I'VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE

Posted in Uncategorized on July 15th, 2016 by Ed

No Politics Friday is canceled. For obvious reasons.

I'm not the smartest person in the world, but I've read enough to know where this is going. To know how it ends. To see what happens when people become sufficiently fearful of The Other to weaken their attachment to civil liberties and embrace authoritarianism as it seduces them with promises of greater security. We've seen this before and I don't like where we're heading at all.

In Mexico, for example, the insane levels of violence that have resulted from the so-called Drug War have left better off Mexicans more than willing to give up rights, freedoms, and liberties (at least in theory) in exchange for greater security. In Europe, no matter how much they enjoy looking down their noses at the United States for our obvious problems with race and state-administered violence, their commitment to cultural liberalism crumbles fairly easily in the face of non-European immigration.

The ISIS plan all along – and without commenting on the morality of it, it's hard not to recognize its brilliance – has been to radicalize European Muslims by provoking extreme reactions from European non-Muslims. Despite the prejudices and social isolation they no doubt encounter, European Muslims have developed an appreciation for life in Europe over the last three decades. Yes, there is no doubt that they experience prejudice and racism and the sharp end of the stick of xenophobia, but if you asked the average Muslim immigrant to Europe how life there compares to life in Syria or Turkey or Iraq, they're going to look you in the eye and say "This is just fine." So ISIS endeavors to create enough chaos to provoke a far-right reaction from European governments which will allow them to tell European Muslims, "See? We told you so! Look at how these white Europeans treat you!"

I'm afraid, given the number of major terrorist attacks in Europe over the past year, that the strategy is on the verge of working. Far-right nationalist parties have been doing better than usual in European elections for the past few years, and xenophobia is on the rise everywhere. A nation partial to cultural hegemony like France is not far away from getting a decent amount of public support behind an idea like "Let's round up all the Muslims and put them in camps." It's plausible because there really is no means for a modern nation-state to stop attacks as low tech as what we've seen lately. The attack in Nice required nothing more than access to a truck. The pool of people in Europe who meet that stringent criteria number in the tens of millions.

What has been seen recently in Europe is not 9/11, not the London 7/7 bombings, not the Madrid train attacks. We have seen attacks lately that literally cannot be stopped because they are so low tech. It takes no sophistication, no ISIS coordination, no detailed planning to mount an attack along the lines of, "Let's go somewhere with lots of people and shoot a bunch of them" or "Let's find a big crowd and drive a truck into it." As people across Europe try to come to grips with the inability of states to grapple with these one- or two-man terrorist attacks, far right wing authoritarianism is going to appeal to more and more of the population. There is no way to stop one man acting alone driving a truck into a crowd of people; so, anyone pushing the message, "Let's get rid of all of Those People" will have the upper hand.

I do not like where this is headed. I do not like it one bit.

THAT WAS EXCESSIVE

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20th, 2015 by Ed

One of the hazards of following Gin and Tacos during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the potential for a five hour, six period game with 115 shots on goal to come between me and the schedule of posts for the week. I had the best intentions. Thank you for your patience. This has been your annual Overtime Hockey Service Interruption (OHSI). Part II of yesterday's post will be here as soon as possible.

Bonus fun fact: Headers are illegal in hockey, so I guess it's not correct to call it Ice Soccer anymore.

SPLIT TICKET

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2nd, 2015 by Ed

What we have thought for years has become painfully obvious – John "Orange Julius" Boehner has no real power and no control of his own caucus. Anecdotal evidence has suggested this in the past and now the hard numbers back it up. According to VoteView, there is a clear divide within the House GOP on the Homeland Security supplemental.

DHS_Funding_vote_114

When the Speaker of the House gets elected by the smallest margin ever and then cannot deliver a three week budget extension through the House with a massive majority, it's safe to say that the spirit of Joe Cannon has not returned to Congress in a new host. That vote also demonstrates the increasingly frequent consequences of the Republican Party's incredible lurch to the right over the last two decades (also from VoteView).

polar_house_means_2015

It's worth noting, for the conspiratorial or anti-intellectual factions, that VoteView is the product of two of the most conservative people I've ever met in academia. Guys who make Glenn Beck look like Jane Fonda (who they both hate, because of course they do). The thing is, they also have a great deal of integrity and they're more interested in the accuracy of their analysis than making ideological points. Having been a colleague of one of them for a few years and being subject to every manner of Thanks Obama rant, I have to laugh every time his findings end up being used in stories on major news sites and someone in the comment section comes forth to remind us that Ivory Tower Librul Professors are not to be trusted.

