Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tim Carmody on Aliens

If you read one essay about the brilliant metaphors in a classic action movie and how they can help us appreciate the future, let it be Tim Carmody's recent piece on Aliens as a story about technology. Here's a taste.

What I love about Aliens is that it juxtaposes these massive, romantic themes with a much more prosaic view of tech, and of space. In Aliens’ future world, space is just a place where people work. There’s two borrowed phrases from Ridley Scott’s Alien that are important here: “truckers in space,” and “the used future.” The tech is sloppy, it’s everyday, it’s ugly, it’s pragmatic — it’s craven. What saves Ripley from drifting through space forever isn’t the love of the gods: it’s a deep salvage team, who are pissed off that they broke into the ship’s hull for nothing because there’s a live human inside.

Despite having watched the entire movie a month ago, this piece makes me want to watch it again. The themes of technology vs. biology that he explored here sound much more nuanced and developed than what I soaked in while watching it.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Dear person who shared a Daily Show link

Perhaps you are reading this post because you shared a Daily Show segment in an attempt to win an argument, and saw this link shared in response. Here's what you don't seem to understand.

The Daily Show exists as a comedy show. It is not a news program. But wait, you say, the quote-unquote comedy segments on the show are more real than the legit journalism you see elsewhere.

Nonsense, and I will prove it to you.

The tactics used by The Daily Show to produce its segments fail the most basic media ethics guidelines. Its producers lie and ambush peoples to trick them into getting on the show. Its editors surgically remove sentences from the middle of paragraphs to create foolish statements. Its reporters sit guests down to marathon four-hour interviews to produce gaffes,

If Fox News was doing this, you would be outraged.

Let me share some specific examples. Peter Schiff appeared in a segment last year on the minimum wage. The Daily Show gave a softball interview to pro-minimum wage advocate Barry Ritholtz, where they allowed him to do re-takes on answers they liked but he messed up.

Anti-minimum wage advocate Schiff cited specific examples where they edited out his smartest response, such as showing that The Daily Show doesn't pay its own interns a minimum wage, and instead focused on something they could smear him with, which was when he said someone with severe mental disabilities would probably be unable to sell their labor for the minimum wage.

Schiff was foolish to expect a fair treatment, despite being promised one, but that still doesn't let the show off the hook for misrepresenting people and turning serious arguments into cartoons.

Back in 2008, Conservative author Jonah Goldberg had his interview with Jon Stewart chopped up haphazardly as Stewart attempted relentlessly to win the argument.

But if you think this is just about conservative causes, look what happened this year with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the segment about their criticism of a diner that gave a discount to people who pray before they eat. This was one of their own sponsors and generally a left-wing group. Here's how they describe the treatment:

As the terms of being interviewed, Dan and other "Daily Show" interviewees sign away any rights, including giving the "The Daily Show" the right to edit the interview any way they want, such as showing Dan answering one actual question with another answer. It's comedy, not news. Dan was interviewed by an in-your-face host for almost two hours. The spin on the segment, aired last night, was not just unsympathetic, but this time, frankly, not very funny. The punchline to Dan was: "You're a dick." 
Dan's point, made repeatedly during the interview, but not used, was: "If you think the Civil Rights Act is petty, then our complaint was petty." 
It's time for a quick reminder about why FFRF does not consider such illegal promotions as petty, and why, on behalf of complainants around the country, we contact restaurants, recreational facilities and ballparks that illegally reward believers with discounts in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

So once again, the actual thrust of their argument was cut out in order to present a goofy narrative.

Think of Daily Show segments as comedic propaganda, made to amuse people and assure them that their existing viewpoint is correct. If you are so desperate to prove your point that you have to turn to these kinds of tactics to find support, you have pretty much shown the opposite is true.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Idiot hunting" is fighting for space

For four glorious years I've been using the term idiot hunting to describe the tactic in discourse where people seek out the very worst arguments of their intellectual opponents and present them as typical arguments of that group. I came up with the term for it myself, although Urban Dictionary shows others had already been using the same term to describe pretty much the same thing before I ever thought of it.

But since then I have learned of another term, Kevin Drum's Law, which has a lot of overlap, although it is more Internet-focused. In Drum's own words:

If the best evidence of wackjobism you can find is a few anonymous nutballs commenting on a blog, then the particular brand of wackjobism you're complaining about must not be very widespread after all.

For examples that are both idiot hunting and Kevin Drum's Law, see Twitter users who thought a Japanese earthquake was payback for Pearl Harbor, far-left blogger PZ Myers say a few stupid blog comments tell us all we need to know about a certain online community and Twitter users who were upset that people were concluding the Royal baby was a boy because it turned out to be a boy.

In all cases, we learned nothing about what typical members of specific groups actually believe, and instead reminded ourselves that yes indeed, sometimes people say stupid things online.

There's also another term I've seen, but unlike "Kevin Drum's Law" I don't think it has much staying power. That is the Weak Man argument, a cousin of the straw man argument. It sounds eerily like Idiot hunting, although one is a verb and the other is a noun, in that it selects actual examples of real arguments, but unjustly presents them as typical.

I honestly think "weak man" lacks the pizazz that "straw man" and "idiot hunting" have going for them. It is just two common words that blend easily into sentences.

But then again, I'm clearly biased towards "idiot hunting."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Despite what you may have heard, Santa is a traditionalist.

Credit goes to

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blocking traffic is not free speech

I've witnessed a lot logic-straining defenses of the anti-police brutality protesters who are purposely blocking traffic. The main argument seems to be that the people being inconvenienced by the blocked traffic don't have it as bad as victims of police brutality.

I'm sure that's true, but it's beside the point. The same argument could be made for gut-punching strangers or rioting as a form of protest. Why do they feel it's necessary to victimize innocent people? What about people in the back of an ambulance snarled by the traffic they caused?

For what it's worth, one of the things I hated about Cliven Bundy was that he conspired to block traffic as part of his crusade against the government. Ever since a professor at college used it as an example of an act that would not be protected as free speech, I've always brought up that blocking traffic on a highway is an illegal form of a protest because of its actions, never because of its message.

I was hoping to see the ACLU speak against this tactic, but so far I haven't seen the group make any criticisms. However, I did see two cases were the ACLU specifically said people do not have the right to block traffic. There was a Tweet earlier this month:

As well as a timeless webpage where it reminds protesters of their rights. That page specifically says 

Marchers may be required to allow enough space on the sidewalk for normal pedestrian traffic and may not maliciously obstruct or detain passers-by.

Later, it says:

The First Amendment covers all forms of communication including music, theater, film and dance. The Constitution also protects actions that symbolically express a viewpoint. Examples of these symbolic forms of speech include wearing costumes, engaging in sit-ins, or holding a candlelight vigil. However, civil disobedience is generally outside the realm of constitutional protections and may lead to arrest and conviction. Therefore, while sitting in a road may be expressing a political opinion, the act of blocking traffic may lead to criminal punishment.

So just in case anyone wanted to know, the ACLU is not defending this tactic and while it is not criticizing it either, it has been listing it as an illegal tactic worthy of criminal punishment.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Calm down about church tax exemption numbers

A 2012 study that calculated the totality of tax breaks American churches receive each year is making the rounds again in my social circle, and once again people are using it to make simplistic assumptions, such as that church tax exemptions are costing America X each year.

