

Helms allegedly once told President Bush, "The only thing I am running for is the Kingdom of Heaven." If there is a God, Helms failed.

NPF: SUMMER GRILLING PRIMER, PART 3 – JUDGMENT DAY

If you've followed the first two installments (here and here) you're all but ready to cook. Like the average M. Night Shamylan film, I have a feeling that this final act is going to be a letdown for some of you.

At this point you are expecting me to tell you some mystical zen secret which will make your mind and spirit one with the grilling meat. This will allow you to sense precisely when food has reached optimum doneness and then remove it from the grill using only your mind. In reality, cooking to perfection on a grill requires three things: a watch, a meat thermometer, and a book to read, which will prevent you from fucking with the food while it is cooking.

I feel like I just told you that there is no Santa Claus.

It's true. Think of how many variables are in play when you are grilling. Do you know the precise thickness and density of the food? Do you know the temperature of the coals and the exact distance between the heat and the cooking grate? Do you know the windspeed and ambient humidity of the area around the grill? All of these things affect how long it will take your food to get where it needs to be. It would be nice if I could tell you some neat tricks for eyeballing various foods to perfect doneness or some hoary old pieces of folk wisdom ("Press your thumb down on the steak…if it springs back, it's medium-rare!") Unfortunately all of that is shit. So if you want the secret to good grilling, it is to use a thermometer. It's unaffected by the variables and it won't lie to you.

That said, I am not devoid of advice. Several things I would like to stress:

1. Red meat continues cooking well after it is removed from the heat. If you leave your steak on the grill until it is medium, it's going to be well done after it sits for a few minutes. Always "undercook" red meat, remove it from the heat, cover it with foil, and wait approximately five minutes. Wait. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAIT. Don't fuck with it. If you tear into your food the second you remove it from the grill, all of the flavor and juices are going to pour out and end up in a puddle on your plate. Resting your meat (giggle) allows it to finish cooking, stabilize its internal temperature, and even out its distribution of delicious flavor.

2. You know that thing people always do on TV (and your dad probably did it too) where one takes a metal spatula and smashes the burgers while they're cooking? Don't fuckin' do that. Ever. I have no idea where this started or who thought this was a good idea. It guarantees dry, tasteless, overcooked food. It's theatrical, slightly satisfying, and makes a neat "sizzle" sound, but come on. Don't do that.

3. Control the temperature of a covered grill with the bottom air vent. This is less useful on an open grill, but believe it or not, moving the bottom vent by half an inch can take your grill from Hot to Nuclear.

4. Remember your grilling zones? Part Two has the details. This is essential for cooking thick foods properly. Take, for example, those monster two-inch pork chops one occasionally sees. You'd start by searing them, one minute per side, directly over extremely high heat on an open grill. Then you'd slide them off of the heat and cover the grill. Wait approximately 15-18 minutes, turning once. When you are cooking with indirect heat, cover the grill and leave it alone. Set a timer and walk away. Every time you lift the lid to peek at your food the cooking process stops. Patience and faith are both helpful; have faith that your food is cooking even if you're not looking at it.

5. Flip food once and only once. Turning the food constantly is another thing people do because they see it on TV and they lack patience. Moving the food around makes it feel like you're doing something, right? Well, it's not good. Patience and knowing when to leave the food alone are the keys.

Without getting into specific foods, this is all the general advice I can give you. Preparation is 75% of cooking. Knowing when to do nothing – to stand aside and let the laws of chemistry take over – is most of the remaining quarter. Above all, remember how much trial and error is involved in mastering anything. I know a good deal about grilling and I still botch things. You will too. Having the information is only part of the equation. What I hope this has done is arm your Bullshit Radar. Whether you're grilling alone or skeptically eyeballing the "Grill Master" at your 4th of July party, now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

HELLS YEAH I'M AN EXPERT!

I've repeatedly used this website to marvel at the number of subjects in which people like James Dobson or Rush Limbaugh are experts. Whatever hot-button issue happens to be in the headlines on a given day, Dr. Dobson is suddenly able to speak of it with thundering, soul-shaking authority. The Constitution? He practically wrote that motherfucker! Climatology? Junk scienceTM….but he's an expert in it anyway! Medical research? He does that kiddie shit while he's half-asleep and watching Night Court reruns! There may not be a subject of public debate that has suffered more egregiously from this phenomenon than climate change. Everybody's an authority, fully qualified to speak definitively on global warming. I think the qualifications for becoming a global warming expert involve a urine test…and not even a drug test. It's just a test to see if you can actually pee in a cup, a.k.a. the Entrance Exam at Arizona State.

