MATTERS OF FAITH

Posted in Rants on January 31st, 2012 by Ed

I spend my days at work looking through vast quantities of public opinion data. Nothing I see is surprising anymore, and most of it is, if not predictable, easily explainable. A throwaway poll from the South Carolina primary, however, left me scratching my head. Among voters who stated that religion matters "a great deal", 46% voted for thrice-married serial adulterer and pretend Catholic Newt Gingrich compared to only 10% for Mitt the Mormon.

Not being a practitioner of any organized religion, I understand the factionalism and various interdenominational rivalries adequately but not completely. I get it that evangelical Christians (let's safely assume they made up the vast majority of religiously inclined South Carolina GOP primary voters) have extremely negative views of Mormonism. It was clear that this would be an issue with his candidacy from the outset, but I never really processed it or attempted to understand it.

All religion is based on faith, and specifically the belief in miraculous events. Don't flip out here. What I mean is, Christians believe that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. As people cannot rise from the dead (or, in the case of lucky Lazarus, be risen) one can only base a belief that such things occurred on considerable faith in a higher power. I'm not making fun of anyone. This is simply the reality of believing in something that can't be empirically validated. As such every religion, logically speaking, is equally plausible. The only reason Mormonism gets more crap is because the miraculous events upon which it is based occurred more recently and thus are treated with a greater degree of skepticism. Mohammed and the Buddha and Jesus and the gang were lucky to exist before photography, the telegram, and newspapers. Not so for ol' Joseph Smith.

My point here is that while the core beliefs of Mormonism may appear silly to the non-religious or merely the non-Mormon, they're no sillier (or less plausible) than the stories of the Old Testament or the Bhagavad Gita. It all requires the willing suspension of the laws of physical reality and a belief in a supernatural power. Fine. So why do born-again Christians have such fanatical hostility toward Mormonism? While Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants, and other major religious groups in the U.S. may not be Bestest Buddies with the LDS church, they seem to be tolerant and not openly hostile.

Recently it hit me that the issue is not based in religious dogma (Mormons do not, as Evangelicals often claim, reject the divinity of Jesus) or in codes of conduct (Mormons reject most of the same behaviors rejected by Christians, including polygamy, gay marriage, and other hot-button political issues). It's about competition. The megachurch dwellers hate Mormons because Mormonsism is a proselytizing religion, one that has been phenomenally successful in the past few decades. When George Romney ran for president or governor in the 1950s and 1960s nobody cared that he was a Mormon because Mormons were as common as Zoroastrians. Now there are over 14 million Mormons and LDS missionaries (Sound familiar?) in 167 countries according to the church.

In competing for the same customer, if you will, Mormons have the distinct advantage of being almost absurdly friendly and outwardly tolerant of other belief systems, whereas the average ultraconservative Christian Bible-banger has a mouth like a puckered asshole and uses Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards as a blueprint for spreading the word. Mormonism has slick ad campaigns (they have billboards all over Atlanta, commercials on every TV network, and a sponsored YouTube channel that pops up at least once daily for yours truly) and they distance themselves from the anti-intellectualism of the Christian right. It's the kind of thing that middle class people – particularly Hispanics – appear to find appealing, based on the number of new recruits. And like other parts of the Republican base, the Christian right is terrified at the prospect of losing the Hispanics as a potential recruiting pool.

This isn't Ed's Ringing Endorsement of Mormonism. To me it is no better or worse than any other religion. The point is that the Pat Robertson crowd is scared shitless of the success and polished appeal of the LDS church, not any particular aspect of its dogma. Since so many religions differ wildly from evangelical Protestantism, I can't think of a more plausible explanation for why Mormonism is singled out for such intense hatred. Why not Gingrich's Catholicism, with its blasphemous Roman popery? Why not Judaism? Why not Islam? Oh wait, I guess they do hate that last one. Different reason, though.

I am not the world's most open minded person. I detest Scientologists, Juggalos, and the Irish. OK, just the first two. But my reasons are rooted in their beliefs and practices. I'm becoming convinced that the anti-Mormon sentiment on the right is based on something entirely different. Megachurches are in constant competition with each other and with other religions to put more butts in seats. And they're getting very worried that this new kid on the block, Mormonism, is to Evangelical Christianity what digital photography was to Kodak film.

SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT

Posted in Rants on January 30th, 2012 by Ed

This has been a minor news item at best, but I've derived a good deal of enjoyment from the not-quite-infamous Rand Paul TSA incident. For the unaware, Paul Jr. refused a patdown search at Nashville International Airport (as subsequently released security video footage shows). Eventually he was turned away at the security checkpoint. While he was calm during the incident, he turned into a great big ol' drama queen afterward and blew the incident beyond any reasonable proportions. The speed with which the Paul Sr. campaign turned this into a talking/debating point – Trampling the 4th Amendment! Tyranny! Loud Noises! – suggests that the entire incident was premeditated and staged for political effect. The campaign hysterically described the event as Paul Jr. being "detained indefinitely."

“The police state in this country is growing out of control,” Ron Paul’s campaign said. “One of the ultimate embodiments of this is the TSA that gropes and grabs our children, our seniors and our loved ones and neighbors with disabilities. The TSA does all of this while doing nothing to keep us safe.”

Wow, what a compelling controversy.

The TSA is of course a signature issue for the paranoid Liberty-loving Pauls, and the bedraggled agency has become a lighting rod for criticism from conservatives of all stripes in the past few years – surely you recall the enthralling "Don't touch my junk!" brouhaha from 2010. It's the kind of don't-you-dare-inconvenience-me hissy fit that stands in for a serious discussion of political issues in this country. The rich irony, of course, is that the TSA is direct creation of the right-wing histrionics that followed 9/11. On the one hand they demand the illusion of security provided by wars, technology, and lots of people in badges performing searches (badges being the Authoritarian-Follower personality type's version of a favorite blankie). On the other…you know, privacy and The Constitution and I'm a Very Important Person who doesn't have time for long lines at the airport.

These apparently contradictory urges actually make sense as long as we recognize that right wing suburban America does want more airport security, just not for themselves. Why is the TSA inconveniencing all of us with searches? Why don't they just pull the brown people out of the line and search them since we all know who the real terrorists are anyway? People like Rand Paul want a TSA that accomplishes the primary task of government as people like him see it: making white people and people with money (to the extent that the two groups do not overlap in his mind) feel safer. It's the best of all worlds, an America in which the the people with badges keep their eyes on the colored folks while good God-fearing patriots like Us are left to enjoy our freedom.

I can't read Rand Paul's mind, but let's say there is smoke suggesting fire on this issue. You may recall his statements against the Civil Rights Act during the 2010 campaign, or perhaps Ron Paul's various statements suggesting some problems with race issues (note that his "plausible deniability" argument regarding his newsletter evaporated last week thanks to some good investigative journalism). Maybe the Pauls are true Libertarians, or maybe they have some racist tendencies, or maybe they're just garden variety modern conservatives who demand total freedom and total security simultaneously – for themselves, of course. Everyone else is fair game.

NPF: A VISUAL FEAST

Posted in No Politics Friday on January 27th, 2012 by Ed

I have no logical way to connect these things by way of an introduction, but this has been a banner week for discovering aesthetically pleasing things that you should waste your Friday afternoon perusing at work. Click any image to embiggen:

1. Graphic artist Mike Joyce has put together a gallery of dozens of old rock & punk show flyers re-done in the International Modernist style. It works eerily well for reasons I can't pinpoint.

As an added bonus, maybe some of you old bastards actually went to one of these shows.

2. For the comic book nerd dwelling deep inside of you (or perhaps right on the surface) here is Marko Manev's gallery of "minimalist designs" for superheroes.

Something tells me that if they actually existed and needed to advertise, this is how they'd do it.

3. Photographer and artist Lilly McElroy has a series entitled "I Throw Myself At Men" wherein she would find men through Craigslist, meet them in some public place, and proceed to literally throw herself at them (while what I assume is a colleague of hers took photos in mid-throw). The reactions of her unsuspecting (victims? dates?) are priceless.

4. You've probably seen this one already; NASA released a 21st Century version of its famous Apollo 17 "Blue Marble" photo courtesy the Suomi (Finland?) satellite. The original resolution (8000 x 8000!) makes it the most detailed picture of the entire planet ever taken. That's stretching the truth, though, since this is actually a composite image that, as is the case with so much photography of natural phenomena, is probably "enhanced" and Photoshopped in a dozen different ways. Still, this is pretty amazing. Zoom in on a few different spots to get the full effect. The amazing level of detail reminds me of my favorite Earth-from-above photo, of Sicily's Mt. Etna volcano erupting in 1999.