In any case, we are rapidly approaching a reality in which House Republicans are too conservative even for…the House Republicans. They provide a nice counterweight to those communist Democrats who have barely moved ideologically in a century-plus.

HOW TO SPOT AN ASSHOLE

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17th, 2014 by Ed

The best part of teaching, hands down, is reading internet comments in which every jackass on the planet tells you the correct way to do your job. Monday's post provides some really choice examples.

See, the problem is always the teacher to some people; there is no chance it could be – maybe, possibly, in any reality – that an actual problem exists with the modal student. Nope. Teacher's fault. Every time! Isn't that amazing? You'd think that by chance the student population (or their parents, or whatever is under discussion) would be responsible for their own shortcomings once or twice. You'd be wrong.

Everyone thinks they know something about teaching because everyone has been in school. Makes sense. Also, I eat in a lot of restaurants so I am a fucking chef.

Did it ever occur to any of these morons that maybe – maybe – I dump all my frustrations here so that I don't let them show while I'm at work? That I actually do everything but cartwheels in the classroom to try to get them to show any enthusiasm at all for the subject matter? That I leave all of my energy and enthusiasm on the field and when I get home and post here at midnight I'm fucking tired and getting ready to get up and do it all over again?

Did any of these pedantic dipshits consider that if I decided to yield to their expertise and let them do my job that they'd be lucky to get through one day? No, of course not, because the students basically do the job for you as long as you know how to teach. This skill, oddly enough, belongs only to non-teachers.

Did it escape the notice of this brigade of pedagogical superstars that they picked up a habit of blaming teachers from their own academic failures and the need to make every C+ someone else's fault? The system ultimately failed to recognize their brilliance and they're back to set it straight.

In conclusion to the angriest post I've ever written, thanks for your concern but I know how to do my fucking job. I'm actually pretty good at it. The fact that your thought process is so linear and your imaginations and intellects so dull that you conclude that the way someone anonymously blogs about something has given you insight into their personality and habits in the real world would make me even more irritated if I wasn't busy pitying you.

Please describe your profession in the comments and I will get back to you individually telling you how you are doing it wrong.

Eagerly Waiting,
Ed

INTERRUPTION

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30th, 2014 by Ed

Having written for the past six or seven hours without interruption, I have neither the piss nor the vinegar right now. Will try Wednesday morning instead. Bear with me this week and the content will be back on schedule before you know it. Literally. Since you won't know it until you check back and realize that it's here.

NPF: HERE BE DRAGONS

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6th, 2014 by Ed

OK, so this isn't entirely devoid of politics. It's just a little, though, in keeping with the spirit of NPF.

You know that I have a strong interest in maps and geography, and a lot of what I actually get paid to do involves GIS. So it was with great pleasure that I read this interview on Wired's MapLab with the head of the US Geographic Information Unit. It sounds boring, right? And then you see the guy and you think, my god, this is going to be the most boring thing ever.

Not pictured: Excitement

Not pictured: Excitement

Power through your skepticism and read it. He has some rather neat stories to tell about the role of mapping in U.S. foreign policy. When nations disagree about a border or the name of a geographic feature, how does the State Department avoid hurting anyone's feelings?

One case I worked on that was kind of fun involves a tiny island off the coast of Morocco. It’s very close to shore and very, very small. But about 11 years ago Morocco sent a few troops there and Spain swooped in with helicopters and expelled them and it became a big deal.

[Then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell was asked to mediate the conflict. [In Powell's plan] everyone was going to leave the island, with no prejudice as to who it belonged to. They drew up an agreement but the problem was the name. The Spanish wouldn’t use the Moroccan name and the Moroccans wouldn’t use the Spanish name.

I was at a dinner party that Saturday night and I got a call from the Secretary’s staff saying that instead of a name they wanted to use the coordinates for that island. So I showed them how to get on a database and do that. I could hear the Secretary in the background saying, “Ask him how accurate those coordinates are.” They’re not totally accurate, but there’s no island nearby with which it could possibly be confused. So the documents he drew up for the mediations referred to “the island and such and such coordinates” and those documents had to be signed by the prime minister of Spain and the king of Morocco by midnight that same day.