The actual study reported $71 billion annually, but openly left out some factors. Washington Post-turned-Vox contributor Dylan Matthews tacked on tax exemptions for religious donations to bring the number up to $82.5 billion.

Matthews also mentioned another hidden cost:

Of course, these subsidies do more than reduce revenue. Property tax exemptions, in particular, distort real estate construction decisions and allocate more land to religious entities than would otherwise be the case, which drives up rents for everyone else (especially since religious groups tend not to buy property in high-density, skyscraper-style developments and instead get a whole lot of land for themselves).

Well, it goes the other way too. I'm reminded of something Scott Sumner wrote earlier this year, that economics is not accounting. The 2012 study was published by the humanist Free Inquiry, a publication with an ax to grind and not known for having talented economists on hand to evaluate papers, and it was authored by a sociologist - a discipline I believe tends to gloss over important economic concepts.

The authors of the report listed the $71 billion figure as "subsidies" and while I generally disagree with labeling tax breaks as subsidies, I'm willing to let it go. The main issue I have is with other people interpreting this figure as a measure of what churches would have paid in taxes had it not been for the tax exemption.

That is to say, we shouldn't assume that a change in the tax laws would not be met with changes in human behavior. This is called static forecasting and it's problematic. It assumes, for example, that church leaders would not find tax shelters, would not register as another type of non-profit organization, would not close down churches, would not move to smaller properties, or any other form of rational responses to a new spike in their annual expenses.

In Dylan Matthews' addition, it assumes that people wouldn't donate to other causes once the tax break is gone.

The aggravation gets worse when people try to claim specific things the money could be spent on, such as this post saying it could have gone to funding food stamps. They are assuming that all of the money would have gone to the federal government, even though the study authors were clear that some of the breaks were for state and municipal taxes.

I don't have a problem with religious tax exemptions, as they resemble non-profits a lot more than they resemble for-profit organizations. I am also willing to listen to arguments about why the tax exemptions should be removed. That being said, advocates of the idea need to come up with a dynamic forecasting model before they try to tell me what the actual tax revenue would be.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Taxes must be mandatory

It's so easy to focus my blog entries on that foolishness of my intellectual opponents while ignoring absurdities from my comrades. It's a bad habit, in fact, so hopefully writing about something stupid I hear from a vocal minority of libertarians will help me make amends.

Some people argue that all taxes are a theft on the public by the government. Those people are wrong.

I'd like to dismiss this is a tiny fringe view, but sadly it's not. Ayn Rand expressed a related view, that all taxes should be voluntary. I find that equally absurd.

A civilized society needs a government to exist, and in turn that government needs resources to exist. In primitive times people paid the government in in-kind payments like chickens and turnips, but now we have money and that makes for a much better way to pay for our government.

Max Weber said the state is a monopoly on force for legitimate purposes. I don't buy it that in a free society people would pay taxes voluntarily, myself included. That's a classic free rider problem and claiming it would magically go away out of patriotism or some other form of loyalty to pie-in-the-sky silly optimism.

Enforcing tax collection is a legitimate action of the state, and I don't often say this, but if someone doesn't want to pay taxes than they should leave. Our nation can't function without them.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

False confidence in false accusations

It's boringly common for rape prevention activists to claim that false accusations are so rare that we should assume accusations are true, even to the point of making accused rapists social pariahs when they haven't been convicted of a crime.

So here comes Scott Greenfield with a big dose of problem for that narrative: it's unproven, and by its very nature, almost impossible to prove. He links to Jack Chin, who cites even more people:

A widely cited review of the literature suggests that a more accurate conclusion of reliable studies is between 2 and 10%. But CUNY Dean Michelle Anderson published an article the conclusion of which on this point seems solid to me: "In fact, there is no good empirical data on false rape complaints either historically or currently . . . As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown." A more recent National District Attorney's Association study reviewing the same literature, while debunking absurdly high estimates from some unreliable studies, agreed: "Of course, in reality, no one knows—and in fact no one can possibly know—exactly how many sexual assault reports are false." We (and by this I mean the public at large, people involved in the educational system, and the legal community of prosecutors, defenders and judges) rarely know the accused or the complainant and never know the truth; we can only make decisions based on the evidence in the particular cases. There is no rule of thumb to rescue us from that situation of uncertainty.

Well then, let those reports be cited every time a rapid activist tells us that false rape accusations are so rare that we behave as if they don't exist, and that questioning a self-described victim's story is an evil act on par with committing a rape.

Monday, December 15, 2014

GMO labeling debate in two panels

This is pretty much everything that needs to be said about GMO labeling.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weaseling around federal gun laws

I was all set to write a simple post about a series of bills filed by state legislators that declare federal law doesn't apply to them, much the same way local food supporters in Maine attempted to use municipal ordinances to overcome state and federal law. I was ready to declare it stupid, then pay myself a big compliment for overcoming my own biases and taking a nuanced position against my own allies.

Instead, I found a complex issue that reveals a lot of hypocrisy and double-standards. For the most part, this is about exploiting loopholes and weaseling around federal laws that themselves only exist because of a loophole.

Here's what Washington Post wrote about these bills:

Two types of bills are the primary vehicles for the movement, both based on model legislation introduced in statehouses from Tallahassee to Juneau. 
The first type holds that federal laws do not apply to firearms manufactured and sold within a given state, relying on the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. It says Congress can regulate trade between states, but says nothing about trade within states. 
Under Utah law, for example, guns made, purchased and used in the state are exempt from federal laws. Commonly known as the Firearms Freedom Act, versions of the law have been debated during 78 legislative sessions across 37 states in the last decade. 
The other approach says gun regulation falls outside the scope of the federal government’s power, making it state territory. Such bills, often known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, usually say state officials cannot enforce federal gun laws or limit the ability to do so, and some bills have tried to impose penalties on officers who help federal officials.

See the trick now? The federal gun control laws were written by abusing the commerce clause, the section in the Constitution that gives congress the power to pass laws on things that could effect trade between states. The commerce clause has long been twisted and stretched to justify the passage of virtually any federal law.

So some law makers are turning this around by saying, if we have guns manufactured within our state that never cross the border, than the commerce clause is irrelevant and the federal gun restriction is invalid.

Will that stand up in a federal court? No, but the sentiment is great. They are cheating the cheaters and playing the same stupid weasel game as the federal lawmakers.

So what about the second type of bill, where state lawmakers restricting their own agencies from cooperating with federal agencies who are enforcing federal gun laws? Well, this is clearly a weasel tactic, but it's nothing new.

Liberal states have been banning their police agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities for years, including my home state of Massachusetts. It's a practice I don't like one bit in any context, even though I want to see less restriction on immigration and gun ownership. If you're going to take a stand against one, you have to take a stand against the other.

State lawmakers can not overrule federal lawmakers, and these tactics are pretty lowly, but let's not pretend they are any worse than the existing laws on the books.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

No, GTA is not a game about killing prostitutes

Clueless critics of the Grand Theft Auto series, without fail, attach importance to the idea that the game involves murdering prostitutes. This is somewhere between an urban legend and a red herring, and four years ago I summed up neatly why it's wrong.