AMERICA FIRST

Posted in Rants on January 26th, 2012 by Ed

Automakers talk more about fuel economy and new technologies now than ever before, which is less impressive than it sounds given that they didn't give a flying crap about efficiency or evolving their technology until about 2005. The public is now regularly exposed to messages about how this-or-that new technology has heralded the arrival of the efficient, non-polluting car, which is largely ridiculous. Some cars are more efficient and less polluting than others, but regardless of whether you drive around in a Nissan Leaf or one of those "I have a small dick" Ford Super Duty trucks you're still consuming energy that originates from fossil fuels. We haven't seen a true technological breakthrough in this area until there is a vehicle that consumes no fossil fuels and can be refueled without being plugged into a charging station for several hours. Hybrid cars, for example, use less gas than a normal car (excluding diesels, which are popular in Europe but still pariahs here) but the basics of how they get from point A to point B are the same. You put in gas, you go until you run out, and you put in more gas.

All that said, if you're gonna drive it's obviously better to have a vehicle that uses less rather than more. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids, even though they are technological stopgaps at best, make sense. Last year Chevy (part of "Government Motors", as our rapier-witted colleagues on the right call it, especially those ignorant of the fact that the first bailout payments came from George W. Bush in an effort to push the automakers' bankruptcy into the Obama administration) released the first plug-in, range-extended vehicle, the Volt. It's expensive because the technology is new, but for those willing to take the plunge it offers the ability to travel about fifty miles on electricity and then engage a small gasoline engine to recharge the batteries. The end result, accounting for the power that it draws from your home, is a vehicle that gets the equivalent of 93 mpg. That's pretty impressive.

So we have an American-designed vehicle, built in Detroit and its suburbs, that represents a substantial leap forward in technology. And it's probably going to be a flop because Republicans are desperate to see anything related to GM fail. Because they love America so much, they want to kneecap the company and its products in an effort to score cheap political points against Obama to the presumed delight of their legion of mouthbreaters.

Last year a Volt's battery pack caught fire after a crash test. And by "after a crash test" I mean three full weeks after the vehicle was totaled in a side-impact crash. Just so we're all clear: the thing didn't burst into flames on impact (as cars full of flammable liquid sometimes do, of course). It was crashed, left outside in a parking lot for three weeks, and then developed a fire in its smashed battery pack. Non-story.

But the House GOP, led by Darrell Issa – yes, the only convicted felon currently serving in your Congress – have decided that they can accuse the administration of conspiring to conceal this incident, supposedly to protect their cronies at GM (who, for the sake of their argument, let's pretend actually exist). Their theory is apparently that the NHTSA failed to disclose the fire "quickly enough"…what exactly that means is neither clear nor, for Republicans, relevant. In the process they have publicized the hell out of this crash test incident, culminating with televised hearings before a House committee today. There a GM higher-up patiently explained to Inmate Issa that the battery fire could only be reproduced in testing by impaling the battery pack with a steel rod and waiting several weeks for the fire to start, leading to this revealing exchange:

GM's Akerson stood up for the Volt, saying that the fire that's caused so much commotion only happened "after putting the battery through lab conditions that no driver would experience in the real world," according to his prepared remarks. Strickland said NHTSA "pulled no punches" in the Volt fire investigation – which recently ended after finding the Volt to be a safe car – but Issa was having none of it. He told Strickland: "I hear you, I don't believe you."

In other words, "The facts don't align with my talking points, so you must be lying. Also, Obama bad."

The end result of all of this, if today's flurry of news items about the hearings is any indication, is that the buying public will probably associate this model with fires. Every headline contains some combination of the words "Chevy Volt" and "fire", and products that develop reputations for being unsafe, whether or not it is warranted, tend to have a hard time shaking it. Like everyone over the age of thirty automatically associates "Ford Pinto" with "exploding gas tank", our Country Firsttm GOP wants to make sure that Americans think of Chevy Volts as giant bombs that will, like, electrocute your kids and then set their corpses ablaze.

It's pointless, it's counterproductive, it's selfish, and it's a great example of how scorched Earth tactics are the sum total of what the modern GOP is capable of doing. The party that exists solely to suck up to corporate interests is proving that it will even throw those under the bus if they happen to be between it and more power.

RAPID REACTION: STATE OF THE UNION

Posted in Quick Hits on January 25th, 2012 by Ed

1. Even though it was just a speech and he'll probably go back to being the Great Compromiser tomorrow morning, it was pleasing to see Angry Populist Man tonight…although he just couldn't help himself with the constant, appeasing references to debt reduction, reduced spending, and the like.

2. To quote Chief Wiggum, "Maybe lay off the Asians, Lou." He got quite a bit of mileage out of bashing China, no? I half expected him to bring kindly old Mr. Wong who owns the dry cleaners around the corner onto the podium so the assembled legislators could pelt him with tomatoes.

