Posted in Quick Hits on March 23rd, 2015 by Ed

I generally find very little interesting about the hybrid of Big Data worship and undergraduate-level methods skills at Five Thirty Eight. This infographic produced in the wake of Ted Cruz's announcement – Good luck, asshat – has a lot going on in addition to the basic message that his candidacy is going absolutely nowhere.


Several things stand out.

1. Republicans who actually won the presidency in the past probably would not be able to win the nomination today. It says a lot about the massive changes in the GOP since the 1980s that George HW Bush and Richard Nixon are virtually communists by the current standards.

2. Holy shit was Barry Goldwater out there. He is probably too conservative to get elected today, which means that in 1964 he must have looked like Kaiser Wilhelm next to the other candidates of the day. That decade was a time of transition and change politically, but the leap from Eisenhower to Goldwater…wow.

3. Look at the staggeringly large gap between public statements and congressional voting record for both Pauls. Ron and Rand might – hold on to your seats – have a tendency to say one thing and do another. However, the conservatism of their congressional voting records is no doubt skewed by the fact that most votes in Congress are economic and regulatory in nature. These issues are the ones where the Pauls are on the far right. On some social and foreign policy issues they are, in line with their libertarian philosophy, not quite as conservative. Congress doesn't vote on those things nearly as often, though. Social issues are basically just campaign fodder and they're more likely to figure prominently in the Supreme Court docket than the agenda in Congress.

4. Chris Christie is going nowhere slowly.

5. Man there have been some dog crap Republican candidates over the past few years. Ah, John Kasich. We hardly knew ye.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 23rd, 2015 by Ed

This is long, and I'm unsure what I can add to it other than to say that this is an attitude one encounters often when dealing with college students and I never have any idea what to do about it. But you really should read it.

Oh, and I don't think this kid or many of his peers have the slightest idea what the word "satire" means. He keeps using it and appears to understand it only as the thing you claim you were doing when you get in hot water for saying or doing something awful. It's telling that this kid thought an outside audience would be sympathetic if only "their side" could be heard. It says a lot about how coddled and cloistered these kids are. Everyone they interact with shares their mindset and you can see how much it shocks them to be exposed to criticism from people outside the bubble. I suspect that they rationalize it with their traditional "Those people are just jealous because I'm so awesome" mantra.

Oh alright, one more thing: this is why attorneys tell their clients never to do interviews. Seriously kid, I know you think you're helping your Bros but you're not. Maybe stop talking.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 18th, 2015 by Ed

Just a reminder that if you aren't following Gin and Tacos on Facebook you don't know what you're missing.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 17th, 2015 by Ed

One of the ironies of the low quality of work that one often receives from college students is that they often put a tremendous amount of effort into attempting to get a higher grade after the fact. On more than one occasion I have told a student sincerely, "If you had put as much effort into doing the assignment as you have put into lobbying for a higher grade, this conversation would be unnecessary." It might sound sarcastic but it's absolutely true. In many cases they put a ton of effort into getting a good grade – they just don't allocate the effort wisely. Do it before the paper is due and it will benefit your grade a lot; afterward the same amount of effort is likely to accomplish nothing.

I mention this because I often wonder why police can't devote as much effort to doing their job properly as they do into covering up the things they do wrong. Some good old fashioned investigative reporting has uncovered a trail of Wikipedia edits on entries for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and other people killed by NYPD officers over the years, all coming from 1 Police Plaza. Editing Wikipedia is not the most labor intensive process on Earth (although honestly the more active pages are almost impossible to edit these days unless you've been involved for a long time) but there are quite a few of them spread out over time. If only there were something more useful to do with that time than search the internet and attempt to whitewash facts about things the department has done that cast it in a negative light.

Maybe this is for the best. They'd probably just do more stop-and-frisk if they didn't have the internet to keep them busy sometimes.


