NPF: MY INSTRUCTOR WAS MR. LANGLEY

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 16th, 2011 by Ed

I'm on my way to the Konczal wedding, so this will be somewhat brief.

Long-time readers know that 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my favorite films. Among its most recognizable scenes occurs toward the end of the second act, when Frank Bowman shuts down (euthanizes?) the sentient supercomputer HAL. As his "higher brain functions" are shut down, HAL reverts to his most basic programming: a short speech introducing himself, explaining his origin, and offering to sing the listener a song, "Daisy Bell." Embedding is disabled, but the whole fantastic scene is available here.

It turns out that Arthur C. Clarke was visiting a friend at the Bell Labs facility in Murray Hill in 1963 when one of its supercomputers, the IBM 704, demonstrated the first ever instance of programmed, computer synthesized speech. Among the tricks IBM 704 was programmed to do was singing the chorus of 'Daisy Bell." Here is the original recording – some famous quotes are spoken first (including "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you," the first words ever spoken by telephone) and the song begins around 0:48. I advise against listening to this immediately before trying to sleep.

Bell Labs based its accomplishment on technology that, surprisingly, was old even in 1963. The first analog Vocoder was demonstrated as early as 1935.

Today, vintage analog Vocoders are worth thousands of dollars, having won a cult following due to their use by early electronic music pioneers like Kraftwerk and Big Black…not to mention cementing a place in the heart of every American male of Generation X by providing the voice of Soundwave.

DELICATE SENSIBILITIES

Posted in Rants on September 15th, 2011 by Ed

Yesterday, the following link/headline appeared on the front page of CNN.com: "Bachmann's HPV claims disputed." Here is a screen cap:

I will spare you the video clip where her statement is discussed by Many Serious People, but here is what she said during the most recent debate regarding Rick Perry's executive order to have the HPV vaccine required in Texas:

"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong," Bachmann said. "Little girls who have a potentially dangerous reaction to this drug don't get a mulligan," she said. "You don't get a do-over."

Afterward, she elaborated, explaining that "a mother" approached her after the debate:

She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection. And she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn't know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.

Let's briefly overlook the terrifying fact that the woman who wants to be president was repeating this story into a camera almost immediately after a complete stranger (or so she claims) said this to her in a chance encounter. Apparently that's the Bachmann mental vetting process – "Someone came up to me and told me vaccines made their daughter retarded. The best thing is for everyone to draw their own conclusions about the efficacy of vaccines based on anecdotal evidence." But I digress.

Having seen her statements, look again at CNN's link headline, "Bachmann's HPV claims disputed," in reference to the AMA and other medical organizations resoundingly rejecting her crackpot anti-vaccine statements. Only in a media environment in which Fox News and the cultural right have truly Won would this be summed up with such a headline.

"Claims disputed" might be an appropriate tag for candidates bickering over tax proposals – "Perry says cutting taxes would increase revenues, but Paul Krugman disagrees in today's column." Bachmann's statement, aside from being dangerously flippant and not thought-out, isn't "disputed." It's wrong. In an honest world the headline would read "Bachmann wrong about vaccines" or "Major GOP candidate does not understand basic science" or "Bachmann chooses anecdote from stranger over science."

But of course we don't live in that honest world. We live in one in which the media have been thoroughly cowed into "treating both sides fairly" – treating opposing viewpoints as equally valid regardless of whether the issue is objective or subjective – and are hyper-sensitive about offending their core daytime audience of stay-home moms with medical degrees from Parenting Message Board University.

For all the accusations of elitism on the part of the media, this is an instance in which a sense of superiority would come in handy. The media see their job as stenography, to quote people and then "let the reader decide" which viewpoint sounds better. What they should be doing is reporting facts. Michele Bachmann is wrong about the HPV vaccine, and she is wrong to repeat a story told by some random yahoo when its central claim has no factual basis. In fact the evidence is overwhelming that nothing like what this stranger told Bachmann can be caused by the HPV vaccine. But instead of reading a headline like, "Bachmann repeats debunked pseudoscience, offers inaccurate statement on vaccines" we see that her statement is "disputed," as though it is controversial, actively debated, and as-yet unresolved.