3. "OK, pan to Camera 2. Now back to Camera 1. Good. Let's switch to a wide shot of the presidential box in a few seconds….OH CRAP, HE MENTIONED ISRAEL! QUICK! LOCATE AND ZOOM IN ON A JEW! HURRY, BEFORE THE MOMENT IS GONE!"

4. I have no idea what speech Mitch Daniels or Ari Fleischer (who was bellyaching on CNN immediately afterward) watched, but it sounds like it was full of crazy ideas and un-American rhetoric.

5. Mitch McConnell might just be the worst person on Earth, and that's saying something on a planet inhabited by Newt Gingrich and the people who created True Blood.

CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD, READY YOUR WEAPONS!

Posted in Election 2012 on January 24th, 2012 by Ed

I usually struggle to give two of my least valuable craps about pundit commentary during election season. Most of it is for entertainment purposes only, and not even very successful to that end. What we have seen so far during the GOP primaries is neither surprising nor in need of extensive explanation. The most religiously conservative candidate did well in Iowa (as Mike Huckabee did, winning the state in 2008), the most moderate and libertarian-leaning candidates mopped up in New Hampshire (Romney wins, followed by Paul), and the most garishly unreconstructed racist won South Carolina. Oh, how exciting.

While these events don't lend themselves to deep analysis, two pieces of commentary regarding where the primaries go from here stood out. Common wisdom dictates that Gingrich and Santorum have had their 30 seconds in the limelight and now the upper hand will return to the candidate with the most money and people on the ground (Mittens). Joe Scarborough, who in fairness has rarely seen a hole in the ground that he could correctly distinguish from his own ass, disagrees. He believes that Romney is in real trouble:

"There’s no doubt about it," Scarborough agreed (ed: with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press). "The party base is revolting, but they are revolting against the Washington Republican establishment anointing Mitt Romney. Just like Herman Cain was not about Herman Cain. It was a rejection of Mitt Romney. Rick Perry, a rejection of Mitt Romney. Michele Bachmann, a rejection of Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich wave one, a rejection of Mitt Romney. Now we have Newt Gingrich wave two, a rejection of Mitt Romney."

Hmm. Well the GOP base certainly is revolting, Joe! Oh, wait. You meant that as a verb. Fair enough. I'm not sure I buy his premise – after all, this is the kind of OMG THIS IS HUGE SO IMPORTANT!!! analysis that the networks trot out in the wake of every raindrop during election season. For a moment, let's suppose he's right. Why would that lead anyone to Newt Gingrich? Former House Republican Scarborough:

Mitt Romney could attack Newt for not being a conservative because Newt is not a conservative. Google it! We [Republicans] ran him out of Congress in 1998 because he sold us out on taxes, he sold us out on spending, he went to the floor and he sided with Democrats on his last speech, calling us the perfectionists caucus. He called us jihadists. He’s not a conservative, he’s an opportunist. But here is the problem: So is Mitt Romney.

Hmm. So it's the smarmy, polished opportunist versus the corpulent, hissing bridge troll opportunist. That seems like a pretty easy choice, right? I mean, you pick the one who can get elected, provided we can all agree that Ron Paul and Rick Santorum fail to reach the threshold of viable, Serious candidates.

Steve Schmidt (a relatively sane strategist responsible for the McCain campaign and now counted alongside Frum and Andy Sullivan as a heretic) reads from the Book of Revelations regarding Gingrich:

Look, I think, not only are we not moving towards a coalescing of support by the Republican establishment for Newt Gingrich, we're probably moving toward the declaration of war on Newt Gingrich by the Republican establishment. And if Newt Gingrich is able to win the Florida primary, you will see a panic and a meltdown of the Republican establishment that is beyond my ability to articulate in the English language.

People will go crazy and you will have this five week period until the Super Tuesday states which is going to be as unpredictable, tumultuous as any period in modern American politics. It will be a remarkable thing to watch should that happen in Florida.

HOLY SHIT THAT SOUNDS AWESOME! I am suddenly very excited for Team Gingrich to win the Florida primary.

As entertaining as this idea might be, it doesn't make a ton of sense. If Gingrich and Romney are both rank opportunists, what difference does it make to the GOP establishment? They're certainly not up in arms over Gingrich's "subtle racist appeals." That's part of the lingua franca of today's GOP. No, the issue boils down to a simple but important difference in personalities.

