NPF: ALMOST LITERALLY A WHITE ELEPHANT

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 29th, 2013 by Ed

Sometimes I think China sits around thinking of ways it can do things that will end up being passed around the internet for the rest of the world to look at and think, "What the fuck, China." This all may be part of a devious plan, a disinformation campaign. Or maybe lots of people in China are moderately crazy.

Well, here's a giant concrete replica of the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. Mull that over for a second.

concrete-acc-china-1

Now I know China loves to build knockoffs of all things Western – either to sell back to us at a profit or simply for its own inscrutable reasons – but it's not immediately clear what could have possessed them to build a nearly full-sized aircraft carrier out of concrete. Believe it or not, building oceangoing ships out of concrete is rare but not unprecedented. However this concrete carrier was never intended to sail. Or even float.

Turns out that this is, in essence, a mall. The ship is actually a building resting on solid ground in a very shallow artificial lake. It's a theme restaurant-shopping-entertainment complex concocted by the city of Binzhou to gin up some tourism. According to what little information I could find:

Driving force behind the boat was the Binzhou City Tourism Bureau that designed the Binzhou Aircraft Carrier as a multifunctional entertainment paradise with restaurants, movie theaters, shops and a hotel.

Sadly, thing didn't turn out as planned. The construction of the interior proved much more expensive than estimated and the small city of Binzhou ran out of money. Further construction was suspended in 2006. The Binzhou Tourism Bureau went looking for investors and managed to persuade other government-run enterprises to put up some extra cash. In 2008 things looked very bright when the first restaurants and bars opened their doors on the upper deck of the ship.

Said businesses failed quickly, and for more than two years the derelict derelict has stood empty. It has the perfect paint job for a white elephant. You'd think the city leaders would just demolish it – clearly no one is going to buy it, and the description hints strongly that it might not even be structurally sound – so as to avoid having to look at the goddamn thing every day.

I don't understand you, China. I doubt I ever will.

SIGN TO HAVE SEXYTIME WITH LATVIAN GIRL

Posted in Quick Hits on November 27th, 2013 by Ed

(Publisher's Note: Ed is currently indisposed, so his Latvian pal Ivars will be handling today's post.)

Hello Gin with taco! Is Ivars! I have made many recover from trip to Burning Man where children of politburo trip balls in desert. Ed give to me many weblink for topic of posting, and I pick one that cause many confuse. I ask American friend, what is "24 Signs She's a Slut" and why is angry many reader? She explain but still I have confuse. Is supposed to be list of ways for tell if American woman is…prepare for sexytime. Is maybe different for America, but in Latvia cannot tell. Unless lady give family turnip on first date – then is guarantee of many sexytimes!

When explain to me my friend this 24 list, I must confess is very confuse. Many of 24 signs are just description of to be female. Have tan? Dye for hair? Have boobs? Is almost every Latvian girl! Except for tan. Is not good skin sometimes, if harvest of turnip is bad. But who is writer of this list? He sound like man with many problem and very small loaf of bread, if you get Ivars! He sound like he make many rape. Is all American man like this? Women of Latvia should not go to America for being with rape man. As Russian say, "nyet!" But enough about Russian, Russia is hole of ass.

I have many question. Please to help understand.

What is "slut face"? Writing man seem to think all lady have slut face. Maybe is only face of slut because man think all lady is slut.

Why is lady easy for sexytime when she make swearing? My mother make many swear, and she hate sexytime, says my father! Ha! But for serious, this is very silly.

Why does hair on body make for slut? Latvian woman have hair to stay warm for winter. Is also why Latvian woman eat like Latvian man, to make winter without die of starve.

What is "sorority"? Is like army? Ivars was in army. Is not like to talk about it.

What is "known party college"? In Latvia, all college is for party! Many party, I drink beer until take off pants. Sometimes friend will say, "Oh Ivars, you wear your pants!" American college is for party too, yes?

What is "tequila"? Have not taste tequila but who does not like shots? Is for party! And also for celebrate! And also for warm, when piece of shit Lada stop in winter.

Why is "feminist" more sexytime? Is feminist not mortal enemy of bag of douche like man who write this? If writer man say all of this is sign of slut, he sound not like he know anything about American lady.

In Latvia, is one way to tell if girl is for sexytime: She will say! Some time she say, "I want no sexytime" and other time she take off shirt and ask Ivars to put hands on her sweater turnips. Is not all the same, yes? Some lady in Latvia is for sexytime very eager, others like sexytime not at all. To find out is why for go on date and have many talk.

Is very silly, this link of web. Why is entire website by man who is very obvious know nothing of woman? Maybe should make website for how to stroke little Brezhnev with hand – is probably expert! Ha!

America is wonderful, but is sometime very hard for understand.