Grand Theft Auto games notoriously allow players to murder prostitutes, a point never missed by its critics. However, the games have never suggested players do so - they merely present an open world where people can shoot anyone, if they so choose. In the same vein, someone can draw a swastika in MS Paint or write racial slurs in a word document. The games also feature taxi drivers and there's nothing stopping a player from getting a ride somewhere then shooting the driver to "get their money back," but that point is never made to demonstrate how violent the games allow people to be.

This is pretty simple. The game has an open-world environment and a city filled with different people, and the player can choose to kill any of those people. Since some of those people are indeed prostitutes, yes technically, the player can kill them. The people who make this point are clueless about the game. Often they appear to be clueless about games in general and aren't worth responding to.

But then this article came out, where a "senior journalist" from video game website Polygon glossed over this fine detail and whine about the social justice ramifications of GTA games and how they prominently feature the murder of prostitutes.

This is something we absolutely should be talking about. It's one thing for games to portray the slaughter of soldiers and gangsters and even vanilla members of the public. It's another to show us victims being kicked in the teeth, and then pretend this is not worth talking about.

The entire piece rests of a foundation of sand, and Campbell takes his false premise and heaps more and more onto it. He informs us that all prostitutes are desperate, trod-upon victims of society. This is a false notion but not one worth exploring here, because even if that was universally true, his starting premise would still be false - that the game somehow encourages the murder of prostitutes, instead of a game that tolerates the murder of civilians in general.

Campbell attempts to address this issue, and by address I mean he tosses a half-baked conclusion out the window of a speeding car, fails to justify it, and resumes polishing his false premise.

I know a lot of people desperately want to believe that killing a prostitute in GTA 5 is the same as killing any other character, but it's really not. Unlike gangsters or cops or business dudes or hot dog vendors, prostitutes, as a class, are despised, marginalized and abused in real life, all the time. This means that GTA 5 takes its pleasure in humiliating and abusing victims of humiliation and abuse... 
My point is that this portrayal of them reinforces hard ideas about the worthlessness of prostitutes, in ways that are unique to this class of characters in the game. My point is that it is deeply distasteful to gleefully portray victims being shat upon by privilege.

Please note that homeless people are not mentioned even once in his entire piece, even though they exist in the game and fit his definition of a marginalized group in society. But then again, there's no legends in the popular culture about killing homeless people, and fewer social justice credits for defending homeless men than for female prostitutes.

Keep in mind, this was posted on a world-famous video game website, and the author is supposedly an expert on video games. That doesn't make any sense at first blush. The only way it makes sense is if one realizes that this is a Gawker Media website where social justice advocacy comes before anything else.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We're all guilty when it comes to bad thinking

When we read about bias and critical thinking there is always the temptation to think of them in terms of other people. Straw men arguments are made by the people we disagree with because their real arguments are too weak. Our intellectual opponents are unable to consider evidence that challenge their world view. It's the wrong people who are blinded by their emotions.

That is completely missing the point. Bias and illogical thinking are the natural state for human beings, all human beings, and that includes you, yes you.

Ahem. That is to say, it includes me. Not merely you the reader, but me. I accept that I can never completely overcome my own biases, but I can chip away at them and catch myself when I slip into comforting thought processes.

Steve Novella perfectly sums this up when he reminds us that the Dunning-Kruger effect isn't just for other people. If you're unfamiliar, the Dunning-Kruger effect shows that most people with low skills overestimate their ability in those specific realms, while people with the highest skills tend to underestimate their ability.

Think about some area in which you have a great deal of knowledge, in the expert to mastery level (or maybe just a special interest with above average knowledge). Now, think about how much the average person knows about your area of specialty. Not only do they know comparatively very little, they likely have no idea how little they know, and how much specialized knowledge even exists. 
Here comes the critical part – now realize that you are as ignorant as the average person is every other area of knowledge in which you are not expert... The Dunning-Kruger effect is not just about dumb people not realizing how dumb they are. It is about basic human psychology and cognitive biases. Dunning-Kruger applies to everyone.

Ponder that one and while you do, try to think of what subjects you have very little training in. How would you really score on a test on that general knowledge in that subject? For me, I can think of a few social sciences that I've commented on but have never really studied.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The problem is people in general

There are a lot of complaints about specific groups of people that, upon closer examination, are really just complaints about human beings

As a member of the mainstream media, I take to heart the serious problem of false stories getting more attention then the corrections that set the record straight. This is a major problem that I think about a lot, and during my stint as a newspaper editor I fought my publisher (and lost) to give front page space to corrections.

However, I've noticed a similar issue among social media shares. I have a lot of Facebook friends who breathlessly shared news stories like Mike Daisey's accounts of labor abuse in a Chinese factory that made Apple products. Those same friends didn't say much, or anything at all, when it was revealed to be a lie.

The same is true for Rolling Stone magazine's story about a fraternity organizing a planned mass rape at the University of Virginia story. It appears an activist made up a story at a Take Back the Night rally and then kept the lie going when a reporter wanted to write about it. It's not a slam-dunk, Rolling Stone has not officially retracted the story, but has admitted it screwed up and numerous claims in her story have been disproved.

Again, the same people who shared that story are now mute. If you inadvertently helped spread a false story, aren't you honor-bound to make sure the correction gets the same amount of attention, if not more?

In a way, my friends have become the editors of their own newspapers with complete control and no profits to worry about, and yet they are making the same mistake. Perhaps they either lack an interest in issue a correction, don't want to admit they were wrong or lack the zeal they had for the false narrative.

There's a big possible lesson here. Maybe the reason newspapers fail to give as much attention to corrections is not that there is some flaw in the people that run them, but that they are staffed by mere human beings.

Look at Paul Piff's study where he had two people play part of a game of Monopoly and randomly gave one of them more starting money and an extra die to move around the board faster. He reported that they seemed oblivious to their advantages and credited their win to strategy and merit.

A lot of commentators used this study to condemn rich people who believe they earned what they have, but Piff's real conclusion was that people are malleable. After all, these weren't actual rich people but everyday people who were randomly put into a special category. The bad behavior on display was from people in general, and the only thing that made them special was that they were placed into a particular position.

This extends to the Wall Street workers who traded bad loans and helped cause the recession, politicians who give favors to special interest groups who give them money and police officers who shoot black suspects. When you judge a group of people negatively, check to see if the real issue isn't that mere human beings were placed in special set of circumstances.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lynch mobs never have due process

Racists are bad so anything we do to them is acceptable, right? Such as posting their personal information online (doxxing) and contacting their employer to demand that they be fired. That's exactly what the website Getting Racists Fired is doing.

But like all vigilante actions, eventually innocent people end up getting splattered. That's because lynch mobs don't necessarily go after guilty people. No, they go after the accused, and one of the first innocent causalities was Brianna Rivers, a normal everyday person with an angry ex-boyfriend.