Newt Gingrich has high name recognition and staggeringly high negatives – sort of like Hillary Clinton in 2008, but much more despised. He is so repugnant as a person that he could actually accomplish the unlikely feat of dragging the entire party down with him in the general election. This is a guy who was run out of town on a rail in 1998 by his own party, and who in the interim seems to have devoted himself to getting meaner and eating pie thrice daily. The Establishment realizes that its field is crap this year and the chances of beating even a weakened Obama are 50-50 at their absolute best. Their odds of holding on to the House and taking the Senate, however, are good. Provided some venom-spewing Rancor beast doesn't come along and alienate every half-witted voter to the left of Joe McCarthy. The empty vessel with the polished smile and lots of money is a much better face to put forward in an election such as this one. It's plausible that Romney could win. It's plausible that if he falls short, he won't leave a smoldering pile of wreckage that was the Republican Party in his wake. Gingrich, on the other hand, would not only make his own kamikaze run at the White House but also bring the rest of the party with him against his will.

I'd be thrilled to see Schmidt's scenario play out – a Gingrich win in Florida followed by GOP: Beyond Thunderdome – if part of me wasn't terrified that enough of the American public is dumb enough to vote for Gingrich in the general election. Given his level of charisma, I think I'm willing to risk that.

POLITICAL POTPURRI

Posted in Quick Hits on January 23rd, 2012 by Ed

Three things that aren't long enough to justify a full post on their own can, if taken together, reasonably sum to one post.

1. I just finished my taxes. My effective federal tax rate, due to some divorce-related shenanigans, reached a personal all-time high: 9%. I usually clock in between 5 and 7 percent. I earn about 80% of the U.S. median income for an individual male taxpayer, and at 33 I've never hit 10% with my effective tax rate. Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire, has revealed an effective tax rate of about 15% (comparable, as the folks at Fox are all too eager to point out, to multimillionaire John Kerry's 13%). Remind me again where all of this tax rage comes from? I do not speak from experience, but I find it hard to believe that everyone who makes an amount of money between Romney (Assloads) and Ed (Dick) is paying 30%-plus in effective taxes. Yeah, yeah, Social Security and Medicare too – which are a great deal if you're a high earner (since they're capped) and for the rest of us they pay out far more than we will ever pay in. Property taxes? Kindly blow it out your ass; nobody forced you to buy a house, and owning a home entitles you to about 1000 different writeoffs and loophole deductions. I wonder how many of these 15% Flat Tax advocates realize that most Americans are paying that share or less already. The actual numbers in the tax code are irrelevant.

2. The Republicans in favor of Voter ID laws have finally found a clear-cut case of widespread fraud on which to hang their rhetoric: it appears that 953 dead people managed to vote in the South Carolina GOP Primary.

3. The best of the Gingrich jokes so far:

– Maybe America should say it has cancer so Gingrich will leave it.
– If Republicans are so uncomfortable with Mormonism, why did they vote for the guy with three wives?
– Every time he seems like he's down Gingrich rises up again, which is fitting for a man who appears to be made of dough.

NPF: TORCH-PASSING

Posted in No Politics Friday on January 20th, 2012 by Ed

Kodak declared bankruptcy on Thursday, which is interesting to me inasmuch as I've spent the week sick, mostly at home, and obsessively looking through NASA's newly released, true color, hi-res scans of the photographs from the Gemini missions (pre-Apollo). Incredible is an understatement. I'm not a photographer and I don't know much about the technical aspects of it, but I do know that nothing coming out of a digital camera looks quite like Kodakchrome (which they stopped making in 2009, incidentally) and other kinds of film.

Yes, I understand why film has gone the way of the dodo. It makes perfect sense. From an aesthetic perspective, however, it's sad. There's something about the way things are captured on film that all the Photoshop filters in the world can't reproduce. Besides, in fifty years I doubt we'll get the same kick out of looking through a flash drive full of cellphone camera pics as we do from flipping through an old box of pictures.

Bonus: If space isn't interesting to you, take a look through one of my other favorites, the Prokudin-Gorsky color photographs taken in Russia between 1900 and 1910. Or learn more about the pioneer of color photography here. It's pretty difficult to convince your brain that this photo was taken in 1905, isn't it?

SUSAN BROWN GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on January 18th, 2012 by Ed

I've been at this for almost a decade, and over that time my Spider Sense for terrible editorializing has gotten pretty good. It's impossible to explain, but sometimes you look at a headline and author and you just know. So when I saw "Over-Regulation is Choking the Life Out of Business" by someone named Susan Brown ("op-ed columnist, motivational speaker, military family advocate and grief counselor") I had a powerful revelation. The Giant from Twin Peaks appeared to me in a vision and said "Ed, this is going to be based on an anecdote about her own failed business or that of an immediate family member." And when he talks, you listen.