ORIGINAL INTENT

Posted in Rants on November 25th, 2013 by Ed

For people who like to portray themselves as Constitutional scholars and the modern executors of the Founders' intellectual estate, Republicans sure play fast and loose with the sacred text when it suits their needs.

Here is the briefest possible explanation for why the Senate changed the filibuster rule we all remember learning about in junior high civics class. Chances are most people who know what it is recognize it because the name sounds vaguely hilarious.

cloture

Yes, with three years remaining in Obama's second term the Senate Republicans have already nearly tripled the previous record for filibusters against the party in control of the White House. Worse, they have abandoned even the thinnest pretext of principle behind their use of the filibuster to block presidential appointments. They no longer bother mounting long, windy, insincere speeches about how the president's appointees are just Too Liberal and Activist Judges. No, for the past few years their approach has been essentially, "We're going to block all of these because we don't like you."

Typical Republican approach: break government, declare that government is broken, campaign against government. Repeat as long as rubes will buy it.

That a rule change was necessary is beyond obvious at this point. Yes, at some point in the future it will be used against Senate Democrats when they find themselves in the minority; that is something they will have to live with. This made sense in both the long and the short term. I'm sick to death of hearing about how the Senate is thinking about changing the rules. They've been talking about it for a decade. Shut up and do it already. It was starting to feel like Duke Nukem II, for christ's sake.

Now that it's over and done with, I do have a few lingering issues for our Constitution worshiping brethren on the right. They're very big on upholding the intent of the Founders, right? Right? Of course they are. Just ask them.

First, the word "filibuster" appears nowhere in the Constitution. It's a simple Senate rule. It is to the Senate what the phrase "under God" is to the Pledge of Allegiance – inserted after the fact but misrepresented as part of the original intent. Anyone who brings up the Constitution as a reason why the rule cannot be changed is the purest breed of dolt (Art. I, Sec. 5: "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings…")

Second, does not the Constitution give the Senate the duty to ensure the operation of the government by facilitating the presidents' appointment of judges, ambassadors, and other officials? Sure, we could quarrel over the meaning of "advice and consent" here, but for people who claim to rely on the intent of the Founders it is abundantly, sparklingly crystal clear that the authors of the document had zero intention of the Senate minority using rules to prevent the body from approving appointees for partisan political reasons. Find some archival evidence that Madison said, "Well if you don't like the president, it's cool to abdicate the constitutional responsibilities of the Senate." I'll wait.

Third, it strikes me as hilarious that some Republicans appear to believe the party will score political points with this issue. The very idea that Americans even know what Senate rules are, let alone care that they have been changed, is laughable. As someone who studies public opinion, I've had this conversation a few times with folks who study Congress – you can't poll people on things like Senate rules and congressional procedure because people have zero idea what any of those things are. I'd assume, thanks to Hollywood, that the filibuster is somewhat more recognizable, but in an electorate in which 1/3 of eligible voters don't know which party controls Congress it's highly doubtful that the GOP will be able to build on…what, pro-filibuster sentiment? Do they think that is a thing that exists?

The simple reality of our system is that at some point you have to stop fighting election results. At some point the minority party has to accept that they lost and that they will have to do some things they don't like because the other party is in control. Except that now the GOP can't accept that and can't stop fighting, ever, because the Tea Party is looming over them like a cloud – a crazy, illiterate cloud – ready to primary challenge any member who fails to refuse absolutely to perform any part of his/her responsibilities that abets Obama in any way. In that light, we could argue that eliminating the filibuster did Senate Republicans a favor, as they no longer have to go through the futile kabuki theater of mounting a filibuster against every single act the Senate undertakes. That must be tiring, after all.

NPF: ORAL HISTORY

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 22nd, 2013 by Ed

JFK died fifty years ago today, as the surge of related content on TV and in the news has probably reminded you. Very few moments in American history have captured our imaginations so completely over the years.

Last weekend I spent some time with my dad, age 62, and he went through his story of where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news. There are people in the world who don't like hearing older people tell stories like this. I am not one of them. Informal oral history is more interesting than anything I can read in a book or see on TV in yet another interview from the archives with Walter Cronkite. I know some of you are over fifty. Feel free to share your own stories in the comments. The media keep telling us that everyone remembers where they were when it happened, and how could the media have such a pervasive trope if it wasn't true?

Not having lived through it, I have nothing to remember. Part of the reason I think it fascinates people, though, is the 8mm eeriness of the Zapruder film. It's less like a document of a historical event than a clip from an early John Carpenter horror movie. It doesn't matter how many times it gets replayed – and certainly most Americans have seen it dozens if not hundreds of times already – it's never any less arresting. Every time the limo rolls into view in semi-slow motion I'm like, "Oh shit, man…you should duck…"

And he never does.