Scott H. Greenfield doesn't make the lynch mob comparison, perhaps because it's become something of a cliche, but he does compare it to another social ill: revenge porn sites, where people share nude photos, often of ex lovers who they believe wronged them. The site is under both "Getting Racists Fired" and "Racists Getting Fired, and Greenfield uses the other name:

So RGF is, without a doubt, inherently evil. No, it doesn’t matter that you think she deserved it. No, lying about someone being a racist to harm her is still lying, no matter how truly you believe she (or he) deserves to be harmed. 
The point here is that angry people on the internet are nothing if not imaginative in finding methods of accomplishing the goal of causing people we don’t like harm. If it’s not naked images, it’s racist comments. And if it’s not racist comments, it will be something else. Don’t ask me what, as my mind doesn’t go there, but I’m sure others already have nasty ideas brewing. 

The vigilante website has responded by changing the guidelines for submissions. That's still going to end up harming innocent people, as there will always be ways to fool the gatekeepers. Ask yourself, are you really against doxxing in principal, or just against doxxing certain people. If not, you have some soul-searching to do. 

Whatever new form this crowd-sourced revenge approach takes, please do your part for justice and refuse to join in.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Idiot hunting skewered

Brilliant satirical Salon parody Twitter, SalonDotCom, sums up Idiot Hunting in a mere 15 words.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Remember when we decided culture doesn't cause violence?

I wondered if I was the only one witnessed the argument that our culture encourages rape and heard echoes of the debate over rap music and violence.

Brendan O'Neill reveals thought the same thing, as revealed in his excellent essay on militant political correctness that has created "Stepford students" on university campuses. Please keep in mind Mr. O'Neill is writing for a British audience, so "fag-end" means a ruined end, such as the frayed end of a rope, when you read his paragraph:

When I told them that at the fag-end of the last millennium I had spent my student days arguing against the very ideas they were now spouting — against the claim that gangsta rap turned black men into murderers or that Tarantino flicks made teens go wild and criminal — not so much as a flicker of reflection crossed their faces. ‘Back then, the people who were making those censorious, misanthropic arguments about culture determining behaviour weren’t youngsters like you,’ I said. ‘They were older, more conservative people, with blue rinses.’ A moment’s silence. Then one of the Stepfords piped up. ‘Maybe those people were right,’ he said. My mind filled with a vision of Mary Whitehouse cackling to herself in some corner of the cosmos.

With all the work he and his wife did trying to censor rap music, Al Gore may be primed for a comeback on the coattails of "rape culture."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The American Nazi Partywants socialism

As someone with the opinion that the evidence clearly shows that the Nazis were indeed socialists in thought and pracitse, I've often wondered if their silly cousins in the American Nazi Party are also socialists.

Having stumbled across an unintentionally funny Twitter post from the American Nazi Party, I've spent a little bit of time looking over their blog and Twitter feed and it's pretty clear they are rabid anti-capitalists who want a smothering nanny state. It's possible that they may not see that as a direct form of socialism, where the workers control the means of production, but it's indecipherable from the far left today.

For example, look at these ramblings from the blog:

The USA has the most billionaires in the world. How much is enough? Why do people need billions of dollars, rather then mere millions? There is so much want, in this country, and so many who have nothing. To allow this kind of situation, shows this country's value system is messed up, to say the least. 
The USA is number one in corporate profits. A corporation is an organization, not a human being. They get "rights" by law. Yet their purpose is to make profits, NOT help people or end misery. Giving carte blanche to corporate entities is just asking for trouble. Which in time comes, as witness the Great Depression/Great Recession. 
The USA is number one when it comes to CEO salaries. The Great Recession, showed this group of people make unholy amounts of money, and in many cases, it was wholly undeserved as their job performance wasn't just subpar, but downright horrendous. Again, how much is enough? I don't think anyone deserves to be paid a king's ransom as a salary, no matter how great a job they do.

It goes on and on, and every word of it is indistinguishable from an Occupy Wall Street protest flyer. That is, until capitalism comes up and Judaism is tacked onto it.

People constantly ask why National Socialism opposes Judeo-Capitalism. Good question. The Jews are smart. This intelligence is used to raise their lot in life. A normal practice. Unfortunately, they get too powerful, and end up with undue influence.

Calling capitalism a Jewish institution was a Nazi talking point as well, for what it's worth.

I understand fulling that the American Nazi Party is merely an interpretation of the Third Reich, and it's possible that their beliefs could have diverged on some issues. This isn't a slam dunk for the debate over how socialist the Nazis were, but it does answer my question as to how socialist the American clubhouse is.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Just a matter of time until someone upped the ante

In case you thought affirmative consent was the end of watering down the definition of rape, a New Jersey lawmaker has submitted a bill that would count sex as rape if one partner lied to the other one to get them in bed.

Please note this is a single bill submitted by a single state representative in New Jersey. There is no reason to assume it has support from any group, and even unthinking feminist reactionaries like Amanda Marcotte have spoken against it.

However, I still have a feeling this will come up again and it needs to be addressed. Over at his Simple Justice blog, Scott H. Greenfield discusses the problematic nature of this approach:

Consider the potential universe of actionable lies that would invalidate consent, and give rise to rape: 
I love you. 
Push-up bras. 
I work for the CIA. 
Your eyes are like pearls gleaming in the moonlight. 
I’m on the pill. 
I was checked for STDs and I’m clean. 
Well, you get the idea. Our world is replete with lies, some small and some not so small. Would the potential for absurdity be salvaged by the maxim, de minimis non curat lex? Care to bet your freedom on what some prosecutor or judge thinks is de minimis? But the exercise of prosecutorial discretion will spare us from such ridiculous extremes? Experience has proven otherwise. Worse still, experience has proven that laws open to abuse will be deliberately used to get a person the government believes “needs getting,” and a law like this is ripe for abuse.

From my own experience, I had an ex inform me (but to my knowledge she never went to the police) that I was a rapist because I went to bed with her two weeks before I broke up with her and failed to inform her that I had my doubts about the future of the relationship.

Just as my issue with consent in general, the law takes a real issue - scumbag liars who trick people into having sex with them - and responds by nuking the planet from orbit. Something can be wrong, shameful and immoral without being illegal as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson reminders

Following the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, and the subsequent riots, I ask people to keep the following things in mind:

The rioters and looters do not speak for all Ferguson protesters, and likewise, criticism of rioters and looters is not criticism of all protesters.

Violence and property damage is not a legitimate response to a judicial decision.

The grand jury was presented with more evidence than you were.

But all that evidence is now available to the public. If you insist on having an opinion on this subject, read in its entirety, or read several summaries of it from neutral and opposing ideological positions.

The riots were not a conspiracy orchestrated by the government.

President Obama and Eric Holder pleaded with people not to riot. Let that sink in.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dystopian bias

Writing for The Guardian about modern young adult dystopian novels, Ewan Morrison complains kids are being exposed to right-wing propaganda when really, they should be exposed to left-wing propaganda.

You might say, wait, they're all about freedom and truth and oppressive societies, but the kind of freedom that's being advocated in The Hunger Games and Divergent is, as Salon magazine recently pointed out, more like "agit-prop for capitalism". 
What marks these dystopias out from previous ones is that, almost without exception, the bad guys are not the corporations but the state and those well-meaning liberal leftists who want to make the world a better place. Books such as The Giver, Divergent and the Hunger Games trilogy are, whether intentionally or not, substantial attacks on many of the foundational projects and aims of the left: big government, the welfare state, progress, social planning and equality.

