PURITY OF ESSENCE

Posted in Rants on October 19th, 2009 by Ed

I know better than to think highly of the intellectual prowess of the Average American, but I simply cannot wrap my head around the widespread skepticism and occasional outbursts against vaccination. To hear people, even some who appear to have a mediocre or better grip on reality, parrot the arguments of Truman-era water fluoridation conspiracy theorists is legitimately disturbing. If only America's unvaccinated mouthbreathers were smart enough to realize that as they walk around slobbering H1N1 in public places they are creating demand for vaccines in exactly the people we don't want to get them.

We expect Glenn Beck to be characteristically Glenn Beck-like (which is to say picking-corn-out-of-shit insane) when gravely warning his viewers that getting a flu shot is dependent upon "how much you trust your government." But Bill Maher is sharing similar nuggets of wisdom with his entirely different audience:

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Gee Bill, people who write "u" and "ur" are in a marginal position to comment on the intelligence of others. Ignoring his efforts to cornhole the English language we see a viewpoint that is legitimately moronic but so common that it no longer merits raised eyebrows. Whether barely sentient celebrities are on daytime TV rallying barely sentient housewives against autism-causing vaccines or late night hosts are dishing out Common Sense Wisdom about how vaccines are a government plot to poison you, this hysteria is perilously close to becoming mainstream.

I will not get a flu shot because ideally I shouldn't get a flu shot. I am a healthy 30 year old. Vaccines against epidemics like the flu should go to high risk populations (healthcare workers, kids, and the elderly). But fewer people getting vaccinated means more people in the low risk population are being exposed to infected individuals. Thus more people who shouldn't necessarily be vaccinated seek it out. Thus we increase the probability of seeing newer, more dangerous viruses for which Glenn Beck's viewers won't get vaccinated.

More likely, however, unvaccinated people won’t get sick because so many of their coworkers and neighbors will get vaccinated – i.e., a classic example of Free Riding. They consume more than their fair share of a good (health) without contributing anything to its production. When Mary J. Moron starts boasting about how she didn't get the poison vaccine for her kids and they didn't get sick, gently remind her that you assumed whatever risk and costs exist so that your kids wouldn't be exposing hers to the virus. When she responds with a pastiche of cherry picked and probably made up "facts" about the monstrous Communist plot to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids, remember that she will outbreed you. Weep for the future of the planet.

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Sure, vaccines carry risk. You know what else is risky? Not getting vaccinated. Americans aren't real good at thinkin' or math but it amazes me that they can't figure out which is riskier: taking a flu vaccine and accepting the 1% odds of getting sick or taking one's chances standing in line at the Post Office in front of a tubercular hillbilly hacking the contents of his esophagus in your general direction.

NPF: NO, YOU NEED THE 7th EDITION

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 16th, 2009 by Ed

I am not exactly an old salt in the world of college teaching, but a scant half-decade has been more than enough to convince me that the textbook industry is in mortal combat with Three Card Monte dealers for the coveted title of the America's Biggest Scam. One often develops misconceptions about things when viewing them from afar but finds them quite different with first hand experience. Such is not the case here. It really is as much of a ripoff as you think it is.

My adviser co-authors a highly regarded textbook on political parties and she likes to tell me how when the project began a new edition was demanded every four years. By the late 1990s the updates became biannual. Now, as you might imagine, annual updates are on the agenda. What can one meaningfully update about a political parties textbook annually? Lots, as long as the term "meaningfully" can be disregarded. Otherwise not so much. Believe it or not, questions like "What is the role of political parties in our system?" and "Why is the American system dominated by two parties?" do not have new answers. So what does an annual or biannual update look like? Well, you change the anecdotes used as examples. Do a ctrl-f search to replace "Kerry" with "Obama." Add new pictures. Shoehorn in some dumbass sidebar about Jon Stewart (you know, really connect with the young'ns!) And of course, if nothing else, design a new cover.

You already knew this, of course, but the robustness of the second-hand textbook market (thanks, internet!) has increased pressure from publishers to obsolete each book as quickly as possible. But wait! There's more.

