Today please spend whatever time you'd ordinarily use to read Gin and Tacos to watch "The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Policy." It's only 13 minutes. A young man secretly recorded a stop/frisk incident and the audio is included along with interviews with NYPD officers who describe the way the NYPD and Mayor's office pressure cops to make as many as possible. Originally appeared at The Nation.

There are some neat Stop & Frisk apps as well as an ACLU app that allows smartphone users to secretly record interactions with the police. This technology coincides with states' efforts to outlaw audio/video recording of on-duty police. They've failed so far, but why would such laws even be necessary? From what I've heard, if the cops aren't doing anything wrong they have nothing to worry about.


I want a new car. I'm looking for something that meets the following criteria: drives like a Formula One car (0-60 in no more than 4 seconds), has eye-catching supercar styling, seats 7 with plenty of room for luggage, gets 90 mpg, and costs less than $30,000. I tried entering this into some online search tools and there were no matches. What gives?

While it might seem silly, this is not too far off from what many Americans want from the political process. The basic problem with American politics is that our elected officials do (or try to do) what we want, and what we want is increasingly stupid. We want a government to do all kinds of stuff (Just the stuff that benefits me. Go ahead and cut everything else.) and we don't want to pay for any of it. We've dealt with this not by taking a closer look at our expectations through the lens of reality and realizing that this is impossible. No, we've taken comfort in magical thinking and voodoo theories that tell us, yes, you can have it all. We can lower taxes and somehow the government will end up making more money! People in suits say this with straight faces, blissfully unaware of how closely their product description matches the "Miracle 100 mpg fuel additive THEY don't want you to know about!" ads in the classifieds.

And so it is that in the year 2012 one Willard Mitt Romney offered an economic plan that claims to do the following over the next decade:

– Add $2,000,000,000,000 to the Department of Defense budget
– Balance the budget
Cut taxes by $5,000,000,000,000

On the opposite side of the ledger, of course, are the "spending cuts" that will make all of this magic work. Mittens offers examples such as – and I have no clue where these numbers come from but let's, uh, assume the proposed savings are somewhat optimistic – privatizing Amtrak ($1.5 billion), "repealing Obamacare" ($95 billion), reducing foreign aid ($0.1 billion), eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and Title X funding ($0.09 billion), and the ever popular "reducing waste and fraud" ($60 billion. Right.) Without even adjusting these figures downward to account for reality this adds up to a little over $150 billion. See? It all balances out…once we account for whatever fairy dust is going to "fix Social Security and Medicaid" without reducing benefits for anyone who currently receives them or will soon.

The math behind his proposal is so self-evidently stupid that I have to return to the list of options that I end up at increasingly often these days. One of the following things must be true about people who believe that this will work:

1. They know it doesn't work and they don't care. They just want their tax cut.
2. They believe that it works because they want to and/or they're not smart enough to understand that it can't.
3. They're pretty sure it makes no sense but they're highly susceptible to persuasion and commonly get suckered into things that sound too good to be true.

As a guess, I'd assume that the GOP donors and insiders are mostly #1, the poor/working/middle class base is #2, and old people are #3. A few weeks ago we talked about how even Romney doesn't seem to believe this, yet for some reason there are people in the electorate who do. It depends on that mix of greed, hubris, and rank ignorance that defines us in the eyes of the rest of the world.

When people believe this kind of voodoo I don't question their sincerity. They are serious. It's a testament to the power of motivated reasoning that so many people could believe, or publicly claim to believe without dissolving into laughter, anything half as stupid as what Romney is offering as his "serious" economic plan. At some point this ceases to be a political platform, though, and it turns into a religious creed; we believe it because we believe it and logic no longer applies.


NPF is ready to go but I couldn't resist bumping it in light of the vice-presidential debate on Thursday evening. Rather than making any attempts at analysis (If your post-debate spin is Mitch McConnell whining about the moderator, you just got your ass kicked. What more is there to say?) all I want to do is come up with analogies for what we saw on that stage last night. In politics, I can't think of a debate that ended with one person being that thoroughly humiliated when that person was not named Dan Quayle. Here I will try to list ass beatings as lopsided and complete as the one Paul Ryan just received:

That one Super Bowl that the 49ers won 55-10, where the game was effectively over 10 minutes into the first quarter. (Honorable Mention: The 1985 Bears clobbering New England 46-10)

– Mike Tyson vs. Marvis Frazier. Or Michael Johnson. Or Michael Spinks. Or Robert Colay. Or basically anyone he fought before he went to prison and completely lost his mind.