See what I mean? Morrison gives a cherry-picked history of dystopian novels to try to present them as being woven with left-wing messages, focusing on The Handmaid's Tale and some of the work of Philip K. Dick.

The science fiction of William Gibson was also championed by the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson. In this period the capitalist dystopia was a respected left wing "cultural strategy" and its dominance endured till around 1993 which, coincidentally or not, was the time of the fall of the old left and the rise of neoliberalism.

Please note that his examples are fiction, not young adult fiction. Also note his open support for a propagandist "cultural strategy" to encourage political ideas through works of fiction.

What Morrison left out is the long history of dystopian novels that take place in left-wing societies, including socialist ones. There are the major two dystopian novels of the 20th century, 1984 and Brave New World. There's also the trailblazing We, Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron and some of the work of Philip K. Dick.

Face it, there have always been dystopian novels about overarching left-wing governments. Plus, any argument that gives a poing credit for being published by is setting itself up for failure.

Check out the creepy way he starts his concluding parapgrah:

If you see yourself as a left-leaning progressive parent, you might want to exercise some of that oppressive parental control and limit your kids exposure to the "freedom" expressed in YA dystopian fiction.

Spoken like a true hack. Ewan Morrison only hates propaganda when it gores his ox.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Everyone gets death threats online: Bill Cosby edition

In September I warned the human race that the Internet is a place where casual, death threats happen to everyone, and that someone who receives them has not been vindicated or elevated. Online threats are a bad thing, but they are a near-universal bad thing and they don't "prove" who is on the right side of an argument.

But foolishly, many of you didn't listen and just went about your lives. Students continued to attend classed, fishmongers still went about hawking their wares and silly blogger kept trying to conjure up outrage posts by dredging the Internet for death threats.

Enter Gawker media's Jezebel blog.

The writer decided to present Rose Eveleth as a victim for the backlash she received for a series of Tweets she made criticizing scientist Matt Taylor's glossy pin-up girl shirt that he wore in an interview. But, despite the headline and lede paragraph claiming Eveleth received death threats, the only examples the writer could cobble together that made any reference to death were "Please kill yourself" and a "Jump off a cliff. Please", which was directed at one of her supporters and Eveleth was merely tagged in it.

The rest of the people named-and-shamed were critics. Some of their remarks were rude and uncalled for, but not threatening. Others were downright meek, such as "Why are you objectifying a man by basing your opinion solely on his appearance, and not his contribution to society?" and it is "just a shirt, mi lady". Also note that not one example came from the same day as the original remarks: The writer had to dredge through a lot of posts to find these.

I wanted to show you how useless this type of argument is, so I collected Twitter remarks with threats against Bill Cosby, who has been accused of rape in the media but has not been charged with any crime. Here's a few I found:

We've seen plenty of viral posts where people did this, such as as saying a major earthquake in Japan was justice for Pearl Harbor. All they really prove is that there are indeed some stupid people online. Please note that my Cosby image, and the Pearl Harbor one, has emboldened key words. That reveals that I had to use the search tool to find them using combinations like "Kill Cosby" and "Stab Cosby." This implies that view isn't mainstream, but is something someone has to go out of their way to find.

Under Kevin Drum's Law, that means we are essentially disproving our own position when we have to idiot hunt examples. When I searched for "Kill Cosby" most of the results were Cosby defenders saying the stress will kill him, and a few others predicted he would die from suicide. I had to search a lot to find my five examples, and "shoot Cosby" failed to return any legitimate examples.

It's clear that there is no real trend where Bill Cosby is receiving death threats, but if someone wants to play the death threat victim game, they will have to add Bill Cosby to the roster of cherished snowflakes deserving of our support because of what people wrote online.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Legislative noisemakers can never be satisfied

Some protesters like to go to house and senate sessions to make a ruckus, either to draw attention to their cause or to make it impossible for the elected officials to vote. I find them obnoxious in all contexts, but this new one on the Keystone Pipeline has me confused.

The American Indian singing and childish chanting were from people who approved of the vote, so why make a negative spectacle and force Elizabeth Warren to get you ejected? Did they think the pipeline was going to pass so they prepared sore loser antics, but loved them so much that they didn't want them to go to waste? This is like sports fans rioting whether their team wins or loses.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

George McGovern's brush with regulation

Do yourself a favor and read Marc Andreessen's excellent interview with New York Magazine. That's excellent in term of the answers, not the questions per se, which got rather tedious and were bogged down with Rousseaun opinionated counters.

The Netscape co-founder turned venture capitalist mentioned a decades-old Wall Street Journal piece written by former Democrat congressman George McGovern that is worth reading. Andressen's summary is more pointed and straightforward than the actual piece, so first here's his summary:

In 1992 he wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal which told the story of his life after he left politics, when he bought an inn in Connecticut. And he said, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize.” And the “Oh my God, I didn’t realize” was: I did not realize what a layered impact 50 or 100 years of regulations and laws applied on small-­business owners actually meant.

The article is still available online. Here's a snippet:

My own business perspective has been limited to that small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., with an especially difficult lease and a severe recession. But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: "Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape." It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators...

Today, despite bankruptcy, we are still dealing with litigation from individuals who fell in or near our restaurant. Despite these injuries, not every misstep is the fault of someone else. Not every such incident should be viewed as a lawsuit instead of an unfortunate accident. And while the business owner may prevail in the end, the endless exposure to frivolous claims and high legal fees is frightening.

Our Connecticut hotel, along with many others, went bankrupt for a variety of reasons, the general economy in the Northeast being a significant cause. But that reason masks the variety of other challenges we faced that drive operating costs and financing charges beyond what a small business can handle.

There's always a market for political traitors, people who fought for years for one side and then lamented it all. Lee Atwater comes to mind, as does Alan Greenspan. Keep in mind, McGovern, Atwater and Greenspan did not shift entirely to the other party, but did provide their opposition ammunition to pound one issue that they had worked for.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Looks like the Satanists won

I've been trying to figure out exactly what the Satanic Temple is, and as far as I can tell it started from left-wing atheists who donned the mantle of a fictional Satanic church to push Christian displays out of government buildings and public institutions, but its members stay in character and won't admit it is satire. To complicate it further, the organization has attracted real satanists, who were allowed to join.

Village Voice writer Anna Merlan did a great investigation on the organization. She reveals that the group started as a film project where actors pretending to be satanists gave a public demonstration in January 2013 to thank Florida Governor Rick Scott for allowing students to lead prayers in school assemblies. This idea was to make christians wince and realize it opened the door for satanic prayers as well.

This May the group unveiled a statue of a goat-headed figure it threatened to install in the Oklahoma Statehouse to accompany a Ten Commandments sculpture. Satanic Temple spokesman Doug Mesner, under the assumed name of Lucien Greaves, said they didn't really want to put it there, but if there's going to be a Christian statue than the law demands all religions be able to place their own statue there.

Get it? They are forcing Christian lawmakers to chose between having Satanic images in public, or banning all religious displays.

So enter a school district in Florida that allowed people to pass out Bible. The Satanic Temple created a coloring book to pass out in the same school district, and Mesner/Greaves spelled out their motivation clearly in a press release.

We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State. However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students – as is the case in Orange County, Florida – we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to our youth.