I have a valuable resource even though I am a nobody in this profession. We low men on the totem pole are the ones who teach the 350-student Intro to American Government courses, often required of all undergraduates. Intro textbooks are 80% of the textbook market in any field, and political science is no different. And at $95 a pop for new hardcovers the competition is intense. So are the textbook reps (salespeople, in essence). Publishers offer kickbacks – uh, "royalties" – to departments in exchange for adopting Intro texts, sometimes as much as $10 per copy. This never really affects the students, given that every one of the dozens of Intro books are exactly the same; how many ways can an interest group be explained? How many variations of the theme "Politics matters!" can they concoct? Fortunately my department(s) have not required me to adopt specific books. Which simply leaves the door open for the authors to lobby me.

Yes, the royalties on hardcover textbooks can be significant. $5/copy is not unheard of. That means that my 280 student Intro class is worth close to $1500 to an author. And in my graduate program, two of the five American politics professors wrote Intro textbooks. Thankfully their suggestions about adopting their books were gentle and non-binding. Nonetheless academia is full of people who are comfortable putting pressure on their graduate students and colleagues to adopt texts. More importantly, from my perspective it is nice to have one small piece of power, one decision I can make that constitutes a favor to people who are much higher up the ladder than me. "Hey, I adopted your book for my Intro class" is just about the only thing we who are the bottom of the barrel can say that translates to "This is a favor. Please return it at some point in the future."

Don't even get me started on "online portals." The less I say about that the better.

I understand that publishers need to make a buck and from my perspective I should be excited about potentially getting on this gravy train at some point in the future. I don't know why I can't shift my mindset from "Hey, this is a fucking crock" to "Woo hoo! Kickbacks!" If it ever happens I'll let you know.

TOO CLEVER BY HALF

Posted in Rants on October 15th, 2009 by Ed

Calvin Trillin, the NYT's last living link to the martinis-and-parties-at-Capote's-place days, has an outstanding piece on the correlation between intelligence and the financial crisis. It's a good point and admittedly one that I hadn't thought of previously: Wall Street was a "better" place – or at least had much less potential to do damage to the society in which it operates – when working there was a place for people who weren't smart enough to get into law, business, or the hard sciences. It was the collection point for, as Trillin puts it, the ex-jocks who slept in the back of his college classes. The students in the front rows paid attention and ended up in (comparatively) low paying work in academia or the public sector. The guys in back just wanted a relatively predictable way to make some money, "enough to buy a sailboat."

When Wall Street operated with that mindset – "We make an assload of money, let's make sure we don't screw up the gravy train" – its ability to fail spectacularly and take the country down with it was limited. They've only really screwed up when they tried getting clever. Take 1929 for example. It took an "innovator" to realize that people could speculate on stocks with borrowed money and no risk, or that banks could loan money with stock as collateral. In the modern context, it took some whiz kids and math geniuses to come up with Credit Default Swaps or complicated derivatives. If only Wall Street as a whole were a little dumber, this might have been avoided.

What changed? In my mind there are two major culprits. First, Reaganite society in the 1980s put the fast-talking, high-living Wall Street Guy on a pedestal. Boy, what a glamorous job, the kind of thing that a real man's man would be doing. Second, there's a lot of plain old greed. At some point Wall Street collectively determined that in the absence of effective oversight or regulation (Thanks, Ronnie!) they could make truly comical sums of money by indulging in substantially more risky behavior. The mindset shifted from "We make a lot of money, don't screw it up" to "Why make ten million when you could make eleventy billion?"

Ideally we want people on Wall Street to be like pharmacists: smart enough to do the job properly but not smart enough to start tinkering. We don't want the guy filling our prescriptions to 'innovate' or hire some Russian physicists who couldn't get tenure to craft complex mathematical models and determine how we could replace our single pill with an amalgam of 75 different pills with horrible side effects. The standard leg-humping free market mantra of the past few decades has sainted creativity and innovation, two things that people with specialized skills (math wizards, for instance) enable. But in this area have either of those qualities served us well as a society? What did all that mathematical creativity produce? It made some people who were rich obscenely rich. It (ultimately) made some people who were rich poor. For the rest of us it has made it impossible to find a decent job. It has destroyed entire industries. It has bankrupted the public sector to an extent unimaginable twenty years ago. If only they hadn't been so clever we might have avoided this; if only they were a bit smarter they might be able to provide us with a solution.