UNSKEPTICAL

Posted in Rants on November 21st, 2013 by Ed

Recently I saw this on Facebox:

morons

The comment reminds me an awful lot of one of the most common problems I encounter while teaching. You see, this person has done her research. Unfortunately research is not helpful if everything you read is bullshit. That's the beating heart of the anti-vaccination movement, for example: a person can do endless research on the subject online and find numerous sources of antivax information. I mean, none of it is accurate, but it's certainly plentiful.

About once per semester, depending on what I'm teaching, I will encounter this with a student. He will write a paper and cite numerous sources throughout as students are taught to do in a research paper. But the sources will be, for lack of a better term, bullshit. Tumblrs. Blogs. Conspiracy theory websites. Essentially, a bunch of garbage that falls into the category of Unreliable.

Now I have to do a mini-lecture on Good Sources vs. Bad Sources. The problem is that younger people who have grown up with the internet perceive The Internet, or perhaps Google, as a source. If one views Google as a single source, than any link found on Google is as good as any other. I try to explain that reliable sources of information for academic purposes are things like major media outlets, peer-reviewed journals, government records, and so on. Certainly all of those can and do provide inaccurate information at times. But if we're playing the percentages, your odds are a lot better with the Bureau of Labor Statistics or Science than with the Vaccine Facts tumblr or the Strip Mall Holistic Healing Wellness Center's website.

What I do not understand about this is that Americans of all ages express a tremendous amount of skepticism toward the media, the government, corporations, interest groups, and anything else considered Official. Yet when reading some anonymous mommyblogger's tale of how she cured her son's autism with quinoa cookies, an appreciable percentage of the public is willing to internalize this information completely unskeptically. The librul media and the government and "scientists" are lying to us wholesale, but this random asshole on a message board speaks the unvarnished truth. Even the fact that such dubious sources of information often have a clear ideological or financial motive – they reveal the rapacious greed of Big Pharma and then immediately try to sell you some unregulated Homeobullshit product – it's not enough to tip some of us off that it might be a scam.

I understand, but I don't understand. The skepticism of our scientific, media, and political institutions makes perfect sense. That none of that skepticism extends to random, qualification-free people talking out of their asses on the internet does not make sense. Perhaps this is an area where the rottenness of cable TV news and the decline of print media are causing serious problems. Perhaps Fox News and the like look so utterly ridiculous and amateurish that people raised on a diet of that product honestly can't tell what distinguishes it from some half-decent looking Tumblrs. Maybe one news website looks as good as any other, whereas if one sees a physical copy of the New York Post next to the New York Times the differences between the two are much clearer. I don't suppose I will discover the cause by ruminating on these questions, but I do know that an uncomfortably large number of people claiming to have "done their research" have done something that makes them feel like they are well informed when they have actually filled their heads with nonsense.

ACT SURPRISED

Posted in Quick Hits on November 20th, 2013 by Ed

Sometimes the timing just works out. One day I mention The Handmaid's Tale – you know, with the theocracy for the peasants and hedonism for the ruling class – and the next day one of the congressional Republicans' "drug test the welfare queens" cheering section gets busted with cocaine. Isn't it funny that poor and/or brown people use drugs because they're moral degenerates, but when rich and/or white people do it they're suffering from the disease of alcoholism? It's almost like some sort of hypocritical double standard.

Then again the concept of mandatory drug testing for benefit recipients has nothing to do with drug use or morality; it's an excuse, and a particularly flimsy one, to funnel government money to the for-profit medical industry.

INCEPTION

Posted in Quick Hits on November 19th, 2013 by Ed

I spent Monday re-reading The Handmaid's Tale for class tomorrow, and whenever I do that I am unable to form coherent thoughts for a few hours after I'm done. It will be interesting to see what the students think; based on precedent this semester, they will think nothing. And then we will be in the same position, albeit for vastly different reasons.

NUMBER ONE IN MISERY

Posted in Rants on November 18th, 2013 by Ed

I watch 24 hour cable news networks solely for comedy value at this point. They serve no other purpose. Fox News is and forever shall be the king of journalism as unintentional comedy, of course. Their daily exercise in self-parody must be seen to be believed. However, over the past year CNN has been nearly as fun to watch. The network's disintegration – economic, professional, and psychological – has been a thing of absolute wonder to watch. They managed to finish fifth in the ratings this month, behind Fox, MSNBC (not exactly a ratings juggernaut itself over the years), its sister network HLN, and, somehow, CNBC. Every new ratings stumble sends them into greater paroxysms of desperation. And thus the viewers will never come back; we all know that desperation is a big turn-off, and CNN has it in spades.