Well, the school board just caved and declared that they won't let anyone on campus to distribute religious materials. I do have to hand it to them, the Satanic Temple set it up so they win either way. If they get to install their religious statue or pass out satanic coloring books, christians who support the Ten Commandment sculpture or Bible  distribution will be exposed as hypocrites and forced to comply by a court. Their only alternative is to prevent the religious materials altogether, like the Florida school district just did.

I think their parody church is being dishonest when they deny being a farce and feign sincerity as a secular satanist group, but then again, they pretty much have to. If they revealed that they are only pretending to be Satanists, opponents could use that against them when they try to pull their next stunt and argue that they aren't espousing actual religious views.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bernie Sanders logic

Here's a real argument Vermont's socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is making. See if you can follow along with his creative interpretation of logic. From his official Facebook page.

If you're not able to view the imagine, it reads:

Here is the defnition of greed: The Koch brothers - worth $85 billion - now want the Republican candidates they funded to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.

I wasn't sure where he was getting these specific claims that the Koch brothers want to cut Medicare in particular. I couldn't see a confirming link anywhere, but looking through other statements from Sanders turned up a similar social media graphic created by Sanders' office: It read:

Want to know why the Koch brothers are spending hundreds of millions to elect right-wing candidates? Read David Koch's 1980 Libeterarian Party platform. It calls for the elimination of of Social Security Medicare, Medicaid, public eduation and the EPA. Surprise, it also calls for more tax breaks for the rich

There are more related images made by his office to share on social media from his office, but you get the idea. In addition, his official website has a post on this topic detailing his position. Sanders' basic argument is that in 1980 the Libertarian Party as a whole drafted a set of policy positions and chose David Koch as their vice-president candidate, so he much agree with each and everyone one of those views 34 years later, and by extension, so must his older brother.

If that were true, that we should assume all people never change their political views over the course of several decades and political candidates agree 100 percent with their party's stated platforms, than how does he explain his separation Liberty Union Party? That is the Vermont socialist anti-war party Sanders belonged to when he ran for governor in 1976 and in several other elections.

Today members of that part consider Sanders a traitor to their views and refer to him as Bernie the Bomber for his votes to mobilizing the American military on multiple occasion. Clearly, he has changed some of his positions over time and is not in tune with his party's old platform. Fair enough, but why does he wants us to think that David Koch can't change his mind too?


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Being a contrarian conscious consummer

Today I was about to by some roasted red pepper hummus at the grocery story. There were four different brands and for the first time I spotted a little voluntary label on the front of the container from my normal brand, boasting that the contents did not contain any genetically-modified ingredients.

I am a steadfast supporter of GMO technology. The basic idea is that human beings can use science to improve the foods we eat instead of blindly following what nature has provided us. Opposition to GMO's is a hysterical pseuoscientific cultlike movment akin to creationism and alternative medicine. The anti-GMO crowd is the left wing equivalent of global warming denialists.

Suddenly, I didn't want to buy that brand of hummus anymore. It's not that it's dangerous or unhealthy to eat foods that lack genetic modification, but that I was concerned about the message I would be sending as a consumer. I pictured a marketing team combing through sales data and trying to figure out if the GMO-free label brought in more sales.

Sadly, I imagine it does. Looking through the display, I could only find one brand of hummus that didn't declare itself to be GMO-free, and that was Sabra.

Sabra was a little cheaper than the other brands, which could mean it's by a lower-quality product. It could also mean the company isn't wasting money on overpriced organic, GMO-free ingredients, so that issue was a wash.

What did stay my hand was that there were no roasted red pepper containers from Sabra, while the other brands still had them in stock. I contemplated buying one of of the GMO-free brands to get my preferred flavor, but opted not to. I didn't want any market researchers to falsely conclude that I was encourage to buy their product because of the GMO-free label.

I ended up buying Sabra's roasted pine nut hummus instead. I wasn't sure what pine nuts tasted like, but it turned out to be superb.

So tell me, doesn't that make me an ethical consumer? Usually, that label refers to people who buy products with flower power mission statements, such as Seventh Generation Dish Detergent, but why shouldn't the same logic apply to the other end of the spectrum?

For years I've boycotted organic products. That's because organic food production is wasteful, cruel to animals, environmentally damaging and provides no health benefits. That is to say, I consider it entirely unethical to give my money to organic companies and farmers. The higher prices organic merchants charge are just the whip cream on the sundae.

Being a contrarian doesn't mean one lacks principals, it just means that they have a different perspective. I can't see any reason that the banner of "ethical consumers" shouldn't include contrarians like me who oppose the very products mainstream ethical consumers champion.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Steven Pinker on free speech

Last month I made myself a hot fudge sundae. The fudge was legitimately hot, the whip cream was homemade and there were broken candy bar pieces to mix in.

In a similar triple-enjoyment experience, this week a video was released showing Steven Pinker talk about free speech for the 15th Anniversary of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Just like the sundae, each of those three things was a winner on its own, but when combined made someone exponentially more tempting.

Not to give away the ending, but this section really resonated with me:

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not necessarily stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

Absolutely brilliant. The people we disagree with and the people we love and respect can indeed be the same people.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Announced minutiae is not sexy

When I was a kid I was occasionally targeted by various national campaigns intended to encourage high school graduation percentages and educational engagement. A lot of them incorporated the hackneyed rhyming phrase "School is cool" which was always, always presented in a manner incompatible with actual coolness.

Did they think if they said it enough times it would become true? Was the person who invented the phrase told that they had done something honest, profound and effective? Did anyone ever believe it?

In a parallel campaign, college feminists push the phrase "Consent is sexy" by which they mean asking verbal permission and meeting a specific set of standards dictated by a third party makes a sexual encounter hotter. Even social justice warriors don't buy that claim.

Without a hint of irony or self-awareness, the patronizing "Feminism for Bros" YouTube series showed just how incredibly un-sexy it is to ask for verbal permission before every step during a sexual encounter, including mood-killers like "Can I kiss you" and crawling escalations like "Can I kiss your neck."

Conversation during a sexual encounter can be a great thing and when done right, will enhance the mood and build trust. However, mandatory formalities and announcing every tiny thing you do before it happens are not stimulating and it shows a complete lack of trust and intimacy.

See the video for yourself but be warned, your resulting nausea will be more arousing than anything you're about to see.

The flashing messages at the end are right out of 1984. Imagine if Orwell had opened with "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, Consent is Sexy."


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election results summarized with two headlines

Today at work these two headlines came up back-to-back on a Google search. Democratic Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who did not seek re-election and steps down in January, did a nice job of summarizing yesterday's election through these two remarks quoted in MassLive headlines:

January 3:

Gov. Deval Patrick rallies Democrats for Martha Coakley: 'I feel like kicking a little Republican ass'

January 5:

Gov. Deval Patrick: 'We stand ready to help with a smooth transition'

See yeah later Deval.

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's good to be friends with political rivals

Stanford Political Science professor Shanto Iyengar is the lead author of several recent papers on "partyism," where people feel hostility towards members of rival political parties and respond with blind prejudice. 