– BluRay vs. HD DVD (Honorable mention: DVD vs. DIVX Disc)

The Battle of Cold Harbor, American Civil War (Honorable mention: Henry V at Agincourt)

– Man vs. Nature

– Pepsi vs. New Coke

The one guy who kept fighting WWII for Japan until 1974 vs. the entire world

Crops vs. locusts (Honorable mention: Cane toads vs. Australia)

That could not have gone worse for Paul Ryan unless he pulled out a Koran and the severed head of Michael Phelps and thrust them both toward the camera. Unfortunately it won't matter much, as is usual for the debates. Nonetheless, it will replace Romney/Obama I as the topic for the grist mill over the next few days and it gave us this excellent excuse to think of metaphors for getting the crap beaten out of you.


The most surprising thing about Mitt Romney since he began laying the groundwork for his 2012 campaign way back in 2009 is just how poor his political skills have been. You'd expect a guy who managed to win a major statewide election in a liberal state to have, if not master-level political skills, at least basic competence. You would not expect to see a guy whose campaign has been a comedy of errors, who so regularly shoots himself in the foot with his own words, or who seems so unable to articulate some kind of coherent message. You might not care for his politics, but you would at least expect Mitt Romney to be a good politician.

Until recently, we've seen nothing of the sort. But I really have to tip my hat to him as a lifelong fan of politics for his performance in the first debate. He and his advisors clearly prepared him thoroughly, went in with a tactical strategy (jump on every question like a coked-up squirrel before Obama can run with it), and executed a political strategy. That political strategy is more long term and forward thinking than anything we've seen from the Romney campaign since…ever, really. It's an amoral, cynical strategy, of course, but they finally came up with one and pulled it off.

The strategy I'm referring to, of course, is to lie copiously. I'm being serious and not giving him a backhanded compliment here. As a campaign and candidate trying to win the election, they made a rational choice that is working out perfectly for them thus far. It may not be enough, but no one can say he didn't make Obama sweat even in victory.

Fact-checkers went at Romney like a pack of starving dogs would greet a man wearing a suit made of ham. Romney's people calculated, of course, that A) most Americans don't give a shit about fact checkers, thanks to a heavy dose of confirmation bias, and B) far more people will read or hear what he said in the debate than any corrections, responses, or fact-checks that come in its wake. There is a clear first mover advantage in a campaign and they took advantage of it.

Here is an example. Romney stated that Obama doubled the deficit upon taking office. This is, by any possible interpretation of the facts, false. It's just not true. Not even close. The most basic advantage is that he moved first – what did Twain say about a lie traveling around the world twice while the truth is still tying its shoes? – but it gets even better. In the wake of the debate, the Obama people have (justifiably) accused Romney of lying copiously about their candidate.

This is actually exactly what Romney was aiming for. It has two benefits for him. First, it makes Obama spend a week trying to refute things that he didn't adequately respond to during the debate. Second, it has made the Obama campaign repeatedly accuse him of lying. And that kind of accusation, the Beltway media are quick to remind us, is not what the American people want to hear. Can't Obama do anything but say "You're lying" to Romney? How uncivil. He must be ashamed of his own record. He's going negative. Etcetera. Can't you just picture the Davids (Brooks or Gergen) saying that as a panel of comatose "contributors" solemnly nod in agreement? Tsk tsk, Mr. President.

Maybe I'm giving him too much credit and this was all just an accident. Even blind squirrels find the occasional acorn. However, if this was intentional it was brilliant. I don't want to imply that Obama naively waltzed into a trap – certainly the campaign has to say "They claimed this about us, and it was a lie." You can't just sit there and take it. But the post-debate response played right into Romney's hands, because he and his campaign understand the bias toward mushy centrism and being Nice in our political journalism. Nothing sounds less civil than saying "You're a liar", so they figured out a simple way to make Obama say it a hundred times in a week.