The prime minister of Spain signed, no problem. But they had to send a high speed car looking for the king of Morocco. This was in the days before cellphones were prevalent. So they caught up to him and he basically had to pull over at some house and say, “Excuse me, I’m your king, could I use your phone?” He called up Powell and asked him to read the document, which he immediately agreed to. So that was a big deal, and my small part in it was to provide those coordinates. It’s a great example of how geographic names matter.

Clever. So the old saying is true and it's impossible to offend either a Spaniard or a Moroccan with coordinates.

SO, SO CLOSE

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16th, 2013 by Ed

Tuesday night I began writing the all-planned-out piece from yesterday and one of my academic pals started chatting at me on Facebook about the direction of our respective careers. He is quite successful and works at a large research university in a wonderful location. I am a complete failure at this and I do not. If you want to have the feeling of being a cork in the ocean or the ball in a pinball machine, become an academic. Because whenever people give me this talk, the only thing that becomes apparent is that I have no control whatsoever over my career. It all hinges on totally subjective decisions made by strangers. Sure, I can send out lots of papers, apply for a lot of jobs, and so on, but then it's up to others to make the decision, often in startlingly random ways. So instead of thinking, "I need to publish X papers" we end up having to think, "If I can somehow get X papers accepted" or "I hope there are some job openings this year."

The action verb is always referring to someone else in this field. Nothing to do but try and hope for the best, knowing full well that the odds against The Best happening are 99% and growing. If having no control over where you live or the conditions of your employment sounds appealing, contact me to learn more about how to get started in the exciting world of higher education.

FAILURE TO LAUNCH

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15th, 2013 by Ed

I laid down four hours ago to write this post and I ended up writing nothing. This is happening a lot lately. I know what to write about and I know, in some cases, exactly what I'm going to say but I end up doing nothing. Is there a word for losing the ability to do anything except stare aimlessly at the internet or TV?

Sorry to disappoint the, like, fifty readers I have after doing this daily for a decade.

OUT OF THIN AIR

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9th, 2013 by Ed

I have a couple of mostly dormant brokerage accounts. In the past – before I went to grad school – I traded moderately actively, albeit on a small scale as befitted my income. Since I no longer have the time to devote to proper research (and buying stocks without that is essentially throwing money away) I don't do it much anymore. Over the summer I was able to give it a bit of attention, and in August I was able to execute a couple of trades that returned about a 50% profit in 2-3 weeks.

Lacking great amounts of capital, any transaction I could make in The Market is totally, almost unfathomably inconsequential. With literal trillions of dollars being moved around electronically on a daily basis, the dollar amount I bring to bear on the world financial markets is less than a spit in an ocean. I don't even register.

That said, I've found over time that my tolerance for the absurdity of the whole enterprise is in decline. Every time I make a profitable transaction now, I can't stop thinking, "Why do I have more money now? I didn't do anything." And I didn't. Nobody who plays this game does. It is a world in which nothing is produced and destroyed except money itself. One day you buy something for x dollars. The next, you sell it for 1.5x. Your personal profit is money created out of thin air.

And this, on a much larger scale, is the dominant profession of our financial (and social, and political) elite. They create ever more complex financial instruments out of other intangible financial assets and then they sell them to one another and everyone walks away with money even though nothing happened. The old saying about the stock markets being a form of liar's poker is a lie inasmuch as poker is a more legitimate enterprise. Real money changes hands between real people performing a transaction with a payout agreed upon in advance.

These people – our Producers, our Galtian heroes, our Job Creators – are people who don't actually make, create, or produce anything. It's all blips and clicks and algorithms and trades programmed to self-execute when defined parameters are met. It takes knowledge and a specific talent to do this successfully; that is indisputable. Regardless, I can never wrap my mind around how…intrinsically worthless are the "assets" involved in this game. The only thing that the hedge fund manager or the day trader creates is personal wealth. He buys something, sells it to someone else for more than he paid for it, and the buyer attempts to repeat the process. It's not a zero sum game. Inflation? Hell, the game of buying low and selling high can, in theory, continue indefinitely.