Tags:

THERE IS NO SPOON

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on September 14th, 2011 by Ed

This isn't really political, but I did this in class on Tuesday and I had too much fun watching everyone tie their brains in knots not to share it here.

We are beginning to talk about probability in a course on research design / methodology, and I introduced the topic with a few basic examples. One of them is the infamous Monty Hall Problem. The MHP is like an optical illusion – no matter how many times I tell you that these lines are of identical length, your brain will keep telling you that the bottom line is longer. It is the kind of paradox with a solution that appears to be absurd even after it has been demonstrated to be correct. You simply cannot wrap your mind around it.

The MHP is a probability game named after the host of the 1970s/early 1980s game show Let's Make a Deal. The most popular part of the show was a game that has since become the subject of dozens of academic papers in math, statistics, and logic. Here is the basic setup:

The host confronts the contestant with three doors. Behind two doors there are goats (which the contestant did not actually win, but were intended as a gag "prize") while the third door hides a brand new car. The three prizes are distrubuted behind the doors randomly and Monty Hall knows what is behind each door. The contestant chooses a door, which remains closed. Hall must then open one of the other two doors to reveal a goat. He cannot open the door hiding the car (if the contestant has not chosen it). He then asks the contestant if they would like to stick with their original choice or switch to the other available mystery door.

An example is clearer; You choose Door 1. Hall opens Door 2 to reveal a goat. He then offers you the option of sticking with Door 1 or changing your choice to Door 3.

To 99.9% of humanity, this problem has an easy solution. Since Hall will open one of the two goat doors, the two unopened doors contain one goat and one car. There is no advantage to switching, since the odds of the chosen door containing the car appear to be 50-50. Going back to the example, if Door 2 is opened to reveal a goat, there's a 50% chance that Door 1 contains the car and a 50% chance that Door 3 contains it, right?

Switching, in fact, is always in the player's interest. When Parade magazine ran this problem in 1990 they received more than 10,000 critical letters, including several hundred from people with PhDs in math and science. All patiently explained that the odds are 50-50 and switching is not beneficial. The well educated letter writers were all wrong.

The probability of winning by staying with the original choice is 1/3, not 1/2. And the probability of winning by switching is 2/3. Most people, no matter how long they stare at this and work through the scenarios, cannot accept that. It took me days to absorb it when I first encountered the problem. It just does not make sense. Yet it's true. Since there are only two different objects behind the three doors – two goats and one car – there are only three possible combinations: car-goat-goat, goat-car-goat, and goat-goat-car. Perhaps the only way to understand why this creates a 2/3 probability of success by switching is to see the three scenarios spelled out. The yellow represents closed doors, the white door is the one opened by Hall to reveal a goat, and the arrow represents the door originally chosen by the player (which is always Door 1, for simplicity's sake).

And now that I've explained it and you've seen the irrefutable evidence, I bet your brain still doesn't comprehend why switching increases your odds. Mine doesn't. I know what the solution is but it will take me a few more years to understand why.

To paraphrase 50 Cent, I love this problem like a fat kid loves cake.

NEVER FORGET

Posted in Rants on September 12th, 2011 by Ed

Spending a relaxing day cleaning the house, grading quizzes, and watching football was a more surreal experience than usual on Sunday, alternating as we were between black-and-white, somber 9/11 Tributes set to somber music and the blaring, hyper-masculine aggression of truck commercials and those goddamn Fox NFL robots with the explosion sound effects. All of the requisite symbolism was covered thoroughly – the flags, the eagles, the Heroes in Uniform, the 9/11 First Responders, and the patriotic songs were all present in spades. It was the climax of a week-long media blitz reminding us to Never Forget. Never Forget. Never Forget.

All that remains, of course, is what exactly we are supposed to be remembering.

