Saturday, April 28, 2012

Let's Just Call Him Camembert Heather

After the 2000 election I spent a good deal of time looking at the rhetoric of political sources, mostly along the lines of fallacious rhetoric for political ends. There weren't a great number of sources on the internet at the time, so I mostly looked at Supreme Court decisions. And, make no mistake, there's ample material there for those like my myself, who are entertained by fallacious rhetoric, specious reasoning, etc.

After the blogs started to get rolling, the right vs left of the blogosphere became an unending source of merriment. Again, for those who find the thin reeds of justification that you'll find in the political realm funny.
The 2004 election seemed to have galvanized things. In particular, the fallout of the Dan Rather/60 minutes piece solidified the right vs left blogosphere. While 9.11 brought to prominence blogs like Instapundit, 2004 brought us even worse things. I can't say enough how instapundit exemplifies how you can be crude on the internet without using curse words. That his current parking spot is on Michelle Malkin's blog, says a lot. But, as I say, the right-wing blogs that became better known in 2004 were the kind of bad that borders on hilarity. As I recall, John Hinderaker referred to himself as "butt-rocket" at the time. If you weren't there for the 2004 performance of powerline, it's like you missed the time that the musical Cats was performed by actual cats.

The left blogosphere grew up around the invasion of Iraq. The first blog I ever read was Tom Tomorrow's. He linked to Eschaton frequently which is how I became a reader there. During one of Duncan Black's summer vacations, he promoted a couple of his commenters to run the blog. One of them, corrente, became a separate blog.

In 2008 there was a presidential election. During that time various blogs became supporters of one presidential candidate or another. Debate became acrimonious at various sites, particularly over the Hillary/Obama divide. I was particularly taken by Sara Robinson's views on the race. And, I do mean race. Her view was that various groups coalesced, and eventually became polarized over the young, diverse urban audience that was attracted to Obama vs the slightly older, rural, and more homogeneous group that supported Clinton. Oh, did I mention gender? That figured in, too.

Long story, short: a blog that I used to follow, Corrente became Correntewire. An anti-Obama blog with a daily Obama-done-me-wrong message. I still follow Corrente/Correntewire, but now because they are so bad they are funny. While I like to use fancy words like fallacious rhetoric, MST3K gets it better: it's fun because it's so darn cheesy. Think of Correntewire as the blog vernon of the B-movies that MST3K liked to make fun of, and you'll pretty much get the genre.

So, that was all intro.

Today Lambert, or as I like to call him, Lambchop, says: If Obama calls Kenye West a "jackass," West is probably worth paying attention to. One of Lambert's commenter points out that his name is Kanye, not Kenye. At which point Lambert apologizes for reading too many right-wing blogs.

The reason I think this is funny is because Lambert gets upset over the idea that Hillary Clinton supporters were portrayed as racist. And, here, I would say the allegation is miscast. It's not exactly that Clinton supporters were racist. It's that they identified with an upper middle class white woman. More so than they did a slightly younger upper middle class black man. That's the tribal difference this boils down to. Now, when Lambert misspells Kanye as Kenye, he brings to mind the kind of association that an older generation has. They see a black American, while visualizing a Kenyan.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Paul Ryan is the Devil