Well played, Willard.


Apparently I have pneumonia. Buddy is still quite sick. I got a speeding ticket. It wasn't the best day.

The only topic I can offer for discussion today is whether I should adopt this dog. The local police took the adoption fee ($150) from me, but thank god they stopped me before I drove 38 in a 30 on a deserted country road between an animal shelter and a prison again.


I'm puzzled here, guys. Maybe you can help me out.

The right is crowing about Mitt Romney's post-debate bump in the polls. But I thought polls were all bullshit and they're not to be trusted. Please clarify.

Late last week everyone decided that the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment number is fabricated. For the past four years Republicans have been repeating it like they have Tourette's. Any light you can shed on this discrepancy will be appreciated.

Of course there's nothing to explain here except that intellectually dishonest hypocrites are doing more of the same. Conservatives are great at this. Hollywood is a cesspit of moral depravity and celebrities are all airheads, but they practically soil themselves with excitement when some star endorses a Republican or talks about running. Experts and academics in the ivory tower are never to be trusted, but hey did you see this new Exxon-funded study from Dr. Shameless at Texas A&M that totally disproves global warming? He's a scientist, so it has to be true. Government is bloated and expensive and must be drowned in a bathtub, except for the military, farm subsidies, the prison system, massive and politically expedient handout programs for seniors, and more.

Of the many forms of lying that make up the bulk of our public discourse, I find this type the most intolerable. I am used to people telling partial truths, massaging statistics, spinning, taking anecdotal evidence out of context, and all of the other tricks necessary to make things like trickle-down economics and Intelligent Design sound plausible. It comes with the territory for those of us who choose to follow politics. But there is nothing lazier, more damaging, or less intellectually honest than a constantly variable weight that gives different values to the same information at different points in time. In the case of the poll data and unemployment statistics this phenomenon is stretched to the limit – when the data do not confirm your preconceived idea of the world around you, they must be fabricated. Yep. Anything that contradicts your belief system is made up.

Virtually any news item can be discredited this way (having come from the Librul Media, of course). The entire economy can be selectively re-imagined from cherry picked data. The reverse scientific method – start with the conclusion, throw out all the contradictory evidence, and declare the issue resolved by whatever remains – is the foundation of their worldview. There's no point in trying to debate them; they believe all of their own conclusions as articles of faith, and nothing is capable, by definition, of undermining them.

Such people are, in an intellectual if not literal sense, brain dead. They're not processing any new information except to sift it through the filter of their beliefs and reject anything that doesn't fit. Yet at the same time, and at a more basic level, they seem incapable of believing anything. Do the polls matter, or are they made up? Does the unemployment rate measure the health of the economy, or is it politically manipulated? Are the troops being removed from the Middle East too soon, or not soon enough? If the answer to any of these questions is "It depends on who's winning / who's in power", congratulations. You're what's wrong with America. This is why we can't have nice things, like a half decent debate about our problems and how we might go about solving them.


Teachers spend a lot of time complaining about students. It's a coping mechanism. We work a lot, often without making much, and part of the "compensation" for this job is the feeling that we are making a difference. When that illusion is dealt a blow – say, because the students don't do what we ask of them or clearly give less than no shits – it makes us confront the fact that our lives are pretty much a waste of time. So sometimes we vent. Sometimes we vent a lot. Besides, there's nothing unusual about this relationship. Do doctors not sit around making fun of patients? Lawyers of clients? Service industry employees of customers? Office workers of everyone they have to deal with on the phone every day? Don't take it personally, kids. It's part of the working world. We actually like you and have devoted our lives to trying to help you.

The predominant complaint about college students today (and probably of yesteryear as well) is that they put so little emphasis on academics. Going to class and doing the work we assign is about 7th on their list of priorities, behind drinking, getting laid, football, the Greek system, spring break, "study" abroad, etc. You name it, it has priority over reading, writing papers, studying, attending class, or anything else for which they are ostensibly here. College has ceased to be about education for most students; it's a four (or five) year party, a middle- and upper-class rite de passage of sex, drugs, and shitty club music. There's a reason that the fancy new gym and rec center and Student Union and climbing wall – put climbing walls everywhere, dammit – are the focus of the campus tour. Who cares about the library. It's beside the point.