If it did, it still wouldn't create anything except personal profits. This brings us to familiar territory, to the cornerstone of the New Economy: servicing the personal consumption of the financial elite. They might not "create jobs" in the direct, tangible sense that the robber barons did, but think of all the peons needed in the service industry to tend to their mighty needs! Every time Chad from Harvard Business School makes a killing, another hotel chambermaid on St. Maarten is born. Another personal assistant rises from the Earth. Behold the mighty act of creation! Our economy is indeed a thing of splendor.

It should come as no surprise that an economy firmly rooted in nothingness has high levels of poverty and unemployment. The very rich and the very poor have in common that they do nothing. They simply are compensated differently for it.

TRAINED SEALS

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13th, 2013 by Ed

Recently I wasted tens of minutes of my life reading and excoriating the ramblings of some absolute nobody named Suzanne Venker, who appeared to be trying to parlay a guest column on FoxNews.com into as much attention as possible. May I quote myself?

There is ample money to be made Uncle Tomming in the conservative media; there's no quicker way to a book deal, columnist gig, or TV appearances than to be something other than a white male. Flap-jowled white guys are 90% of the intended audience, and they love nothing more than being able to feel like they are totally not sexist/racist because, look, a woman/black person just said it! Thomas Sowell says there's nothing racist about George Zimmerman! Ann Coulter says women are responsible for getting raped! See? It's totally OK for us to say it if they can say it.

The Indianapolis Star has granted a weekly column to some other contenders in Venker's arena, "Chicks on the Right." They will now have a dedicated audience (beyond the local radio show they've already snagged) to which they can serve heaps of twaddle with titles like "This Is What Real Feminism Looks Like". It will surprise you to discover that Real Feminism looks shockingly similar to right wing talking points. You'd be hard pressed to distinguish anything here from the average syndicated right wing columnist or a transcript from any call-in radio show.

One of my friends who rarely says anything political in a public forum posted the following on Facebook after a couple of friends attempted to engage the "Chicks on the Right" on some of their grosser misrepresentations of reality:

Nothing like reading a bunch of middle aged women trying to cut down your friends for making valid arguments against their grossly misinformed ideas of what feminism is. I generally shy away from confrontation because it makes me incredibly anxious and uncomfortable, and it's reading things like the Chicks on the Right's comments that make me wish I was much better at voicing myself in the face of confrontation. I saw plenty of people outraged at these two bullies' comments on their page sparked by their horrible little column in the Indy Star today, and two of my friends who were inclined to voice their opposition directly to the duo were responded with name calling and flippant dismissal of their opinions mostly due to their "liberal" viewpoints, their ages, and even discarding one well-written response just because the author was a man. It was a childish display of how ignorance will always defend itself with more ignorance.

I guess all I really wanted to say in this is that these women have their like-minded followers who are so zealously guarding their viewpoints that we will never even begin to sway their gaze. They've blinded themselves so thoroughly that it is completely futile to try and mend their seeping corneas – the scar tissue of their hateful rhetoric won't allow it. They are passionately gripping on to a form of misogyny so tightly that to them it has morphed into a bastardized ideal they are trying to label as "new" feminism. Well, ladies and gentlemen, those of you who actually and proudly represent feminism and women's rights – we're the ones that matter, not these harpies (to use a word that they have used so – excuse the pun – liberally today to label women that just happen to think differently than they do). There are plenty of conservative women who are smart and stay informed and can still be compassionate when it comes to matters of women's rights because they can see past their own front yard and realize how hard it can be for some women in America just to get by. My mother is a shining example for me – she doesn't judge me for my youth and doesn't mock me for having different viewpoints than her. The women of Chicks on the Right give my mother and every woman like her a bad name and it's not fair. Our opinions are not worth less because we are young. We are not "lazy" and "entitled" "parasites" just because we think a certain way.

There is never a point to debating or questioning people like the "Chicks" because despite how much they talk, they have nothing to say. They're not going to debate ideas because they don't have any. Their goal is simply to get attention and parlay their existence into as many paydays as possible (they'll have a Fox News show by the end of the year). They're just a gimmick (check out their blog, if you dare) looking for attention and they know how to tell angry white people what they want to hear. Everyone who makes a living playing to this audience sounds exactly the same because it is only interested in hearing one message: You are the victim, and here are the targets at which your anger should be directed.

With the product/message so clearly defined, the only competition in this Marketplace is to show the boss how "edgy" or demographically appealing you are. Engage them in an argument? These people are trained seals, and they only know one trick. As it pays pretty well, they don't intend to deviate from it.