Posted in Quick Hits on March 10th, 2015 by Ed

(Part II of That's a Lot of Money to You People tomorrow)

Whenever people get caught on camera or tape saying really racist things, two responses by people who secretly fear that someday the racist things they say with regularity will end up on video are inevitable. One is some sort of half-assed argument about "free speech" indicating a basic but complete lack of understanding of the 1st Amendment. The second is something about how darn Sorry the speaker is. Golly, you could never comprehend the sorriness. It is beyond your experience.

Mark Zachary, 54, pulled his truck into the lot and went inside. Mr. Zachary was a member of the fraternity when he was a student at Oklahoma State University in the late 1970s, and he said he had asked the members if they needed help in moving. They declined his offer, he said.

“These guys messed up real bad, and I think they know they have,” Mr. Zachary said, adding that the house was barren and the students were quiet. “Everybody’s sick to their stomach. The guys that actually did the chanting, trust me, they feel worse than anybody in the country right now.”

Mr. Zachary is not wrong. Those students are indeed sick to their stomachs. They want nothing more than to turn back the clock and change things so that it never happened. They are riddled with guilt and despair.

Over the fact that they got caught, of course.

That is what everyone fails to grasp in situations like this. These young men are indeed devastated right now, because they're thinking about their own futures and how they may have ruined them. They're thinking about some potential future employer googling their name or seeing their Facebook page and realizing that maybe hiring the guy who was in the Klan Frat might not be the best person to represent the company.

But don't cry too hard for them. I'm sure they'll be fine, since 90% of them were going to end up working for their dads anyway.


Posted in Quick Hits on February 17th, 2015 by Ed

The primary reason I do not "Twitter" is an aversion to the limitations of the format. Most things I think are worth saying occupy more than 140 character spaces, and I have zero interest in chopping words down to infant babble to squeeze something into those confines. A secondary and practical issue is that it's worthless. Demonstrably worthless. Though it is supposedly a driver of "traffic", few if any of the techno-utopians who heralded it as yet another social media Innovation that would spread knowledge and power and information and fresh breath throughout the world can demonstrate that it is ever useful as anything other than empty textual calories.

A new Atlantic piece demonstrates that under 1% of people who view a tweet click the embedded link. "That's not traffic. That is a rounding error." Couldn't have said it better. An annoying, blinking sidebar ad has a higher pass-through rate, if even by accident. Of the 1% who click through, what percentage of them actually read the story (in the rare instances in which an article, rather than a stupid picture or video, is linked)?

Years ago I was skeptical of the "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" argument. Today it seems more plausible to me. The Atlantic piece really identifies the fundamental, if not 100% literally true, problem: Nobody reads anything anymore. We scan, we scroll, we occasionally click, we perhaps take 0.7 seconds to comprehend the headline. But we don't read. Social media has made it possible to throw enormous gobs of content at everyone on the planet, and nobody's reading a goddamn word of it.

Often I feel like after ten-plus years of doing this I've really failed by having an audience of only 3,000-5,000 readers per day. In fact, since the vast majority of that audience is capable of (and generally interested in) reading a whole 500-700 words, I'm probably getting "read" as much as people who write for sites with six-figure traffic. Everything else is just gawking at pictures and headlines.


Posted in Quick Hits on February 15th, 2015 by Ed

Why is it that a large number of Americans cling to the belief that lowering taxes will increase government revenue while simultaneously dismissing out of hand the possibility that global warming could manifest not only warmer summers but also colder winters?

There may be no succinct answer to that question, but I strongly suspect it has something to do with the relatively recent spread in popularity of the mindset that The Market must be the sole arbiter of all human interaction – both with one another and with the world around us – and thus anything that does not permit us to travel down the path of least resistance can be motivated-reasoned out of existence.


Posted in Quick Hits on February 5th, 2015 by Ed

On Wednesday the Croatian government announced a plan to eliminate the debts of about 60,000 of its poorest citizens. The announcement garnered a lot of attention even if the relief being offered is more modest than the headlines would suggest (maximum debt relief is capped at around $5000 US). The idea of debt cancellation used to be confined to the political fringes; now it is an acceptable idea to advance in polite society among Serious People. David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years strongly advocates a universal debt cancellation policy. With his argument in the back of my mind I wondered a few weeks ago if we couldn't apply a similar idea to non-violent inmates in our prison system.