That's fine. The American appetite for corn-pone opinion – in fact, the ponier the better – is endless. What's disgusting is when its purveyors are passed off as Real Experts.

Take, for example, this standard-issue Global Warming Scientists are Alarmists with No Evidence tract by James Kerian. Who? Well, according to the tagline, "James Kerian is a mechanical engineer and small business owner in Grafton, North Dakota." Hmm. I daresay they're trying to imply ("mechanical engineer") that Mr. Kerian is some sort of scientist. Or, failing that, someone who can do math and therefore a virtual Max Planck in the eyes of our society. As for the small business owner part, well, that's just there to let you know he's good people.

Turns out that James Kerian has made his mark on this world (if I may so wantonly debase the idea of making one's mark) by inventing a machine that sifts and sorts vegetables by size. That's neat. It gives me the power to choose either Medium or Jumbo white onions at Kroger. But a climatologist it does not make. It doesn't even put him in the ballpark. This piece, for all intents and purposes, might as well have been written by a garbageman – who almost certainly would have more perspective and have done a superior job.

(h/t Matthew)

AN OPEN LETTER TO LAW SCHOOL APPLICANTS

Dear Undergraduate Considering Law School,

You have already read innumerable things about law school – from U.S. News and World Report's rankings of the top law schools to Kaplan LSAT prep books to mind-numbing tracts on how to write that Perfect Cover Letter – and you don't need one more thing to read. But think of it this way: before you spend three years and $100,000+ on the ol' JD, you can spare five additional minutes to read this.

I am not an "expert" on law school. What I have is personal experience and ongoing experience teaching and advising droves of undergraduates who march toward it (and through my classes) each semester. My intent is not to dissuade you, but merely to be honest with you (and get you to be honest with yourself) because I have found the overwhelming majority of undergrads to look at law school with expectations that range from Delusional to merely Unrealistic, Confused to merely Ambivalent.

Why do you want to go to law school? Your answer to this question falls into three general categories:

1. You have a deep and substantive interest in the law; being a lawyer is your dream career. You picture yourself in a courtroom, defending the downtrodden. You see yourself getting a nice, "ethical" job (helping people and whatnot), disregarding the fact that such jobs are about 0.01% of the profession and you will most likely end up doing bankruptcies or criminal defense of defendants who, unlike those in the movies, are guilty as fuck.

2. You want to make a metric crapload of money, and being a lawyer seems like the easiest way to do it without having to use math. Many people (parents and older relatives in particular) have told you repeatedly that you'd "be good at it." Since lawyering kinda sorta doesn't seem too bad, you figure "What the hell. Why not."

3. You have a useless BA (political science, history, etc) and, as you look beyond graduation to the vast, uncertain future offered by a post-industrial economy, you can't think of anything else to do. Your options are to go to law school, do Americorps for $5,000 per year, or return to Seymour, Indiana and work in the H.R. department at the screen door factory.

All three of these are valid reasons for going to law school. Unfortunately, that does not mean they are all good. First, we need to critically evaluate the myth that law school is a great way to ensure a high-paying career for life (i.e., #2). Let's look at what it will cost you and what you'll get back from it.

1. Law school is expensive. If you go to a "top tier" school you can count on borrowing a cool $125,000 to pay for it. Lower-tier (and often public) schools may run you a more pedestrian $60,000+ over a three-year period. At the current Federal Student Loan interest rate (6.62%) borrowing $125,000 would leave you with a $1,427 monthly payment. For ten years. Going for the cheapie school ($60,000) would put you on the hook for a mere $685 per month. For ten years. So making a big salary isn't just desirable; you're going to be pretty fucked if you don't.

2. About one in ten law school graduates (that's actual graduates, not applicants or enrollees) will make a starting salary in six figures. In 2006, for example, the ABA reported that 42,676 law degrees were awarded. Do you think that there are 43,000 plum job openings every year, waiting to absorb another throng of 26 year-olds who are balls deep in debt? Only about 4,800 of those new JDs made over $125,000. The people who make that much go to the Top 15 schools – Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc – and finish in the top of their classes. So on the one hand, this can be encouraging. Nearly 5,000 law school grads each year can end up in high-paying jobs. Can you realistically expect to be one of those 5,000? Are you going to go to a top program and/or finish at the top of your class?