Or: Don't knock Republican theocracy. It's sex with someone I love. (possibly obscure allusion explained here.)
The title of this post is lightly stolen from the movie Broadcast News. A favorite movie for me, and the source of the most important political monologue outside Orwell's Politics and the English Language. I'm talking, of course, about the Tom is the Devil speech:
Aaron Altman: I know you care about him. I've never seen you like this about anyone, so please don't take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil.
Jane Craig: This isn't friendship.
Aaron Altman: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women.
That, to my ears, describes Paul Ryan. A good looking guy, and arguably one of the most slightly less-than-Hitler people on the planet. But, very polite, and as he reduces the more sensible teachings of Christianity to pablum, he does so with a certain élan: (my emphasis in the text)
Paul Ryan: A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?
To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.
Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.
If you've never heard the phrase "preferential option for the poor", neither had I. That's why we have wikipedia. Thank you internets. Here's a choice phrase from the article on "preferential option for the poor":
According to said doctrine, through one's words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. Therefore, when instituting public policy one must always keep the "preferential option for the poor" at the forefront of one's mind. Accordingly, this doctrine implies that the moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members.
Here's what I notice. The canonical gospels are full of descriptions of nice things Jesus did to people who were poor, were lepers, were beggars, were in professions not entirely suitable for the politically well-connected. As far as I could tell, Christ hated the self-important, the powerful, and the politicians who used religious beliefs for profit. So, Paul Ryan reads this, and he comes away with the impression that Christ was telling us that the real problem is that the poor are too dependent on government. Dear Father who art in Heaven, lead us away from the safety net, and towards your blessed free market. At the very least, Ryan needs to work on his reading comprehension skills.
As it turns out, I wasn't the only person who noticed this. Not just Ryan's rhetoric, but that he proposed a budget that, in their words, sucks. They say something along the lines of: "failing to meet [the] moral criteria, of protecting human dignity, prioritizing the needs of the hungry and homeless and promoting the common good." Clearly, the bishops are trying to avoid using the word sucks. But, you know that's what they're thinking.
Here's Ryan's response. You have to love this:
“These are not all the Catholic bishops, and we respectfully disagree,” Ryan said.
I'm pretty sure the Catholic bishops, so Ryan seems to say, don't understand Catholicism as well as I do. Furthermore, Ryan posits, that he can find at least one bishop that has a different view on the matter, which negates the view of the conference of Catholic bishops as a whole.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Inside the Mind of a Right-Wing Propagandist

James O'Keefe is apparently out of jail. For how long who knows. While he's out his award-not-winning enterprise Project Veritas is hard at work attempting to commit voter fraud. See, the logic is that if he successfully commits voter fraud that'll prove that liberals are wrong when they say that voter fraud doesn't exist. Even if he's the only example of voter fraud, that vindicates the belief that voter fraud exists. A skeptic might point out that would be like somebody saying that no one wears a rhinoceros costume to church, and then O'Keefe wears a rhinoceros costume to church just to prove that somebody wrong. Yeah, that is pretty much what he's doing. I know what you're thinking: someone like that's a real dick. In this caes no one is wearing a rhinoceros costume. But, O'Keefe is having someone impersonate Eric Holder. O'Keefe claims that he's portraying Holder because Holder is challenging recently legislated voter id laws. (a wee bit more on that here) Here's how Mike Debonis puts it:
People like O’Keefe think voter ID laws are a common sense way to prevent voter fraud; people like Holder say they address a problem that doesn’t exist, and the laws would give officials new pretext to keep legitimate voters from casting ballots.
Mike, who used to be active in grass-roots politics here in DC before getting the WaPo job, is being unbelievably generous by characterizing O'Keefe that way. No doubt he's also trying to avoid the liberal bias label that got Dan Froomkin fired. But, Mike doesn't know how O'Keefe thinks. Neither do I, but I'm willing to be less charitable than Mike. I would have said that People like O'Keefe think that voter id laws are an easy way to steal elections. I also tend to believe that he's impersonating Holder not because he's the symbol of liberal oppression, but because Holder is virtually invisible as far as cabinet members go. If O'Keefe really had cajones, he'd impersonate Hillary Clinton. Not gonna ha pen.

Monday, April 9, 2012

If You Can't Teach Gym

In Annie Hall Woody Allen posited an employment hierarchy that went more or less like this: Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym. I would argue that you can continue along that line: those who can't teach gym, become ombudsmen. Then, at the very bottom of the hierarchy is the Washington Post fact checker.