McTARDED

Posted in Rants on October 14th, 2009 by Ed

(Sections of this are cross-posted from two Instaputz posts)

I am currently fascinated by Megan McArdle. She may in fact be the one perfect specimen of Everything Wrong with America – moreso than Easy Mac, Bridezillas, and the enduring popularity of zombie movies combined. As a certain blogger who shall remain nameless pointed out, her entire shtick is based on the premise that she is holds an elite MBA (from University of Chicago) and is thus a weighty voice in debates on all things financial. Yet she has never worked in the industry (or worked at all for that matter), bases none of her arguments on facts and half of them on anecdotes ("When I was unemployed, I felt like…"), and routinely gets undergrad-level shit about economics wrong. she uses the terms balance sheet and income statement interchangeably. She doesn't seem to understand when it is appropriate to use a mean versus a median or vice-versa. Her arguments – or "arguments" – are transparent regurgitations of talking points from lobbyists, right wing think tanks, and other equally ignorant bloggers. She is, in summary, a total idiot who for some reason has been given a prominent place in our public discourse.

That reason, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that doughy libertarian shut-ins and ex-fratboy mortgage brokers think she is fuckable.

Earlier this week she brought the retarded to an extent which could only be described as retarded in this piece about "Why Medicare Costs are Growing Faster than other Healthcare."

One of the commenters offered a retort that I've seen in a bunch of places: "Of course Medicare is growing faster! It cares for a sicker population!"

It's a common intuition, but it's wrong. Consider a simple model of a population with two groups: young and old. Assume that the old consume five times as much of an undifferentiated good, healthcare, as the young do, and that each unit costs $2,000. So the oung cost us $2,000 apiece per year, and the old cost us $10K. Now assume that the cost of healthcare in each group grows at 10% a year. At the end of five years, each young person will cost us $3,221 and each old person will cost us $16,105 – or exactly five times as much as a young person.

First of all, Megan reminds us yet again that there's no good reason to look up facts when you can just make up a hypothetical. Eight seconds of Google research would have shown that her entire premise is made of stupid and wrong.

Second, the CBO report on which she bases her entire argument that Medicare/Medicaid are growing faster than private insurance explicitly says that it shouldn't be used to say Medicare/Medicaid are growing faster then private insurance. Megan, you so bad! The sign says "No Loitering" but you loiter anyway!

Third, look at the math she feels compelled to show us. "Assume" that the old consume five times as much healthcare as the young. If each grows by 10%, after five years the old will consume five times as much healthcare as the young. Watch Megan's neurons fire wildly in an effort to understand multiplication. In other news, if Megan is twice as stupid as Jonah Goldberg and they each double their stupid over the next year, Megan will be twice as stupid as Jonah Goldberg.

Fourth, way to pull a McArdletm by throwing in a $5 phrase like "an undifferentiated good" in an effort to sound smart and cover up the fact that she hasn't the slightest idea what in holy hell she's talking about.

Fifth, stay tuned for the Oscar-baiting biopic of Megan McArdle starring Tara Reid as a dull young girl who overcomes her childhood addiction to eating Elmer's glue and her own shit to become a Real Financial Journalist.

In conclusion, if we assume that the elderly use far more healthcare than the young and that their use increases at a faster rate, we can clearly see that the elderly use far more healthcare than the young and that their use increases at a faster rate.

But wait. There's more. Check the comments. Here is a free tip for aspiring bloggers: when the first ten comments on your post are pointing out basic factual errors you've made or statistics you've twisted to suit your fancy, keep up the good work. You're doing great. She responds to criticism with a particular CBO report she used to justify her argument that Medicare/Medicaid make costs increase faster than private insurance. Quote from page 16 of said report, after an explanation of the data and methodology:

Consequently, the differences in excess cost growth between Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care spending should not be interpreted as meaning that Medicare or Medicaid is less able to control spending than private insurers.

But it's much more convincing if you ignore that part and cherry pick something that supports your recycled faux-libertarian bullshit talking points argument. Great work, Megan. Keep responding to your commenters with the indescribably feeble "You're misunderstanding my argument" rather that coming to grips with the fact that you are playing in a league that won't tolerate your shit. Being a right wing pundit may not entail a lot of fact checking, but putting yourself out there as a Very Serious Econ Person without being able to differentiate your ass and a hole in the ground…well, it doesn't work quite as well. The legions of sycophants enjoyed by Beck and Malkin are replaced in McArdle's case by dozens of people pointing out how stupid she is.