For example, one study gave subjects a pile of resumes of high school students and asked them to choose the most qualified candidate. The resumes contained demographic clues, like claiming the applicant was a member of a black student group or a young Republicans group. Cass Sunstein summed up the results:

Race mattered. African-American participants preferred the African-American candidates 73 percent to 27 percent. Whites showed a modest preference for African-American candidates, as well, though by a significantly smaller margin. But partisanship made a much bigger difference. Both Democrats and Republicans selected their in-party candidate about 80 percent of the time. 
Even when a candidate from the opposing party had better credentials, most people chose the candidate from their own party. With respect to race, in contrast, merit prevailed.

And that's just one of the studies. Most observers saw these results as a significant problem, including Iyengar and his varied co-authors, because not only are people experiencing discrimination in their professional lives, but their social lives are being cheapened. With that second issue in mind, David Brooks wrote:

Most of the time, politics is a battle between competing interests or an attempt to balance partial truths. But in this fervent state, it turns into a Manichaean struggle of light and darkness. To compromise is to betray your very identity. When schools, community groups and workplaces get defined by political membership, when speakers get disinvited from campus because they are beyond the pale, then every community gets dumber because they can’t reap the benefits of diverging viewpoints and competing thought. 
This mentality also ruins human interaction. There is a tremendous variety of human beings within each political party. To judge human beings on political labels is to deny and ignore what is most important about them. It is to profoundly devalue them. That is the core sin of prejudice, whether it is racism or partyism.
However, Jenée Desmond-Harris of the left-wing explainer site saw the social discrimination aspect as acceptable, and in some cases preferrable. After she explained that yes, job political discrimination is a real and illogical problem, she defended political self-segregation.

Why would it be surprising that people "across party lines" would steer clear of each other in their personal lives? Who wants to sit across the dinner table from a person whose views about the issues of the day (like whether gay people should be allowed to get married, or what should happen to the immigrant children at the border, or whether the racism that justified the Voting Rights Act still exists) are, to them, incomprehensible, illogical, or morally bankrupt? 
Yes, it's healthy and intellectually important to understand all sides of an argument. But that doesn't mean you need to marry the other side of the argument. Or even force yourself to think warm and fuzzy thoughts about the person delivering the other side of the argument. Right or wrong, these beliefs are often core to who people are, or at least who they think themselves to be. It is not so strange that they would want a partner and friends who match them. 
...If we're now judging people more for their politics more than their race, then it means we're finally starting to understand what matters. Good for us.

She added that cries to increase collegiality with members of rival political parties is not a valid goal for the general public.

While I can certainly understand wanting to marry someone with similar views and values, she went overboard several times in her response and seems comfortable living in a world that is completely segregated along political lines. Why would we need to "force" ourselves to feel warm thoughts for someone who disagrees with our views on the income tax structure? Why should we let our view on the optimal energy source determine who we invite for an evening of Settlers of Catan?

I feel that Desmond-Harris just doesn't get it. This isn't just about having fun with one group over another; it's about blind, unjustified hatred, and I don't use the word "hatred" lightly here. Cass Sunstein, whom I've long respected despite working for my rival political party, summed up an extremely disturbing finding:

In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.

This is far beyond simply preferring to spend ones own time with people who have similar views. It's an ugly prejudice, and stopping it needs to be a high priority.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bill Maher's natural experiment in hypersensitivty

Following good advice from Ken White, I try to avoid categorical thinking and tribalism, such as concluding that my intellectual and political opponents are guilty of more bad behavior than "my side," as it's very natural for people to wrongly make that assumption. He's right, and this post is not absolute proof of that effect.

But as an anecdote, it sure does raise eyebrows.

Bill Maher likes to say what he really believes, and last week he insulted the rabid fanatics who are dominating the discussion of the Michael Brown case. He called out people from both sides who are leaping to conclusions that compliment their own world views. In particular, he said:

You know what else I find disturbing is that everybody in America just sides with their own people and doesn’t look at the facts… The cops,I saw on the news a couple of weeks ago,were wearing bracelets or something that said, “I am Darren Wilson.”Why do you want to throw your lot in with this plain murderer? 
And Michael Brown’s people. I’m sorry, but Michael Brown’s people say he is a gentle giant. Well, we saw that video when he was in that 7-11. No, he wasn’t a gentle. He was committing a robbery and he pushed that guy. He was acting like a thug, not a gentle giant. He certainly didn’t deserve to be shot for it.

Notice that Bill Maher is reaching conclusions about an ongoing investigation and declaring that police officer Darren Wilson was not justified in the shooting, as opposed to my stance to withhold judgment until the trial is conducted and all the facts are presented. Still, he did cast a pox on both sides.

So which side had more freak-outs and calls for his head? The left, which was initially invested in presenting Brown as a law-abiding citizen. As Maher said, his crimes did not warrant a street execution, but that didn't stop the angry essays and calls for boycotts from the left.

I am not merely idiot hunting this and saying a few people on social media represent all of the left, like some critics have done. In fact, the majority of the left have said nothing about this issue, and it's important to separate the leftwing criticisms of Maher for the Michael Brown remarks and criticism of his recent remarks on violent Islamic extremists.

My point is not that the left as a whole has reacted foolishly to this, but that this anecdote brought out more hypersensitivity from the left than the right in this single case. It's not definitive, but it's not nothing.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Street harassment in 1946

With the montage video of a woman enduring street harassment repeatedly while walking in New York City making the rounds, I'm reminded of a movie I watched with friends in 2004 and the surprise in cultural norms it presented.

In The Stranger, Orson Welles is a Nazi hiding as a professor in America. At 12 minutes in he speaks to a group of young, educated, friendly men when this happens:

Watching this ten years ago gave my friends and I a big, awkward laugh because of how absolutely inappropriate this was, yet it was treated as a normal everyday event. I'm not sure what the norm was in the mid 1940's, but this scene always appeared to me to be a dipstick for society's progress.

I've looked and it's been extremely difficult to find the demographic profiles of a modern street harasser, but I imagine it has slunk back to the uneducated and ill-mannered. This is a serious problem that we shouldn't accept or tolerate, and it shouldn't just be the feminists who speak out against it.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bill Posey is an anti-science loon

If you're in the market for a Republican to sneer at, U.S. Rep Bill Posey of Florida should be first on your list.

I'm always eager to call out members of "my side," and unfortunately, I didn't see this CSPAN clip from 2012 until just now, but it's still valid. In a congregational hearing with CDC representatives, Posey plays the tired gambit of trying to imply that vaccines cause autism, but then cowardly retreats and claims he is not against vaccines.

Where I come from, we call those kind of people "liars." Watch him for yourself:

Here's a recap. He made a naked argument of authority stating that his predecessor is a doctor who believes vaccines cause autism, then claimed Africa never had autism until they received vaccines, then rudely belittled and interrupted the CDC representatives again and again while he accused them of wasting his time for not answering questions in his leading format..

Posey is exactly what the right doesn't need right now, an obnoxious, dishonest, anti-science fool.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A pox on both sides of GamerGate

I've kept out of the GamerGate discussioon, which Clark at Popehat fairly summarized as yet another battleground between the forces of social justice and traditionalists, and I'm using this post to explain why.