The thing is, over time I am getting more sympathetic rather than less. I don't condone this attitude – not even a little – but I certainly understand it. In the past decade the cost of higher education has exploded, the benefits of holding a Bachelor's have plummeted, and life after graduation has become a grim prospect involving the phrase "back with my parents" for the majority of students. The job prospects for recent graduates are appalling and unlikely to improve anytime soon. Under the circumstances, it's not hard to understand why fun, albeit very expensive fun, is such a priority; they're not likely to be having much more of it throughout their twenties. Dick Around Abroad programs sound like a great idea once you realize that you're not going to be able to afford a vacation to Spain (or have paid vacation time) with the entry-level job it will take you three years to get.

That's the reality of the economy today, and it is harsh in ways that even people who graduated from college as recently as five years ago may not completely grasp. Part of the surge in interest in college as one long party must stem from a sort of fatalism – undergraduates look ahead and see living in mom's basement, $50-100k or more in student loan debt, unpaid "internships", and, if they're lucky and after a lengthy search, miserable entry level employment. It's easy for me to understand why so many of them conclude that they might as well have some fun while they can. Now, certainly not all students are so rational about their future prospects, but even the most oblivious now have at least a vague sense of foreboding, a poorly defined understanding that after graduation the fun and games are over.

When we complain about their laziness and tell them to work harder, we assume that working harder will lead to better outcomes. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if that's true. Personally, I think that educating oneself and expanding the mind are good in and of themselves and learning for its own sake is an unqualified good. Assuming that a lot of 18-21 year olds are not sufficiently mature to take that attitude toward college, the results we see these days are often frustrating but never surprising.


The most frustrating part about teaching at the college level, bar none, is that students rarely read what one assigns. If they don't do the reading then you have nothing to talk about, assuming the topic for that day is not one on which students are likely to have any information. Then you have to tell them what was in the readings, i.e. lecture, and then everyone is praying for the sweet release of death after about 30 minutes.

Don't worry, this isn't another "The damn kids these days" post. I sympathize with them, or at least I try. Textbooks are awful things, and they're getting worse. Even in the ~15 years since I was in Intro to Whatever classes with 700-page textbooks, the readability and ability to grab a student's interest have declined precipitously. Don't get me wrong, there are students who aren't reading because they're lazy or have no shits to give. But I legitimately sympathize with the ones who try to read and either quit or get nothing from it. The problem in this case is that textbooks are boring. Really boring. And that's not because the material isn't interesting.

I know a significantly older professor who assigns a textbook he wrote for his Intro to ____ course. This is not unusual. But he distributes it electronically for free. There is no publisher. It's just a short (~200 page) pdf he made. He has received offers to have it published and sold, which he has rejected. At first this stunned me. It was a red flag. No external review of the material? No editor? As I got to know him, however, I saw his logic. When submitting a textbook manuscript to a publisher, the first thing they do is bring in a group of reviewers who end up saying "You didn't say enough about X" and "Add a chapter on Y." Then the editor and publisher go to work ensuring that the textbook appeals to the broadest possible audience. Let me explain why these two things combine to produce such unreadable nonsense.

The problem with the "Add more about ____" process is that it effectively doubles (or worse) the length of a textbook. More is not better. There is a practical limit to what can be covered in 15 weeks. Have you ever seen an intro History textbook? American Government? Literature? Sociology? "Western Civilization"? These things are goddamn New York City phone books. They can exceed 1000 pages. In some cases they are broken into volumes, like encyclopedias. I assign a comparatively svelte American Gov textbook that still has four chapters we don't touch, even though I whip through topics at a chapter per week. Students hate paying for a textbook and not using all of it. That's what happens when 50 people get to add something to a textbook – you end up with a massive, information-packed volume that you can't possibly get all the way through.