THROWING IN THE TOWEL

Posted in Rants on October 13th, 2009 by Ed

When a person or group of people puts extensive effort into trying to correct your behavior for the better, nothing rattles you quite like seeing them give up and walk away in a cloud of anger, defeat, and disgust. Imagine visiting the old family doctor and after years of hearing "Stop eating so much red meat," "Stop smoking," and "Get more exercise" you brace for more of the same. Instead she walks into the examination room, looks at you with weary resignation, and announces, "Fuck it. Go to Hardee's. Smoke unfiltered tar. I don't give a shit anymore." That would be shocking because the doctor is supposed to be the person who gives you the right advice even though you clearly intend to ignore it. This is why teachers and professors listlessly remind every class not to wait until the evening before the due date to start their papers even though we are fully aware that everyone will. We do it because if you're going to engage in harmful behavior we want, at the very least, to instill awareness of the fact that it is harmful.

With that, my befuddlement at the decision of the American Academy of Family Physicians to enter into an endorsement deal – ahem, 'corporate partnership' – with Coca-Cola. Aside from being a landmark in the history of surrendering one's dignity for cash and making a public show of sucking Satan's wang as enthusiastically and noisily as possible, this represents an exceptionally troubling abrogation of professional responsibility by the Academy. They proudly announce that they eagerly await:

working with The Coca-Cola Company, and other companies in the future, on the development of educational materials to teach consumers how to make the right choices and incorporate the products they love into a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Translation: we give up. You're going to drink Coke anyway so we're lowering the bar and simply hoping that you'll cut back to 96 ounces per day.

Coke is bad for you. Soda is bad for you. It's a 200-calorie can of corn syrup and chemicals. Diet soda lacks the calories but doubles down on the unnatural chemical additives. And doctors have an absolute – not relative – obligation to tell you to avoid it. If you're not going to follow that advice anyway, and I certainly understand that few people do, why get worked up about it? Well, I'm glad you asked. Several reasons.

First, the conflict of interest involved in taking Coke's money is embarrassing. The company's view of health and nutrition is comically self-serving and diametrically opposed to what we know about the obesity epidemic, especially among children. Doctors know, as the linked article points out, that morbidly obese children are often taking in 1000 to 2000 calories per day just in soft drinks. Yet Coke CEO / Satan's Fluffer Muhtar Kent summarizes the company's Pollyanna Theory of American Obesity in a WSJ editorial: Coke doesn't make people fat. Eating too much of everything that isn't Coke coupled with insufficient exercise makes people fat. Of course. Is the AAFP going to endorse this position?

Second, how is Coke's money going to affect the research the group claims will be funded? Are they going to start falsifying data to make it look like drinking liquid sugar is OK or are they going to piss off their new corporate partner? How much BS will they shovel in creating an explanation for how Coke is "part of a healthy diet"? I envision an updated version of those old commercials which claimed that Lucky Charms were part of a healthy breakfast as long as you ate an orange, a bunch of grapes, two slices of dry whole grain toast, and a scrambled egg with it.

Third, no good can come of watering down the message from "Eliminate this from your diet" to "OK, we give up. Just try to take it easy" combined with some fallacious theory about "making up for it" with more exercise. There is a meaningful difference between treating yourself to the occasional Coke while understanding that it's bad for you and convincing yourself that it isn't bad in moderation. And that is what Coke is trying to buy here – legitimacy for and dissemination of the idea that, gee, it's really not so bad.

Getting the blessing of medical professionals must be a dream come true for Coke, the kind of publicity that a company can't just buy. Wait. Actually it can be bought, and as usual the price was disturbingly low.

NORWEGIAN HUMOR

Posted in Rants on October 12th, 2009 by Ed

I have to admit that I really like the Norwegians' decision to award this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the incumbent President. Not because he deserves it or did anything to earn it, as it is so premature and shoddily justified that it's almost embarrassing. Scratch that – it is embarrassing to see the kind of obsequiousness rained on George W. Bush by conservatives circa 2002 lavished upon Obama. Frankly I'm surprised he accepted it, as self-aware people are generally uncomfortable with being fawned over. But perhaps the committee and the President are in cahoots and share a twisted sense of humor, in which case this is merely a bar bet on a grand scale between two parties interested in seeing if they can make Glenn Beck's head explode.

The reaction has been predictably hyperbolic and easily matches in intensity the extent to which the prize is undeserved. Call it Obama Derangement Syndrome or whatever you want. Going forward, this could be a component of an effective strategy for the White House.