I think most of us would accept without argument that a fact checker should a.) go to the public record (the intertubes) to verify basic information. b.) when assertions go more into the world of opinion, i.e., opinion checking, be a neutral arbiter between what is being asserted and the real physical world.

Take today's column. The fact checker dismisses the claim of judicial activism by quoting some guy who works at Cato. I suppose the assumption is that a libertarian institutional wouldn't hire ideologues that support the tenets of libertarianism. Which is, basically, a really crappy assumption.

Here's what the Cato guy says:
“Judicial activism is just a charge that conservatives and liberals make at each other when they don’t like a law being struck down,” Barnett said. “It’s really vacuous. It’s a cheap shot that all politicians love to take because it’s easy to level.”

 For the record the expression "Judicial Activism" first appeared in print by a vacuous hack named Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in a sleazy tabloid called Fortune Magazine. Although, the article comes out in the end for judicial restraint, it was intended as a nuanced analysis of the New Deal judges. Here's Schlesinger on the article:

A half century later the article seems to me analytical,
measured and quite well written.  I tried to state each side as fairly
as I could, though I came out in the end for judicial self-restraint.
The memory of the judicial activism practiced in favor of business
by the Nine Old Men only a decade before was still vivid in mind,
and one did not want to make activism the routine philosophy of the
So, basically a cheap shot, just like the guy from Cato alleges. (I kid.)

My real objection isn't that the Washington Post quotes some guy who probably has a political and ideological bias. It's that it leaves the reader with the impression that Judicial Activism doesn't really exist, or that it exists only in the imagination of cry baby liberals who to this day believe that Al Gore won the 2000 election. Which he did.

Wikipedia has a pretty straightforward definition of Judicial Activism: "Judicial activism describes judicial rulings suspected of being based on personal or political considerations rather than on existing law." So, as a hypothetical example, if you are Clarence Thomas, and your judicial philosophy is "I hate Democrats because they were mean to me," then you just might be a judicial activist.

Let's talk about Scalia for a sec. Scalia was quoted as follows during the Supreme Court's review of the Affordable Care Act:
“[I]f people don’t buy cars, the price that those who do buy cars pay will have to be higher,” the Supreme Court justice said. “So you could say in order to bring the price down, you are hurting these other people by not buying a car.”
That's a fairly remarkable statement. Scalia isn't just arguing about the ACA. He's arguing about any form of insurance plan, since insurance works by having one group of people (those who collect fewer benefits) subsidize those who collect more benefits. I don't see how Medicare would survive Scalia's test. In fact, Medicare is more unfair because the taxpayer is paying for someone else's benefits, and not for themselves.

Come to think of it, has Medicare ever been challenged at the Supreme Court level? I'm not sure it has. If it was, would the guy from Cato admit this might just be Judicial Activism? Probably not.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Greetings, and a Little Techmology

A brief funny from an actual Vonage Visual Voicemail. But first, a little about me.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Polly, Kevin K, Marindenver, gil man, Tom65, and others from the Rumproast Board of Directors. They are as delightful in person as they are in the virtual world. Just wanted to assure you that you are in really good hands here. Well, Tom65 is a bit off, but really the rest of them are all right. :)

I haven't met Strange (except on the phone), Betty, or YAFB (though there's a rumor he's the real life model for Daffyd. Any truth to this?)

I have two claims to fame: 1.) For 4 years I ran the Lizard Lounge Comedy Hour in my beloved Cambridge, MA. When the dot com bust forced me to leave (see: Romney Administration, The) I relocated to Washington, DC. A month ago I relocated to Rockville, MD, which is a spoonerism for Mockville, Raryland. I currently cohabit with a German Shepard named Max. 2.) In DC I was the host of the DC Drinking Liberally where I got to know many of the parasites of the "creative class" that are currently oodles of fun to mock. Thanks, progressives!

My political views are fairly simple: I believe Belgium is the proper model for the social fabric of the US of A. I have not been winning that argument with the locals, however. My literary influences include Thoreau, Gandhi, Kipling, Kafka, and Plato. Orwell's Politics and the English Language is the basis for much of my approach to political rhetoric. I also have an unhealthy fascination with the charlatan-mystic Gurdjieff.