Ideas like debt cancellation or amnesty for incarcerated people are often dismissed out of hand despite being no more or less ridiculous than many of the things regularly taken seriously as public policy. On its own merits, Croatia's plan isn't hard to justify. The inherent problem with this kind of plan, though, is that these are superficial solutions to institutionalized problems. What good does it do to offer debt relief to a few people when all of the social, legal, and economic structures that bury people in debt remain in place? Why bother letting everyone out of prison if the institutions that keep the prisons overflowing with inmates aren't going to function any differently?

If 60,000 Croats get debt relief and nothing else changes, many of them will end up back in debt in time when they confront the same lousy job market, the same parasitic lending practices aimed at the poor and desperate, and the same maze of punitive fees that turn modest debts into large ones over time. If Americans emptied out the prisons, does anyone doubt that our law enforcement and justice systems would have them full again within a year or two?

It's nice to offer debt relief. It's much more useful to offer relief from the institutions designed to bury people in debt.


Posted in Quick Hits on February 2nd, 2015 by Ed

Here's a map of how much money one would need to earn per year in every state to be part of "The 1%". Frankly most of the figures are a little lower than I expected; I'd have guessed that seven-figure incomes were necessary to reach the top of the economic heap. That the real amount is lower probably speaks more to how little most of us earn than how much the elite earn.

I'm not a person who spends a lot of time thinking about money. Were I, I would not have chosen a profession in which the income ceiling is not only relatively low but also well understood to be low by everyone who gets into the field. Nobody becomes an educator and is then shocked to discover that he or she is not earning a quarter-million dollars per year to teach middle schoolers or college freshmen. I don't earn a ton of money but I already feel like I have more than enough. I'm sure I would feel differently if I had a spouse, children, starving orphans, or pets to support or if I didn't live in an area where cost of living is about as low as it can go in this country.

It's a strange thought exercise, then, to imagine myself earning the kind of numbers you see on this map. If I was earning $450,000 per year, what the hell would I even do with it? There really isn't much one can spend "going out" here. I suppose I would go on three vacations per year instead of one or two. Other than that, I'd be spending money just to spend it. A bigger house that I don't really have any use for and an even more ridiculous car. Maybe some new clothes I probably wouldn't wear anyway. Pay off the rest of my student loans and commercial debt, neither of which are enormous. Other than that, I'd just end up hoarding money that I might not live long enough to spend in retirement.

Research on perceptions of wealth indicate that people think of "rich" as anyone who makes about 50% more than they do. Maybe without realizing it I've mastered the art of feeling rich on my existing income, or maybe I'm a particularly cheap date. Now taking suggestions for expensive and wasteful habits I can develop.


Posted in Quick Hits on January 28th, 2015 by Ed

As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA, Political Science, 1999) I continue to take an interest in the affairs of the school even though I left Wisconsin many years ago. Students, faculty, staff, and administrators throughout the UW system may feel powerless to fight back against their illiterate prick of a Governor's latest plan to close the $2 billion hole he created in the state budget by slashing taxes for the wealthy (Supply Side Economics: it works!) by gutting one of the only things the state has going for it economically to the tune of $300 million. Wisconsin, it seems, is in a race with Michigan to become the Alabama of the North.

So, unsolicited advice from an alum. The chancellor of UW-Madison and the Board of Regents for the state system should call a press conference tomorrow morning to announce that, effective immediately, all college athletic programs in the state have been disbanded due to budget cuts.

Walker-loving hillbillies sure do get a kick out of sticking it to them librul professors with their lattes and Volvos and fancy book learnin', but they like Badger football, hockey, and (perennial Sweet Sixteen or better) men's basketball even more. Not to mention the dozen other schools in the state with locally popular athletic programs. I've said this a million times, but if universities have to make "tough decisions" due to financial constraints they should start with the most popular but least important part of the budget.

Feel free to end the one-sentence announcement with, "Your move, asshole."