Another portion of the 43,000 grads got decent-paying jobs ($50-75,000) at small or medium firms or working for the government. That's not bad, although the loan payments will be crippling on a $50k salary (and many public defenders / prosecutors can start as low as $30,000). But here's the important part: nearly half of the 43,000 JDs reported in 2006 found no work in the legal profession at all. Only about 22,000 of the degrees had reported starting salaries. As for the remaining 20,000?

Given the bias in the way these statistics are accumulated (schools try very hard to account for every graduate with a high paying job in order to brag about their placement records), I suspect that close to 0 out of the missing 19,989 law school graduates had high salaried legal jobs, and the majority of them have no legal employment at all.

As many as half of the new JDs in 2006 were unable to find work in the legal profession at any price. They are on the job market, overqualified for wherever they end up.

I have personally known dozens of people who have entered law school. Most quit. Some finished. Exactly none of them – bright, dedicated people one and all – are making huge money or working for big firms. Should my anecdotal evidence be given much weight? No, but it explains my motivations. I'm trying to get you to confront the disconnect between what you think is going to happen when you go to law school (starting in a big firm at $150,000) and what is likely to happen. Sure, you could land a plum job. But that is the exception, not the rule.

The the legal field is like the rest of our economy: the top five percent are doing exponentially better every year. Salaries at "the top" are skyrocketing. The most common reaction to this fact is "Wow, I'm gonna get in on that!" Statistically, no. No you won't. The top students at the top schools will, and the rest of your cohort will get the scraps.

And the punchline: if you do defy the odds and get one of the rare $125,000+ starting gigs, you'll be working 80 (billable) hours per week for the next ten or fifteen years. Fun? Fun!

So that's it. If you are going to law school because you want to help innocent people, make a ton of cash, or because you can't think of anything better to do, I sincerely hope you will pause and put more thought into your motives and expectations before you start incurring mountains of debt. My intent here is not to insult, discourage, or deter you. I have simply heard too many undergraduates speak of law school as a combination Lost City of Gold, career utopia, and get-rich-quick scheme. It is not. It's difficult, expensive, and with the exception of the elite, not as rewarding as you think.

Regards,
Ed

(PS: h/t Mike, who also helpfully recommends this graph of the gloriously bimodal distribution in starting salaries)

FISHY OBJECTIVITY

Stanley Fish has given the world a one-paragraph summation of how academic objectivity in the college classroom should look:

A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.

That is all well and good. Unfortunately he has chosen an example that is not generalizable. If we are discussing philosophies or pure ideas (What is human nature? Is socialism a viable form of government in a democracy? Who's right, liberals or conservatives?) then a statement by a professor would look very much like Fish's hypothetical. But what happens when we step outside of the conceptual world and into the practical? How does it serve students to ignore the fact that one idea may be more correct than another?

Examples in which Fish's logic would fail range from the straw man extreme (i.e., must we devote equal time to the competing theories of heliocentrism and geocentrism without mentioning that, you know, the latter is wrong?) to the politically or morally sensitive. The real problem with Fish's argument is that it is another salvo in his ongoing campaign to introduce subjectivity where it does not belong. Lots of subjectivity. And you know how I feel about that.

How, for example, would Fish suggest we teach about Supply Side Economics? Opinions differ on this issue. Should our goal be simply to describe it, compare it to alternatives, and mention its place in history? Fish suggests so. Conversely, I'd say that some other facts are relevant. Far from simply describing it and leaving the students to "draw their own conclusions" as we are so often told to do, I think it might be important to point out that A) all available evidence from real-world implementation of supply side policies suggests that they don't work and B) even on paper, supply side policies only make sense if income inequality is a non-issue (which it often is in business/economics classrooms).

At best, Fish's logic employs false equivalencies – here are two opposing ideas, kids. They're both equal and you can pick the one you like best. At worst, Fish is continuing his disingenuous campaign to allow students to opt out of having to confront and question their own worldviews behind a Trojan Horse of "objectivity" and academic freedom. While I follow Fish's example of Marcuse vs Strauss, I seriously question to which subjects this applies and to what extent he intends for this idealized narrative to govern our classroom behavior. His assertion that teaching is "inherently apolitical" does not stand up to much scrutiny.

(h/t Crooked Timber)