So I honestly began this column by betting myself that I was about to read about Susan Brown's failed business (or that of a close relative) or I'd donate $5 to Santorum 2012. I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say that no financial transactions between Ed and Rick have occurred. Alright kids, I hope you're all ready to watch a no-name advice columnist fist logic. Let's roll!

I guess we were supposed to be encouraged last week when the regulator-in-chief pulled out his plastic preschool scissors while promising to cut the government down to size. "The government we have is not the government we need," Obama announced to a group of business owners at the White House on January 13, 2011. Obama promised he'd snip off a scant $3 billion over the next ten years — in exchange for just a little more power.

Meh. This generic tripe portends little more than Norquist-style "drown it in the bathtub" prattle about Big Government. I feel like this story needs some color, a personal touch to offset what I'm sure will be a vast amount of supporting data and research.

Given the increase in the size of government since Obama took office, he'll need an earth mover to make any real difference.

Well, it's no SDI or Medicare Part D, but I guess he did what he could. Lay off the guy for trying.

Next week he'll be selling snake oil in the Rose Garden to reduce the deficit.

Boy, Susan's writing skills are certainly leaping off the page, aren't they? Motivational, but also hilarious.

There are many areas in government to cut, chief among them are excessive regulations,

"Excessive regulations" isn't really a thing. When one talks about the size of government the reader naturally thinks about offices, agencies, departments, branches, or expenditures that might be proposed for elimination. What Susan has done instead is to leap from the size of government to a function of government. That's a poor idea in general, but certainly not aided by the total absence of specifics or examples.

Wait.

Well this is embarrassing. I just googled it and it turns out that the Department of Excessive Regulations is a real thing. This is its main office building, located in Reston, VA:

regulations, which are choking the life out of small businesses in this country.

Uh, is it possible that small businesses could fail in this alternate reality for any reason other than Big Gub'mint? According to the Small Business Administration, more than 50% of small business startups fail in their first five years. Presumably for many reasons, the foremost of which is not Excessive Regulations.

Awhile back, my brother Pete decided to chase his version of the American dream.

*Runs victory lap*

God this is gonna be good.

He did his homework; purchased quality used equipment via the internet, and signed a lease – in hopes of opening a small mom and pop style yogurt shop near Charleston, SC. He's a smart businessman, who tries to calculate his decisions carefully.

Well, there you have it: according to this objective analysis, the author's brother is a business wizard. He is a Warren Buffet clone. If his brilliant idea – hopping on the trendy Frozen Yogurt shop fad – fails, it certainly could not be his fault. No mention of his previous business experience, which I'm sure is ample and littered with successes.

Nonetheless, it wasn't long before he found himself tangled in a web of regulatory red tape.

Then I guess he didn't do his homework, did he? For opening a small business, such homework would include things like figuring out what local regulations would have to be followed, what equipment/infrastructure would be required, and what licenses and permits are necessary. That's, like, the first thing you would do. If you weren't an idiot.

He was told he needed to purchase environmentally friendly grease trap equipment, although no frying is involved in serving non-fat yogurt.

Does this requirement by any chance apply to, uh, every single food service establishment in Charleston? I'm not familiar with the travails of the FroYo racket in Charleston, but I find it hard to believe that any of this was a surprise revealed only after he opened the business. Good research, bro!

It didn't stop there. Additional environmental requirements like the installation of specialized wastewater drains, and tens of thousands of dollars for more unessential equipment left him watching his hopes of the American dream go down the drain, along with any hopes of hiring new people should his business succeed.

OK. Couple things here. First, let's note that there are currently four dedicated frozen yogurt establishments in Charleston: FreshBerry, YoBe, Yogurt Mountain (!!!) and TCBY in addition to dozens of ice cream parlors that also serve frozen yogurt. This suggests that either the market is completely saturated or somehow these other restaurants manage to survive under the oppressive regulatory reign of terror. Maybe it's easier to succeed when the owner isn't a moron who doesn't figure out the overhead and startup costs in advance.

Upon further research, it doesn't look like the playing field is entirely fair. The author's brother was required to install "specialized wastewater drains" not required of any other business in Charleston. FreshBerry has no drains at all, YoBe funnels its liquid waste into a giant roof cistern clogged with dead pigeons, and Yogurt Mountain simply heaves its wastewater on the street one bucket at a time. My, he should sue.