We repeat the mistakes of history so regularly not because we forget the past but because we think that remembering it is enough. We don't bother to learn anything from it. Or we learn a lesson that is simply wrong (We lost the Vietnam War because we failed to "stay the course", right?) Or we learn a terribly narrow lesson and use our substantial powers of delusion to convince ourselves that our current situation is unique and we are not in fact repeating the mistakes of the past.

A rite of passage for world leaders, for example, is the pilgrimage to Auschwitz. And people the world over know that the Holocaust is not to be forgotten. But what lesson do the solemn-faced presidents and Popes and prime ministers take away from their tour of the camps? What is it that we Don't Forget about the Holocaust? For most people the lesson of the Holocaust is not to vote for anyone covered in swastikas and wearing a cartoon villain toothbrush mustache. The lesson is that if anyone proposes herding people into cattle cars, trucking them to a rural area, gassing them, and putting them in crematoria, we should do something to stop it. We have learned those rather useless lessons very well. What we haven't learned, of course, is anything about the root causes and warning signs of fascism, the gruesome result of taking socio-political scapegoating and segregation to its logical conclusion, or the consequences of failing to accept our fundamental equality on the most basic human level. We learn that Nazis are evil and go back to railing against the immigrants or the fags or the poor or the dark people or whoever else we see as our social inferiors. It's not just possible to remember something without learning anything from it – it's remarkably easy.

It did not take long for 9/11 to fall into the same stagnant ritual of mindless, uncritical Remembering. What lesson have we learned from it? Have we learned anything at all? For most Americans the lesson has been that Muslims are evil, or terrorists are scary, or that some people want to do us harm because they are jealous of the 1000-channel strip mall paradise in which we live. Some of us cannot even take the line of thought that far, instead remembering that it was really sad when all those people died or that those firefighters sure were brave. Worst of all, in the quest to Remember we watch the same footage repeatedly – the crashing planes, the collapsing towers, the tumbling suicide jumpers – until it isn't shocking anymore. We end up remembering it and being completely desensitized to it.

Perhaps the urgency to have everyone Remember is simply an effort to return the nation to the frightened, fragile, knee-jerk aggression that characterized its collective emotional state for the first several years after the attack. Maybe the point isn't about honoring the memories of the dead at all, but to remind us all about the Other out there and encourage us to lash out at it in our unfocused, wounded rage.

No, we should not forget 9/11. But we might do well to ask ourselves what about it we are supposed to remember and why. For all of the reminders I have seen in the past week, we have been oddly silent on those points.

NPF: DAVE, THIS CONVERSATION CAN SERVE NO PURPOSE ANYMORE

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 9th, 2011 by Ed

Just a quick pair of links to occupy your minds during the drudgery of another Friday afternoon at a job you probably hate but cling to desperately.

It's that time of the year again, the time for Ed to apply (fruitlessly, no doubt) for another batch of jobs. I am hardly the only person who works in a field in which jobs are disappearing. In many professions, technological advances are responsible for the disappearance of jobs that used to be considered desirable and rewarding. When I daydream about the big picture beyond my personal circumstances, I often wonder what will become of us when we can no longer avoid the contradiction between a growing population and a shrinking need for human labor. Are jobs, in short, becoming obsolete?

This idea takes me back to a 1993 essay by mathematician and sci-fi author Vernor Vinge, "The Coming Technological Singularity," which asks us to confront a future in which technology advances to the point of approximating or even surpassing human intelligence. We often doubt that any such artificial intelligence can be created, and based on current technology I share that skepticism. But look at where we are today and give it another 50-75 years or so. Tell me we won't get there eventually.

SUCKERS WANTED

Posted in Rants on September 8th, 2011 by Ed

Sometimes I write about the difficulties and annoyances involved in teaching at the college level, and certainly there are many. Nonetheless I like to remind myself, as many of my colleagues do, that we have it easy in some respects. More accurately, we realize that things could be worse. We could be high school or grade school teachers.