In 2004 the Kerry campaign was (justifiably) criticized for chasing rabbits; that is, every day the Bush campaign threw out some nonsense to distract them, to knock them off of their message (whatever that was). The Kerry people obliged, of course, dutifully running after every lark like the Bob Shrum-led idiots they were. Here's the thing. I just checked with some scientists at the University of the Obvious, and they noted with great certainty that Glenn Beck and his kind are all idiots too. So perhaps Bill Maher was onto something when he recommended in jest that the President repeal "don't ask, don't tell" to make Limbaugh freak out. We know these people lose whatever tenuous association with reality they have at the mention of words like "gay" or "feminism." So why not endlessly distract them from the administration's real agenda with a series of meaningless, non-binding resolutions? How hard is it to get Congress to declare something Harvey Milk Day or to rename an airport concourse after George Tiller?

These people can be played like a fiddle. No matter how furious "socialized medicine" and "negotiating with terrorists" make wingnuts, they just can't help themselves when it comes to the godless homos, abortion, bra-burning 1960s feminism, and so on. All of those issues are legitimate ones, of course, but they're not being dealt with directly right now and they make fantastic diversions. We can't help but notice how an Olympics and a symbolic award destroyed whatever capacity for logical thought exists on the right. What did Sun Tzu say about using every available weapon in war?

NPF: AESTHETICS

Posted in No Politics Friday, Quick Hits on October 11th, 2009 by Ed

I'm on record as being very emphatically anti-"retro." I've had more than enough of intellectual stagnation and lack of creativity disguised as kitsch and worship of the past. On one subject I diverge significantly from this position – sports. No one in any sport from golf to bowling to soccer to baseball has better uniforms today than 50 years ago. No one. "Modern" uniforms all reek of the 1990s fad of swooshes and fake abstract designs. For the 50th anniversary of the old American Football League, throwback uniforms are out in force this year. So tell me, is there anyone on the planet who thinks this…

…looks better than this?

I mean, come on. Do I need to go on and compare the old Patriots or Buccaneers uniforms (long live the Creamscicle) to their new crap? Or the Chargers' powder blues? Of course I don't. Being people of discriminating taste you already know.

AN OPEN LETTER TO TOM COBURN

Posted in Rants on October 9th, 2009 by Ed

Sen. Coburn,

We non-Senators can only imagine what it is like to live in the shadow of the senior Senator from your state, Jim Inhofe, given that he is widely recognized as the biggest idiot in the Senate. Surely your mind works overtime concocting ways to steal some attention from that intellectual black hole clad in a cheap suit, and thus I am not surprised that you thought it would be a good idea to be "that guy" – the guy who tries to curry favor with rubes who wallow in their own stupidity by taking a political whack at National Science Foundation funding every couple of years. "Haw haw!", they will exclaim as they slap their obese, diabetic hands together with enough force to dislodge a few pieces of Cheeto from the sticky morass surrounding their gaping maws, "You tell 'um, Tommy!"

Obviously I have a direct interest in your Senate amendment cutting political science funding from the NSF (or as you cheekily call it, political "science" – were you up all night thinking of that one or did you get to bed around 4, 4:30?) but were I not your reasoning would still be alarming in its creativity. Please note that none of the usual positive connotations of "creativity" apply here. Your logic is creative in the same sense as the Oklahoma City courthouse bombing.

Let me draw your attention – which I'm sure has wandered in the preceding 45 seconds, waylaid by polysyllabic words – to a specific component of your "argument" before I attempt a retort:

The largest award over the last 10 years under the political science program has been $5.4 million for the University of Michigan for the “American National Election Studies” grant. The grant is to “inform explanations of election outcomes.” The University of Michigan may have some interesting theories about recent elections, but Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the internet who pour over this data and provide a myriad of viewpoints to answer the same questions.

Senator, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of political science. But the category of "things Tom Coburn fundamentally misunderstands" is about as exclusive as the admissions criteria to Oklahoma State. The idea that we and the talking heads on television are interchangeable or do the same thing speaks not to the uselessness of political science but to your lack of intellectual curiosity and willingness to accept the vein-bulging ranting of Glenn Beck as explanatory of political phenomena. Finding answers means finding evidence, not shouting a handful of competing "theories" into a camera and letting Americans pick the one they think sounds best.