My brother is not alone;

Time to generalize the living shit out of that ridiculous, unrepresentative anecdote! The plural of "anecdote" is "data" in the conservative mind. Although in fairness we don't even have multiple anecdotes here. Throw me a bone, Brownie.

his experience has become all too common in the Obama administration's new regulatory normal.

So the requirements of operating a restaurant in a given location are set…by…the…White House? Based on my limited contact with the bar and restaurant industry, the regulations are almost entirely city and county. Occasionally state.

South Carolina's Nikki Haley said it best when she recently told Fox News' Sean Hannity, "I need a partner in the White House." Haley claimed the hardest thing about her job had been the federal government intrusion into South Carolina's business. Though she was a Tea Party favorite, Haley endorsed presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

Well this sure is irrelevant. Also, Haley is campaigning for the VP slot. That might be worth noting.

She said Romney promised to keep the federal government out of South Carolina's way, so it can create jobs.

You know that acquaintance who is a complete loser and blames all of his failures in life on "affirmative action", like he'd be a runaway success except that only women and minorities can succeed in this country? That's South Carolina. "We'd have super-low unemployment if only The Gub'mint would get out of our way!" Sure you would, Cletus. Sure you would. First in secession, last in everything else. Must be DC's fault.

My brother's experience, along with the Department of Labor's January 7, 2012 unemployment report showing an increase in unemployment by 24,000 over the last week makes it quite clear increased regulation is making matters worse.

An anecdote and a single week's unemployment numbers "makes it quite clear" that…there are too many regulations? I see better logic from freshmen. Not much better, granted, but better than this.

Over-regulation has turned the country once hailed as the Land of Opportunity into a place where opportunity only happens in your dreams.

Conclusion well justified by evidence presented. A+++

According to a July 25, 2011 Heritage Foundation article titled "Red Tape Rising: A 2011 Mid-Year Report," the Obama administration has enacted "75 new major regulations from January 2009 to mid-FY 2011, with annual costs of $38 billion." Between October 1, 2010 and March 21, 2011, the administration completed 1827 "rulemaking proceedings," environmental and otherwise, some of which will directly affect private sector start-ups.

The Heritage report found that Obama has outdone his predecessors in that "no other president has burdened businesses and individuals with a higher number and larger cost of regulations in a comparable time period."

A few examples wouldn't hurt, or we could just take the Heritage Foundation's word for it. I mean, they're at LEAST as credible as the tale of Goober Brown's failed FroYo stand. I don't know why I assumed that her brother's name is Goober, but run with it.

And the worst is yet to come when you look at the job-killing, business-quelling regulations under Obamacare's 159 new government offices and programs, the EPA's seven new environmental regulations that will cost businesses $38 billion annually,

1. "Business-quelling"? Is "quelling" the word we want here, guys? This makes sense? OK, according to the editors of TownHall – a 19 year old summer intern from Patrick Henry University and one of Bill Kristol's unemployable kids – this great writing.

2. That same $38 billion figure appears in consecutive harangues. That's one hell of a coincidence, no?

3. Ooooh, scary numbers! Big Gub'mint! These are certainly hard times for the would-be owner of a novelty food service establishment. Hopefully Mitt can lead us back to the frozen yogurt boom years.

in addition to compliance costs of $100 billion, and the 2400-page Dodd-Frank bill the Harvard Business Law Review cites as "the most significant regulatory overhaul since the New Deal."

Yeah, I think the banking and financial industries have suffered from over-regulation for too long.

The cost of overregulation is compounding exponentially, and in the process, is destroying the Land of Opportunity, dream by dream.

Your brother has stupid dreams. Maybe he should be less of a retard and do some research next time he decides that his dream in life is to run a faddish, not to mention seasonal, business.

But don't just take my word for it, ask my brother.

His singular experience recounted in a burst of AM talk show quality anti-government invective would surely persuade all doubters. He sounds like a smart, reasonable person who could objectively evaluate his experience and come to a measured understanding of what went wrong.

This is my all time favorite right-wing logic. If your business fails, it's because there were too many regulations. If you can't afford the lifestyle to which you feel entitled, it's because your taxes are too high. It's never, ever your fault. Party of Personal Responsibility!tm Except when you fail; then it's not merely someone else's fault, but inevitably the government's fault.