Its mission to re-brand itself as the bland, centrist, Beltway consensus alternative to Fox and MSNBC at the outset of the 2012 election succeeded – CNN is now an inoffensive dish of lukewarm water between the fire and ice of its more partisan rivals. This hasn't helped the ratings one bit, as it turns out that no one wants to watch mushy nonsense delivered with no position or perspective. It appears that their current mission, perhaps inspired by their ratings boost from saturation coverage of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, is to brand themselves the Breaking News network. If it's sudden and sensational and absolutely needs to be covered to death for weeks on end, CNN is your huckleberry.

This emphasis on sensational breaking news stories, and the concomitant need to Be First in breaking all the Big News, played out to hilarious effect during the Boston marathon bombing. The network provided one of the most jaw-droppingly awful spectacles in the history of journalism as producers argued, I assume, over ordering Wolf Blitzer to commit seppuku live via satellite. This failure only motivated the network to redouble its efforts. Whenever disaster strikes – particularly natural disasters and school shootings – they beat the drum louder and longer than any of their competitors.

And that is why all of their coverage, such as the recent hysterical coverage of the Philippine typhoon, feels so goddamn tacky = they seem like they're excited by disasters. To see this coverage is to wonder if network policy forbids filming their field reporters from the waist down so as not to reveal their massive hard-ons. It is plausible to argue that the news media play an important role in the early stages of disasters. But CNN's coverage is more Debris Porn than Information Clearinghouse. No sooner did the storm strike than Anderson Cooper was parachuted in to show us rubble, rubble, more rubble, and some corpses. They're giving this story the full court press not because it is important to their American audience but to exploit the suffering for the kinds of lurid images of death and destruction that they hope will capture viewers' attention for a few days. They will argue that they are doing it to help the victims, perhaps not even aware that whatever line exists between public-minded journalism and exploitation has been obliterated. Unfortunately for CNN, too many of us recognize the difference between voyeurism / disaster porn and a sincere concern for the well being of the victims. Hint: The blaring DEATH TOLL counter on the screen kinda gives it away.

NPF: TRAVEL ADVISORY

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 15th, 2013 by Ed

In the mental haze of my third (exam-taking) year of graduate school I developed a brief but intense fascination with the State Department travel website. Certainly it contains a wealth of useful information for travelers, particularly those visiting countries that are not widely visited by foreign tourists. The site has probably guided tens of thousands of college kids and adult tourists through the process of acquiring visas and passports. As far as government websites go (*cough*) it has to be among the best.

However, it is also hilarious. Unintentionally hilarious. Its country-specific reports are full of colorful and in some cases, I assume, overly dramatic warnings about the common use of pistols to resolve minor disputes in the streets of El Salvador, the Bronze Age condition of the roads in Brazil, the dilapidated condition of medical facilities across Africa, and the borderline psychotic driving habits of the Southeast Asians (OK that one is probably fair). I understand why the State Department writes its reports in this manner; by the standards of the average American tourist – picture some relatively wealthy Connecticut suburbanites or Studying Abroad college sophomores – much of the rest of the world must indeed appear remarkably Dangerous and Scary and Dirty and Dilapidated. Conversely, for bohemians who consider themselves to be expert globetrotters beyond any need for advice, the website's stern warnings about dangerous parts of the world may be a helpful reminder that no matter how intrepid you think you are, it's probably best to skip that trek through rural Yemen.

I often wondered, though, how other countries must describe the United States on their own versions of the State Department website. I recall years ago clicking through a few English-speaking nations' sites, which consisted mostly of droll warnings about duties on certain imported goods and the lack of useful public transit outside of a small number of major cities. Today, however, the Washington Post has offered a brief but entertaining rundown of sixteen American cities about which foreign governments warn their citizens. Surely foreigners must look at the State Department's warnings and take occasional offense at the description of their nations as dangerous or dirty or primitive. Or do they? Reading through these foreign warnings as an American, they look…pretty spot on to me. When visitors to Chicago are warned to "Stay away from the West Side and anywhere south of 59th Street" I feel no surge of patriotic pride urging me to respond, but only a sober realization that even Chicago residents largely heed that advice. No matter how much we might want to be upset at the tony French casting aspersions on our cities, it's pretty goddamn hard to argue with the logic inherent in "Avoid Cleveland Heights."

THE SUBTLE ART OF FRAMING

Posted in Quick Hits on November 14th, 2013 by Ed

I've never seen, and may never see, a better example in my lifetime of what "media bias" looks like in practice than the simple, four-letter difference between the headlines "106,000 Sign Up for Obamacare" and "Only 106,000 Sign Up for Obamacare." In the course of 45 minutes at the gym on Wednesday afternoon I watched CNN switch from the former to the latter. Apparently the first version wasn't doing a sufficient job of priming an affective response from their 207 viewers.