Don't misunderstand; I am not belittling people who are. My opinion is that they should get medals of some sort. Whatever they make, it isn't enough. It might be the most thankless job in an economy that is lousy with thankless jobs. There are few other jobs with a worse ratio of compensation and status relative to the workload and challenges. In recent years, the job has the added bonus of being the most popular punching bag for right wing politicians and AM radio addicts.

My job has a few advantages. I have less classroom time, with the trade-off of expectations of high research output that K-12 teachers do not have to worry about. Second, my students are adults – legally if not mentally. I can speak relatively freely to them. There are no limits on the topics I can introduce in class. I do not have to tolerate disruptive behavior or coddle them when they are lazy. Lastly, there are no parents to deal with. Helicopter parents do contact me with some regularity, but I can end all such conversations before they begin. "Sorry, FERPA. Your child is an adult and has rights that I have to respect. Bye."

For the K-12 folks, there is no such luck. Mom and Dad are on them like flies on a shit picnic.

This commentary from an award-winning K-12 principal occasionally veers into whining, but overall it is an excellent snapshot of the real problems facing the educational system. Parents act as defense attorneys for their children (or increasingly hire real attorneys to bring to parent-teacher conferences). When teachers tell parents "Billy is a disruptive little bastard" the first reaction is to argue with the teacher. They defend their child – and, of course, by implication they're defending themselves from the charge of bad parenting. Some parents would rather try to get a teacher fired or file lawsuits against the school than accept the fact that, you know, maybe Billy isn't a brilliant, perfect, and special little snowflake.

This all takes place against the backdrop of a job with mediocre compensation and a new wave of politicians attempting to eliminate job security, benefits, and what little discretion teachers have by instituting testing-based, mandatory curricula. Where do I sign?

Seriously, who do we expect to do this job? What is the sales pitch supposed to be? "Become a teacher today, and tomorrow you can be screamed at by soccer moms while Glenn Beck tells his listeners to lynch you and the state legislature requires you to teach creationism!" True, I still see college undergraduates majoring in education in droves, possibly for lack of better alternatives in other professions. Is that what this is all about – making every alternative in the economy so distasteful that people will meekly accept whatever their employment situation throws at them?

The sad part is that the most common reaction among teachers is resigned cynicism. Just give everyone an A so I don't have to listen to the parents bitch – the parents are always "right" in the end anyway. Don't worry about the fact that the kids aren't learning anything – just play along, teach to the state tests, and try not to get fired. Don't show any initiative, because initiative can only be punished.

And then we wonder why teachers aren't doing a better job. Why aren't they magical alchemists who can turn these ingredients – severe budget cuts, uninterested students, aggressive Pageant Moms, and constant political and rhetorical efforts to make public school teachers villains – into gold?

Tags:

TWO WELL PAID HOOKERS GET THE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on September 6th, 2011 by Ed

In the age of media saturation and shorter-than-ever attention spans, ideas are marketed no differently than products. And much like the release of a new product is carefully timed to coincide with the circadian rhythms of its particular market niche, ideas must be proposed only when they have the best chance to succeed. For example, an idea for a new banking regulation would best be proposed in the wake of a bank failure or market meltdown. Another example of impeccable timing would be proposing the abolition of the National Weather Service immediately in the wake of a major hurricane.

Is "impeccable" the word I want there?

Ranting about abolishing the Departments of Energy and Education is so 1998. I don't think it's too much to ask of our free market worshiping think tank hacks to come up with a new department to abolish every now and again. Get creative! Iain Murray and David Bier certainly did with "Do We Really Need a National Weather Service?" If you ever find yourself looking at a weather forecast and thinking "Gee, I wish there was someone I could pay for this information," keep reading. Santa has the perfect gift for you. Murray and Bier work under the label of something called the Competitive Enterprise Institute – best known for their climate change "skepticism" and a website called, I shit you not, enjoybottledwater.org. By now it should be clear that you are about to hear some serious weapons-grade free market masturbation here. Ready?

As Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast, news stations bombard our televisions with constant updates from the National Hurricane Center.

Boy I can't wait to hear why this is a bad thing. It's clearly bad, right?

While Americans ought to prepare for the coming storm, federal dollars need not subsidize their preparations. Although it might sound outrageous, the truth is that the National Hurricane Center and its parent agency, the National Weather Service, are relics from America’s past that have actually outlived their usefulness.

I…I've got nothing. I'm speechless.

It certainly has outlived its usefulness to the for-profit weather industry and companies like Accu Weather! But more on that in a moment.

The National Weather Service (NWS) was founded in 1870. Originally, the NWS was not a public information agency. It was a national security agency and placed under the Department of War.

Cool story, brah!

The Service’s national security function has long since disappeared, but as agencies often do, however, it stuck around and managed to increase its budget.

Yes, at some point the government got the bright idea that it might be economically and socially useful for people to, I don't know, have some information about the weather.

Today the NWS justifies itself on public interest grounds. It issues severe weather advisories and hijacks local radio and television stations to get the message out.

"Hijacks." It "hijacks" local radio and TV stations to spread "its message," which in this case is…a severe weather advisory.

It presumes that citizens do not pay attention to the weather and so it must force important, perhaps lifesaving, information upon them. A few seconds’ thought reveals how silly this is. The weather might be the subject people care most about on a daily basis.

If anyone can figure out what these sentences mean, please submit your answer in writing along with two color photographs of a shirtless Murray Rothbard to:

Competitive Enterprise Institute
Wacky Word Puzzle Contest
c/o Koch Industries
Abandoned Utility Shed 2-C
Wichita, KS 67202

There is a very successful private TV channel dedicated to it, 24 hours a day, as well as any number of phone and PC apps.

And they get 99% of their data from…wait for it…The National Something Something. Help me out here.

Americans need not be forced to turn over part of their earnings to support weather reporting.

Right. Let's chop the NWS and get all of our info from the Weather Channel, which will get its information from…

The NWS claims that it supports industries like aviation and shipping, but if they provide a valuable contribution to business, it stands to reason business would willingly support their services.

Logic (~1000 BC – Sept. 1, 2011)
It Died of a Broken Heart

If that is the case, the Service is just corporate welfare. If they would not, it is just a waste.

Note how they throw in a pejorative like "corporate welfare" to emphasize that these Koch-chugging corporate whores are actually On Your Side. Fighting for the little guy. Just lookin' out for you.

As for hurricanes, the insurance industry has a compelling interest in understanding them. In a world without a National Weather Service, the insurance industry would probably have sponsored something very like the National Hurricane Center at one or more universities.

"would probably have sponsored something very like the National Hurricane Center". Well, that's good enough for me.

Those replacements would also not be exploited for political purposes.

Sometimes movies remove scenes without realizing that other scenes make reference to the deleted material – like when Han Solo glances at the door of the room where the Wampas are detained in Echo Base as everyone evacuates, knowing that Stormtroopers will eventually blunder into it and be torn apart. Everyone remembers that, right? This is totally like that. I have no f-ing idea what this sentence is supposed to refer to. None.

As it stands today, the public is forced to pay more than $1 billion per year for the NWS. With the federal deficit exceeding a trillion dollars, the NWS is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. It may actually be dangerous.

Oh my god, $1 billion? The amount we spend in Iraq and Afghanistan every 3 days? UNCONSCIONABLE.

Note the ominous teaser…let's learn how the NWS can actually murder you in your sleep.

Relying on inaccurate government reports can endanger lives. Last year the Service failed to predict major flooding in Nashville because it miscalculated the rate at which water was releasing from dams there. The NWS continued to rely on bad information, even after forecasters knew the data were inaccurate. The flooding resulted in 22 deaths.

1. Oh my god…someone got a forecast wrong? A weather forecast?
2. But why did all those people die? Accu Weather, the sponsor of this column, surely issued the correct forecast. Oh wait…

Private weather services do exist, and unsurprisingly, they are better than the NWS.