Also at Popehat, Ken White did what he does best - launched a well-reasoned call for everyone to take a step back, reflect on the stupid assumptions they are making and admit that this is not a black and white issue. When I read Ken White I know there's a good chance I'm going to have my own attitudes and behaviors questioned, despite us being on the same side of most issues, and he did not disappoint:

Video game journalism has been ethically troubled for decades. There was controversy in the 1980s, when I was reading Computer Gaming World on paper like a caveman,over game magazines reviewing the same games that they were advertising. Suspicion that dollars drive game reviews have persisted, and with good reason. 
So if you choose this particular historical moment to become Seriously Concerned About Journalistic Ethics, and your timing just happens to coincide with a related pushback against women's activism in the gaming community, and just happens to be triggered by a campaign against a particular controversial woman, and just happens to be congruent with 4chan's declared campaign against "SJWs," people are going to draw conclusions about you. This is especially true if your sudden fury about ethics in journalism appears to focus on the coverage of tiny indie games instead of big-money games, which is just odd.
Well said. I've managed to have sympathies with both sides of this debate at different times, although I find myself closer to the pro-GamerGate than the opposition. Historically, video games makers have cultivated a frat-boy atmosphere and still pump out idiotic things like bikini armor that insult me as a consumer by assuming this is what I want. At the same time, online players have exhibited the worst behavior of the internet, on par with YouTube comments, and created an unpleasant atmosphere to interact in.

I am in favor of making video games more mature and classy and raising the level of discourse and civility around them, including issues with online players always wanting to discuss the novelty that a girl is interacting with them.

But then a leader emerged for that pushback, Anita Sarkeesian. At first I gave her my "nuanced" support and said while I don't like her radical feminist politics, at least someone was talking about these stubborn issues.

Sadly, over time I realized that she didn't have anything useful to add to the conversation, just a bunch of feminist textbook jargon and zero diplomacy skills. It was clear she wasn't interested in turning video games around, but using the video game world as a new territory to push radical feminism and I believe, make a name for herself. While GamerGate isn't about her in particular, the opposition has been about the ideas and tactics she represents.

So that's where GamerGate has left me: I'm stuck between defending the status quo of Maxim-magazine-style video game culture and replacing it with an oversensitive and joyless social justice pity party.

The only good thing about this, and I mean this sincerely, has been watching the awful Gawker media burn as GamerGate advocates have used their own platform-yanking tactics against them. Other than that, this has all been a waste of time and a lot of empty grandiose yelling.

Friday, October 24, 2014

When did violence against women become funny?

While I believe the mainstream media has a left wing slant, I tend to find myself groaning at the tone and examples used by right wingers when they bring up the issue.

This time is different. Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller called out the jackals who were laughing at the 911 tapes of  Bristol Palin being physically assaulted while drunk. Because she's a Palin, apparently, that makes it funny.

Noah Rothman at one-eyed-watchdog has a fair juxtaposition with CNN anchor Carol Costello's laughing commentary about the 911 tape of a crying woman recounting how she was attacked by a stranger and her serious commentary about the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

Costello goes on to reveal that she, too, was the victim of what sounds like a horrible assault by her college boyfriend. It was a brave thing for her to admit, and it made her commentary on the lax treatment Rice received from the NFL that much more powerful. But this admission also branded her take on the Palin assault as one which is inexplicably hypocritical. 
“Sit back and enjoy!” Costello exclaimed as she introduced her audience recently to the audio in which Bristol Palin recounts how she was attacked. “You’ll want to hear what she told cops about how it all started.” 
Costello also confided in her audience that she had a “favorite part” of the audio which could later become courtroom evidence. Ghoulish.

If you have any doubt that Costello thought this was hilarious, another one-eyed watchdog site has the clip, including her introduction where she laughingly says "This is quite possibly the best minute and a half of audio we've ever come across – well, come across in a long time anyway."

Costello was far, far from the only one in the media who took this as a funny story. She has since issued a shallow, boilerplate apology, as have others, but I have to say the most hypocritical player in this game comes from the rapid feminist site Jezebel, which has not updated or retracted its gleeful post.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Slow Money" is charity, not investing

"Slow Money" is branding itself as an alternative to traditional investment, but at the same time is not saying anyone will get back the money they put in.

The name is a take-off of the "slow food" movement and it has wrapped itself in all the same old "buy local" and locavore nonsense of creating a new world fed and clothed by low-impact, wealth-creating cottage industries and handmade products. See the "Buy Local" tag on this blog for many, many posts on why almost all of those claims are false and counterproductive.

This voiceless cartoon they made shows a woman putting her money in the bank and expressing concern that it is being invested in arms manufacturers, oil companies and cliche 18th century smoke-belching factories. The woman then gives her money to a local farmer, who puts the money in the ground and a big plant comes out, which eventually sprouts an identical amount of money that she put in. We then we see more plants grow more money, and eventually a farmers' market sprouts up.

This one minute, 45 second cartoon doesn't actually show the woman getting her money back, and people who participate shouldn't expect to either, but it's the closest thing to a coherent pitch the group has.

Slow Money is a network of ideologically-motivated investments clubs who give what they call "loans" to local food producers. Since local farms typically lose money, I imagine they have a high default rate. The Slow Money network has been around for four years and has given out $35 million. It's very telling that the proponents do not talk about how many borrowers pay back their loans. Instead, their website talks about their principals, which for some reason includes a quotation from a Hollywood actor,

I realize that Slow Money is trying to attract angel investors, people who are interested in the cause and the personality behind the business more than generating a profit, but for some reason they won't come out and flatly say it. I wouldn't have such a problem if the Slow Money people would just say that they deal in donations, instead of talking about "investments" and making vague references to building a new economy.

Why not just say that the money people give will not be returned to them, but instead will create things in the community they want to see? Why not just be straightforward with what they're doing, instead of presenting it as something akin to financial investments.

You have to dig deep, but their are times when the movement heavily implies that is the goal. To complete the checklist of a faux-intellectual movement, Slow Money leader Ari Derfel gave a TEDx talk in 2011. After dropping shallow buzzwords like "business 3.0", reading inspiring quotations and talking about someone's honest-to-god vision quest, he summed up what Slow Money is all about. Vaguely. In particular, he said:

What makes life worthwhile is not profit; it's relationships... We need to measure return on investment not simply by profit, but by things like soil fertility, by the jobs we make, the relationships we build, the ecology we restore.

Please note: He never said his "investors" won't make any interest, he just implied it. He never said one way or the other if they can expect to get their principal investment returned.

Before giving his brief summary, Derfel explained  that he would need "a whole TED Talk" just to explain what Slow Money is. Funny, the title of the video of his talk is "Slow Money." Was he really invited to speak about organic food in rich communities and cliche wise-Native-American stories? If an executive director of an organization can't sum up what they do in 15 minutes, they are either incompetent or dishonest.

He could have told us that Slow Money is an angel investment group-slash-charity that accepts the growth of small farms instead of fiscal profit? How hard was that?

Sadly, his vague summary is as close to straightforward as you will get from this movement. If you want to delight in seeing local farmers milling about your community, than you probably won't have a problem with not getting your principal investment back. You're already choosing to pay too much for food anyways. Just don't have any illusions that the money you give to this organization will eventually return to you. As in gambling, don't spend what you can't afford to lose.