I have no interest in trying to explain to you what political scientists do and why it is valuable other than to summarize it with a single, brief example. What we do, Senator, is try to provide answers supported by empirical evidence – re-read those last two words, because they are the important part – for the millions of your fellow citizens who look at you and wonder, "How in the hell does a dipshit like this get elected to the Senate?" And the kind of taxpaying citizens who want an answer to that question are the same ones who aren't willing to accept the illiterate rantings of talk radio hosts as an explanation. They want an answer based on research, data, and tests of falsifiable hypotheses. That's where we come in. That's why we use the staggering sum of $91 million over ten years (That must be, what, half the Federal budget? Three-quarters?) to do work you are not only unwilling but, let's be frank, unable to understand.

I applaud your courage, as it is not easy to be William Jennings Bryan in a modern Scopes Trial. It takes real courage to expose yourself to this level of humiliation in furtherance of your heartfelt commitment to fiscal prudence. Most of all, it takes wisdom; wisdom to listen to the suggestion of whichever 23 year-old staffer, still smarting over the F he received on his Legislative Politics research paper for writing a half-assed pastiche of opinion and sub-Hannity rhetoric, proposed this gambit. Recognizing genius is a form of genius itself, Senator.

Regards,
Ed __________
Department of Political Science
University of (far better than any school in Oklahoma)

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JESUS: THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDER

Posted in Rants on October 8th, 2009 by Ed

I really dislike the "hey here is some thing I found, click on it and my work is done" style of blogging and I do my best to avoid it. Hopefully I am successful more often than not. But not today. No, today you just need to look at this. Because I have laid eyes upon one of the most intoxicating trainwrecks created by man. You know Peak Oil, right? Well this might be Peak Wingnut. After this, the next rung on the crazy ladder is eating one's own crap.

You have been suitably warned. And it is work safe, unless your workplace has a policy against retardedness. So here. Look at this. For the love of God, look at it. Do not overlook the fact that it is interactive. Scroll your mouse over each person in the painting for a fun civics lesson and explanation of artistic intent.

If there is something preventing you from being willing or able to look at this, let me briefly summarize. It is an interactive painting entitled "One Nation under God" which depicts Jesus giving the Constitution to a small child (who will in turn give it to his "Handicapped Child" brother, if I may infer that from the captions). Not only are historical figures included – Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, and so on – but several cultural stock characters are also present, from "Mr. Hollywood" to "Liberal News Reporter" to "Professor" clutching a copy of The Origin of the Species to "Supreme Court Justice" shielding his face from Christ for the shame of his rulings.

This is part painting, part history lesson, and part holy shit what in the hell is wrong with people. Enjoy all three components. Enjoy the artist's skilled hand with the brush, evident from the fact that Ronald Reagan looks like the dad from The Wonder Years and John Adams appears to be a presenter on The Price is Right. Learn important facts like that farmers "truly are the backbone of America" or that "There are many good people in America, they are not all Christian" as he depicts an immigrant (note: "I wanted him to have a look of shock on his face when he sees where the source of America's greatness comes from when he sees Christ holding the Constitution.") Most importantly, sit quietly and contemplatively as you try to absorb how deeply disturbed a nation must be to get to this point.

I've got nothing. Nothing else. Just look at it. Learn from it. Learn all you can. It is our only hope.

TECH SUPPORT QUESTION

Posted in Quick Hits on October 7th, 2009 by Ed

If any readers could offer me guidance on a hardware problem with my PC I'd be most appreciative, although obviously the anonymous nature of internet readership places you under no obligation to do so. I will try to be succinct.

I build my own PCs and run Windows XP. Four days ago, I had what I believe was a hardware failure. System was unresponsive and unable to boot even in safe mode. I removed the HDD (3 year old WD Raptor, which have a notoriously high burnout rate) and tested it with my laptop via an external HD dock. It appears to be a write off (unable to format, bad sectors, etc). So I grabbed another drive – for some reason I have about 9 laying around my office – formatted it clean, and attempted to do a fresh install of XP with the new drive. No other components changed.

I got halfway through the install and at the first reboot I go into an endless loop of trying to resume the installation but being unable to do so. I can't make any keyboard inputs (unresponsive) even though the generic USB drivers supposedly loaded in the first part of the install. So it just loops through "Press any key to boot from CD/DVD…" to restarting. I disabled all boot options other than 1) the DVD and 2) the HDD.

I'm flummoxed. The reason I'm suspecting a hardware problem (mobo?) is that I've never heard of being unable to do a clean install on a clean hard drive before. WTF?

Any suggestions welcome. Thanks in advance.