I'll tell you what IS surprising though – that CEI hacks getting underwritten by the Private Weather Services would come to such a conclusion. As surprising as when Rick Santorum took big campaign donations from the founder of Accu Weather in 2005 and then introduced a bill (which failed to attract a single co-sponsor) to prevent the NWS from issuing any weather forecasts. Coincidence is the lifeblood of free market worship.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the National Weather Service was twelve hours behind AccuWeather in predicting that New Orleans would be affected. Unlike the NWS, AccuWeather provides precise hour-by-hour storm predictions, one of the reasons private industry supports them.

Come on, guys. This is just ad copy from Accu Weather's PR department. I expect better of you.

It is not just random mistakes in crises either. Forecast Watch has found that

We can't trust big government bureaucrats, but I know who we can trust: objective sources of information like a website run by the lobbying arm of the for-profit weather industry.

Forecast Watch has found that the National Weather Service predictions of snow and rain have an error rate 20 percent higher than their private alternatives. “All private forecasting companies did much better than the National Weather Service,” their report concludes. In 2008, they found that the NWS’s temperature predictions were worse than every private-sector competitor including the Weather Channel, Intellicast, and Weather Underground.

This is the most shocking report I have read since the Corn Refiners Association concluded that corn-based sweeteners are nutritious, delicious, and have the ability to cure cancer.

NWS claims to spread information, but when the topic of budget cuts came up earlier this year, all they spread was fear. “There is a very heightened risk for loss of life if these cuts go through,” NWS forecasters said, “The inability for warnings to be disseminated to the public, whether due to staffing inadequacies, radar maintenance problems or weather radio transmitter difficulties, would be disastrous.” Disastrous? The $126 million in cuts would still have left the Service with a larger budget than it had a decade ago.

A federal agency's budget grew? Stunning. It's pretty stunning that the NWS budget has grown $125 million in that time, compared to the $400 billion growth in defense spending in that same timespan.

The massive bloat in government should not get a pass just because it’s wrapped in good-of-the-community clothing.

*slurp slurp slurp*

How does it taste, guys? Remember to breathe through your nose. Wouldn't want you to choke. And for christ's sake, give your jaw a rest now and then.

NWS services can and are better provided by the private sector. Americans will invest in weather forecasting because if there is one thing we can be certain of, people will want to protect their property and their lives.

I've been trying to clean up the language around here, but I must paraphrase a line from one of my favorite films: WE DO INVEST IN WEATHER FORECASTING, YOU FUCKING FUCK-WIT. WE ALL CONTRIBUTE A TINY PITTANCE ANNUALLY TO SOMETHING CALLED THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE, WHICH PROVIDES US WITH WEATHER FORECASTS. YOUR ONLY OBJECTION TO THIS PRACTICE IS THAT THE WEATHER INFORMATION IS NOT HIDDEN BEHIND A PAYWALL WHERE YOUR UNDERWRITERS WILL RE-PACKAGE N.W.S. DATA AND PROFIT FROM IT.

I'm sorry, I don't know what happened there. The key must have gotten stuck.

Reading this gives our pampered, first-world butts a small taste of what it must be like to read North Korean newspapers and history books. Not being quite so used to it, reading this much propaganda gives me a headache.

Tags:

THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME

Posted in Quick Hits on September 5th, 2011 by Ed

Happy Labor Day!

Having just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Hamlet chicken plant fire in which 25 workers died (mostly low-paid immigrants willing to do unpleasant work) because the plant owner chained all of the exits shut from the outside, workplace safety inspections are happening less frequently than ever.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria wonders why Americans don't take more vacations. Because we're working incessantly by choice, and it never previously occurred to us to take the dozens of paid vacation days we have accrued.

Finally, read up on Joe Hill if you're stuck in the office today.

CNN also has a terribly brief piece on what labor conditions were like before the reforms of the 1930s. It also gives us a glimpse at what they will look like in a few more years.