Also. Went to college with Ann Coulter. Life's weird, huh?

OK. Here's the funny from an actual Vonage Visual Voicemail. Vonage tries to use speach recognition on voicemail and sends you an email. The actual voicemail was about fire alarm bells going off in my building. Here's the transcription:

"Fart fart or on sales between 10:00AM and 2:00PM for today Thursday, April 5. Thank you"

No, thank you. See? You gotta love techmology. Respect.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

iPad vs the World

For some time now I've thinking about the popularity of the iPad. There's a lesson in here for all technology developers. There also ought to be a lesson for the Android hardware developers out there. If this estimate of active Honeycomb tablets is correct, iPad has been outselling all of the Android makers by a factor of 8 to 1. That kind of ratio should be sufficient to raise the question: What is Apple doing that we aren't?

This BGR blog post attempts to answer the question. But, I'm afraid I have to differ with the author.  As Zach Epstein puts it:
The fact that it is a tablet, I believe, is secondary to the fact that it is a comparatively inexpensive Apple device that is a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to operate. Yes, it’s a tablet, but a $500 Apple netbook might have seen similar rapid adoption.
I gather that the author doesn't really "get" the tablet niche. I got that when he said: "I still say that tablets are useless (and yes, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook is still my favorite among them)." 

Now, it's true that the svelte brushed aluminum finish of the iPad makes the inner geek in all of us go hmmm. But, to say that the iPad is useless misses the essential difference between Apple's tablet and the rest of the world. Not only is it useful, but it's useful across a number of different areas. 

  • As a mobile browser. Indeed, it's my browser of choice when I'm at my local wifi-enabled cafe.
  • As a tv set. Most of the tv-ish media I consume is currently on Netflix, HBO GO, or the PBS iPad app. The fact that it pairs with the Apple TV for seamless media streaming over my local network.
  • As an ereader. Besides Kindle, Nook (I love the Nook magazines, btw), and iBooks, I use the Safari To Go app to read books I've taken out on The print version of the Washington Post I read on the PressReader app.
  • As a gaming device. Rage, Infinity Blad, Real Racing anyone? Not only are these great games they're only available on the iPad and iPhone.
  • As a document creation tool. I got Pages when it came out on the first iPad and have never looked back. Indeed, I later purchased Pages for the Mac as a result of a positive experience on the iPad. For creating longer documents I've got a bluetooth keyboard. The same keyboard I use with my Mac Mini, btw.

Now, there are kinda sorta equivalents on the Android platform. But there's no compelling narrative across all these areas as there is on the iPad. The video story on Android is particularly spotty. (Check out this list of supported Netflix devices to see what I mean). And, this doesn't even examine unique app areas that have iPad support, e.g., Amplitube. And key to the iPad's success, IMHO, is not just that a compelling narrative exists for the iPad, it existed largely at launch of the device.

Is there an equivalent narrative for the Android tablets? Right now it would have to be along the lines of The Android tablet is almost as fast as the iPad, not as much of a head turner, and not nearly as useful for creating documents, music, or movies as the iPad. And, it costs the same.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Can Haz Validity Now?

My favorite comment from this Food Fight thread:
Why do you think you have a valid perspective?
Why indeed.

The comment was actually more reasonable than the title sounds. Their point was that it's not enough to go around saying My point is valid! Listen to me! In fact most people would be included to discount anything after that.

Here's the problem with the professional left blogs: they're predicated on the notion that complaining as end in itself is a perfectly valid aim. It isn't. Negativity is contagious. Positivity can be as well, but that's another story.  The act of creation takes a great deal more energy and effort than the act of destruction.

The threads at these blogs are destructive. They shed no light on the problems we face. It's an excuse to bitch and moan. And, it's destructive.