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MARKETING VIGILANTE

Posted in Rants on January 17th, 2012 by Ed

By now you have probably seen the question New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane put to readers, apparently in seriousness, which he phrased as, "Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?" Brisbane does a fantastic job of sounding isolated, out of touch, and ignorant of the basic principles of journalism in asking readers:

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

In other words, the editor would like to know if readers want to see erroneous statements pointed out as such, or whether the paper should remain "objective" and simply recite whatever statements its "newsmakers" make unchallenged. When hundreds of commenters questioned his sanity, Brisbane closed the comments and typed the mother of all bitchy replies:

A large majority of respondents weighed in with, yes, you moron, The Times should check facts and print the truth.

That was not the question I was trying to ask. My inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut “facts” that are offered by newsmakers when those “facts” are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one.

This is a difficult question? To understand why, consider his disastrously poor logic and mangled interpretation of two poorly chosen examples to illustrate his point. In the original post:

As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas “misunderstood,” and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.

Then he explains what a difficult moral dilemma this is in the follow-up:

If you think that should be rebutted in the text of a story, it means you think a reporter can crawl inside the mind of a Supreme Court justice and report back. Or perhaps you think the reporter should just write that the “misunderstanding” excuse is bull and let it go at that. I would respectfully suggest that’s not a good approach.

This is where I start to question what journalism school graduated this dipshit. No, it is not necessary to "crawl inside the mind of a Supreme Court justice and report back." Your reporter could, you know, investigate and report something along the lines of "In his 20 years on the bench, Mr. Thomas had filled out the form completely and correctly, including statements of his wife's income, every year. It is therefore unclear how Mr. Thomas could have misunderstood the form this year since the reporting procedure has not changed."

See? Look how easy that was. No head-crawling-in required. No journalistic experience required. Just a basic understanding of how to challenge a subjective claim (such as "I forgot" or "I was unaware that…"). Then he parses his second example:

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage…If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

Yeah, or rather than picking nits over the use of specific words the reporter could, you know, ask his interviewee to cite some goddamn evidence. "Mr. Romney, can you provide an example of President Obama apologizing for America?" Again: look how easy this is. I'm not even a journalist.

A clearer, less ambiguous example is the Republicans' repeated use over the last several years of the statement "Social Security is going broke" or variations thereof. Left untouched, it is indisputable that Social Security is solvent for at least 30, and likely around 40, additional years. That is very far from "broke", and even the qualifier that it is "going" broke is ludicrous given the timeframe. This statement should never, ever be reported unchallenged. Yet in practice it is never challenged. It is simply repeated after phrases like "Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said…"

It is legitimate to wonder how an editor from the New York Times could fail to understand this fundamental concept, or how he would need to solicit input from the mob to determine whether his reporters should practice basic journalism. But for someone so thoroughly steeped in, and partially responsible for the growth of, the Journalism as Stenography model, Brisbane's tentativeness is understandable. Modern journalism isn't about reporting and investigating and fact-checking, per se; it is about churning out a product, one that will appeal to the largest possible number of people. Muckraking is out, and keeping the sources happy is in. This is why we have "journalism" consisting of rehashed (if that) press releases.

Brisbane's comments are the logical end of the False Equivalency model of journalism, wherein every story must be presented with two equally valid sides. It's the "Some people say X, but other people say Y" technique writ large. How did this come to be? I think there are two answers to that question.

First, like on any other issue, people tend to idealize the past. American journalism has always been fairly weak on challenging people in positions of authority. Hearst and Pulitzer papers were hardly stuffed to the gills with Ida Tarbells. They were yellow rags with bleeding leads, and selling more copies was the only thing the editors cared about. While there may have been a greater emphasis on fact-checking as a result of fierce competition among newspapers, it's not like there's a golden age of investigative journalism in our recent past.

Second, the newspaper industry is dying, and fast. It is desperate to hold on to its remaining readers, and those readers are old. Really old. Old people don't want to be told that things they believe are not true. They're also the most likely to carp about Librul Bias if they aren't given an option to choose which "side" they will accept on any given story. The "Some people say X, but other people say Y" format was designed with their needs and wants in mind.

Brisbane is sad to watch here not because he is so clueless – and he is – but because you get the sense that he knows the right thing to do here and he realizes that he cannot do it. Editors are not editors because they understand journalism particularly well; they are in positions of authority because they understand the publication's need to market itself to the widest possible audience. They are gatekeepers who exist not to enforce the standards of good reporting but to screen every story through the question, "How can we write this story without conservatives getting mad at us?" And we will continue to be overwhelmingly screwed as a society as long as we define objectivity as quoting official sources uncritically and presenting opposing viewpoints as inherently equally valid.

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