NPF: DETERRENCE

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 2nd, 2011 by Ed

People tend to keep socially unacceptable thoughts to themselves. You might still be a racist, but you're less likely to say racist shit to other people. There's a degree of public shaming involved in saying racist things – ask Michael Richards, Katt Williams, or James Watson – that makes people think twice. That's not a bad thing. It's how social norms are enforced and the boundaries of acceptable conduct are enforced.

Like many people out there in internet land I am head over heels in love with White Whine, which bills itself as a collection of First World Problems. I suspect most people like it because it's funny. And it is. Consider these two examples:

Subject: Snack Time.

Hi Becky!. This is Kaylyn’s mum :-) . I have a concern about the snacks that you’re serving to kids. Today we were in the store and Kaylyn pointed out the type of cookies that you served at the teddy bear picnic. Much to my dismay they weren’t a name brand. My husband and I pay very good money for childcare and we expect that corners won’t be cut in the care of our child. That and we don’t want to instill the sorts of values in her that make her think that it’s okay to settle for less than the best. That might be hard for you to understand but it means a lot to me.

Her email signature has a Deepak Chopra quote in it. Then there's this:

The popularity of White Whine has exploded rapidly – its creator is no doubt the next person in line to get a seven-figure advance for a book deal on his free Tumblr – in part because everyone has one or two of these yahoos in his or her social networks. You know, the girl who whines about going on too many vacations or the guy who goes on venom-laced rants about immigration when his domestic servants displease him. My hope is that over time, a good dose of public mockery will condition a generation of people who grow up on Facebook to think twice before they start putting their impulsive thoughts on the internet. You know, that format that preserves everything you say. Forever. More importantly, maybe people will start to realize that they don't really need to spend as much time whining about trivial First World Problems. As Daniel Tosh says, "It's time you learned that your ranch dressing is not that fucking important." Indeed it is time, internet. Indeed.

PAY PER VIEW

Posted in Rants on September 1st, 2011 by Ed

Continuing the Tea Party theme, let's take a trip back in time to 2009. Obama and the House leadership had just introduced health care reform legislation, a baby step toward a system of universal coverage. Recognizing hardcore communism when they see it, the right sprung into action against it. Members of Congress and their masters in the insurance industry set the right wing Noise and Rage Machine (which I imagine looks something like this) in motion. The leaders of this collective bowel movement came up with the brilliant strategy of telling dumb, confused, and mostly elderly white people – who would eventually become the Tea Party core – all kind of ridiculous crap and encouraging them to go to Democratic representatives' town hall meetings to yell at them. Thus were we entertained for several months by videos of absolutely incoherent people boiling over with rage, waving misspelled signs, and berating hapless members of Congress. The GOP and their allies on the right patted themselves on the back and had a good laugh. Ha ha! Look at Arlen Specter squirm.

The screaming-and-waving people continued to be useful until the day after the 2010 election, at which point the (now majority) GOP expected them to return home and quietly await future instructions from Eric Cantor and Glenn Beck. The problem is that some of these people aren't quite as docile as our economic and political elite need them to be. Tea Party Tim really means it and Plutocrat Pete can't control him. Because many of them are so old, they're now angry about plans proposed by Paul Ryan and other Republicans to gut Medicare and Social Security using the Trojan Horse of Austerity. So this spring, the angry mob came back to the town hall meetings – Republicans' town hall meetings – and offered another round of full-throated disapproval. Paul Ryan himself, golden boy of the Beltway elite, puked up talking points to a chorus of boos.

In 2009 most of the Democrats took their medicine and waited for the furor to calm down; eventually it became possible to appear in public without things turning into a complete circus. So the Republicans are following their example and doing the same thing in 2011.

Ha! No, just kidding. They're charging people to get into town hall events. You know, to keep out the riffraff. That's not surprising from a group of people whose idea of "making it" in life is to live in a gated community and who see the social contract as a process of crossing the bridge into the promised land and burning it behind them.