Then, the publisher and editors make sure the tone of the book is sufficiently "neutral" to avoid offending or alienating…anyone, I guess. This is the single biggest problem with textbooks today, especially in fields like political science and history. The textbook tries to please everyone by eliminating any semblance of an actual argument by the author. Making an assertion or having a specific perspective on events or ideologies is a pedagogical technique. It's not "bias". It's giving the students something they can read, interpret, and rebut. If they agree with it they can be made to explain why. If they disagree with it, that generates a discussion. But our textbooks say nothing at all that students can agree or disagree with. They're just over-processed pap, the academic equivalent of Wonder Bread: bland, insubstantial, devoid of taste or nutritional value, and mostly hollow.

As state legislatures and massive state university systems increasingly dictate the content of textbooks, academic publishing is following in the footsteps of the media. Terrified of accusations of bias, every single topic in an American Government textbook is presented in the "Some people think this, but other people think that" style. Attempts to convey "debates" result in point-counterpoint style pro-and-con essays, the textual equivalent of the split screen from-the-left, from-the-right format on TV. The end result is that the students aren't exposed to an argument so much as they are given two options and told to pick which one they prefer. Way to get them engaged.

At the end of this process, publishers realize that they have created something incomprehensibly boring. Like a movie that tries to include something for everyone, it is an ungainly patchwork that ends up pleasing no one. So they attempt to make the books more interesting with superficial crap: lots of pictures, magazine-like layouts, fancy whiz-bang websites (er, "interactive portals"), and, in American Gov, dozens of sidebars about Jon Stewart. THE KIDS LIKE JON STEWART, RIGHT? The combined effect of all these tricks is to produce a textbook that is colorful, but still boring. It's a neutered, bloodless product that no one can relate to.

I have read through just about every damn Intro American textbook on the planet, and I receive free copies of new ones almost weekly. They are absolutely obsessed with presenting "controversies" to the reader. Some people say X, while others say Y. This is boring and teaches nothing. Conversely, making an actual argument or at least having an identifiable voice makes the readers figure out for themselves that there is a controversy by offering something that can be scrutinized, argued against, accepted, rejected, or derided. Yes, intro textbooks are saddled with the responsibility of teaching nuts and bolts – This is how Congress works. This is a gerund. The Protestant Reformation happened because XYZ. – but that does not imply that they have to be the academic equivalent of Sunday Morning political shows on which follow-up questions are verboten.

I know that some students don't care and never will care. But I wish the rest of them didn't have to spend so much time fighting boredom and wondering why the material is so dull. It's not. The way we write about it is.


Tuesday's unofficial viral video of the day featured a Wisconsin newscaster responding on air to an emailer who chastised her for being fat (hence a "bad role model, especially for young girls.") You can see the entirety of the email and the response here, or watch the video below:

Really there isn't much to say about this and certainly not much I can add. The complaining viewer is an asshat, the response is accurate, and so on. You get it and you don't need it explained.

There was a specific part of her response, though, that really struck me. She noted that children are far more likely to pick up bad examples from Mom and Dad criticizing everyone on TV than from seeing a fat person. At one point she says, "If you are at home and talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat." While I don't know if that specific statement is true – it's qualified, and I'm fairly certain that there's more that goes into becoming a bully than this – it certainly is true that kids internalize these "lessons" pretty damn well. Even when we get older and (in some cases) mature to a point at which we know better, it's difficult to shake the kinds of biases that are pounded into us before we even realize it.

I heard Kyle Kinane tell a joke once (possibly to be included on his next special) about being in South Korea, wandering around Seoul during the summer and randomly noticing that very few people were wearing sunglasses. "And I'm thinking why in the hell don't Koreans wear sunglasses? Oh, right, it's probably because their eyes are….oh, son of a bitch, now I'm racist." He's probably dressing up this anecdote for the sake of comedy, but it's funny because we can all identify with it. We think this kind of shit all the time. We don't intend to. We're not all horrible people. We're just raised in a cloud of it and it becomes part of our thought process even if we actively reject it.

I don't consider myself a racist – which is precisely what a racist would say, I suppose – but like many people I was raised in and around a staggering amount of racist crap. When I was young, that stuff was everywhere: at school, at home, in the neighborhood, and so on. I sincerely doubt that I am alone here, even if we are reluctant to admit it, or that this is exclusive to white people. It's hard to overstate how difficult it is to unlearn this stuff once it sinks in…and a solid 15+ years of it allows plenty of time for it to do so.

I'm 33 years old, highly educated (on paper), and at a point in my life at which I am trying actively to be less of an asshole all the time. Yet I still find the things I was taught (intentionally or otherwise) when I was five running through my head on a regular basis. We aren't born thinking "Oh god, look at that fat person. How disgusting." We learn it over time in a society filled with people who teach is to judge everyone, all the time, according to whatever biases we find appropriate.

Now, a couple things here. First, I'm not claiming that this gives people carte blanche to be offensive; "Oh my parents were racist, so I say racist shit all the time. Not my fault." You can hide behind that until adolescence, at which point you are cognitively capable of understanding how other people feel, what prejudices are, and when you are entertaining thoughts better not thought and certainly best not said. It doesn't matter how often grandpappy said the n-word, you remain capable of removing it from your vocabulary and thought process. Second, I'm not proud of the fact that I catch myself thinking offensive crap sometimes – sexist, racist, homophobic, and otherwise biased things that I consciously reject as an adult – but I'm not ashamed to admit it. Unlearning what we were raised to believe is a continuous process, and besides, don't act like it never happens to you. If you really want to post that long, self-righteous comment about how you would never entertain such thoughts, briefly reflect on the odds against that before hitting Submit.

Strangers on TV aren't the reason people think overweight people are ugly or gross or lazy or bad people or anything else; we think that because it's taught to us. Even if we know better with age, this stuff is like a stain on a carpet – even after you remove it, it's still there. You never really eliminate all traces of it. All of those things we learned from the people around us – inerrant laws about other racial groups, reasons women are bitches, methods of detecting gays (and why it's so important to do so), kinds of people who are worth less than Us – are maddeningly persistent. It's unfortunate that so many of us lack sufficiently developed senses of self awareness to recognize that if the fat woman bothers you, she's not the one with a problem.


It's hard to fault the Romney campaign for their attempts at spin and damage control, which are right in line with what we would expect from a campaign fighting the perception that it is circling the drain. We hear these same narratives in every election except for the very closest: it's closer than you think, the media is biased, Mitt's gonna turn it around at the debates, there's plenty of time left, etc etc. They've spent the last week running wild with the conspiracy theory that every poll is biased (including those at Fox News, apparently, in which Obama's numbers are higher than in polls from rival Lamestream media outlets) without thinking much, if at all, about how desperate that sounds. As much as it makes my skin crawl to listen to people who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground talk about polling methodology – really, I think I need a Xanax prescription if I have to listen to Newt Gingrich talk about "oversampling" any more – this is a predictable part of the election when one campaign has its lips clamped around the tailpipe.

Wednesday night after the debate we will hear both campaigns declare an overwhelming victory and Team Mittens declaring that the race is "tightening". Of course every bit of available evidence tells us that the debates are essentially meaningless, with low ratings, low comprehension, and an audience that has largely made up its mind already. Barring a spectacular foul-up by one of the candidates – Obama waving a Koran around while beheading Michael Phelps, for example, or Mitt Romney opening his mouth and talking – they simply aren't going to change anything. Conveniently, this leads us to the next really irritating and nonsensical narrative: Why can't Obama "put Romney away"? Isn't Romney proving his mettle by "hanging in there" despite everything working against it?

This will be lapped up enthusiastically by the media, as this is first and foremost a ratings play and they have a vested interest in convincing viewers that the election is extremely close. That it is profoundly stupid will not deter anyone. It is never explained how it is feasible for one candidate to "finish" the other given the reality that it's impossible to win before the election happens, nor is it explained how the leading candidate is supposed to poll like 60% given the current composition of the electorate. It is accurate to say anything can happen – True, but not everything that can happen is plausible or likely – but quite silly to claim that because Mittens is trailing consistently rather than by a growing margin over time he is somehow achieving something or building positive momentum.

That won't stop anyone from making such claims, of course, because the narrative has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with a floundering campaign searching for positives and unafraid to grasp at straws. Any bets on the first campaign surrogate or right-wing pundit to use some variant of "Why can't Obama put Romney away?" or "Romney's hangin' in there"? Smart money's on Chris Christie, since the campaign appears to be turning to him whenever they need someone who lacks shame to mouth the company line of the day.