Shoot the Bull First and Ask Questions Later

September 21, 2012

People who hate Obama seem determined to make his tenure in office appear as scandal-plagued as the Bush administration was. That’s why, regular as clockwork, they pop up with some new charge that proves Obama is up to no good. This never ends well:

Another Conservative Conspiracy Theory Bites the Dust | Mother Jones

For over a year, it’s been an article of faith on the right that Fast & Furious was a carefully constructed scheme directed by the White House to trash the Second Amendment and build support for more gun control laws. It wasn’t. Neither the White House nor Eric Holder had any idea what was going on. It was just a local operation that was badly botched. This makes Fast & Furious offically yet another lunatic conservative conspiracy theory that has bitten the dust in the cold light of reality.

Now, suppose you were a cop. There’s a guy who comes into the station every week to report that his next door neighbor is involved in some illegal activity. These reports never, ever check out, but it’s your job, and you have to try to run them down anyway. And every week the guy comes back with a different story, crazier and more paranoid than the last one, but this time it’s true, for sure.

How long would you allow that to continue before you summarily kicked out the guy the minute he showed his face at the station? How long before you give up the idea that you need to pretend, at least, to take the guy seriously?

The modern GOP makes a lot more sense once you realize it’s being run by Dale Gribble.

Todd Akin: Common B.S. Artist

August 22, 2012

Akin still defiant, but leaves door open to quitting Senate race | Reuters

Inside the GOP wheelhouse, it’s harder than you might think to say something that’s so wrong even your own party turns against you. Look at all the Republicans who tried and failed. But somehow Todd Akin has managed it. I’ll skip the recap of all that. He admits now that he was wrong. Anybody can be wrong. But it’s how he was wrong that bothers me.

Akin’s comments were based, he said, on “what I understand from doctors”. He didn’t say what doctors he spoke to, and I doubt he could even identify them today. We do know that those comments must have sounded just as stupid coming out of a doctor’s mouth as they did coming out of Akin’s. He now admits they were incorrect, but it evidently never crossed his mind to question them at the time. Why would he question them if they were what he preferred to believe anyway? He might if he actually cared about whether they were true. But as long as they suited his purposes, he didn’t care.

That makes Todd Akin the sleaziest, laziest kind of liar: a common bullshit artist. He’s not the guy who holds back information he knows is true. Not the guy who makes a statement he knows isn’t true and hopes you accept it. He wants you to accept his statement even though he doesn’t really know or care whether it’s true. He’s a bullshitter. He’ll say what he needs to say to win the point, win the argument, win the election. Concern for the truth is strictly a last resort, something to try when nothing else works.

What can we learn when bad things happen?

August 1, 2012

Bruce Schneier knows more than most people about security and risk, and he has some interesting things to say about the discussion following Aurora:

Installing metal detectors at movie theaters doesn’t make sense — there’s no reason to think the next crazy gunman will choose a movie theater as his venue, and how effectively would a metal detector deter a lone gunman anyway? — but understanding the reasons why the United States has so many gun deaths compared with other countries does. The particular motivations of alleged killer James Holmes aren’t relevant — the next gunman will have different motivations — but the general state of mental health care in the United States is.

Even with this, the most important lesson of the Aurora massacre is how rare these events actually are. Our brains are primed to believe that movie theaters are more dangerous than they used to be, but they’re not. The riskiest part of the evening is still the car ride to and from the movie theater, and even that’s very safe.

You know how people are always moaning that they don’t use mathematics in real life? This is one reason why they should. Probabilities are a branch of math, and you have to understand probabilities to make a decent assessment of risk. Most people don’t understand that.

There are plenty of other public policy issues that can’t be understood without knowing how probabilities work. People who reject biological evolution often think it’s obviously not true, but they have no idea of the math involved, and that’s where the real story is.

Do it yourself news kit

January 4, 2012

Declare your independence from the Main Stream Media with this Do It Yourself News Kit. Contains all the journalistic integrity you’ll ever need.

U.S. conservatives vs, E.U. conservatives: compare and contrast

December 16, 2011

Bandit cable « The Reality-Based Community

GOP policies clearly only reflect the interests of big monopolistic corporations, not small ones. On credit card fees, the GOP backs the extortionate fees of the Visa and Mastercard duopoly (>2% per sale against 0.5% in Europe) against the interests of retailers, garage owners and Joe the Plumber. It opposed public works in a recession, a lifeline to small construction companies; and Obama´s moves towards universal health care, an obvious interest of every American employer. How many minutes a week does a Danish employer spend worrying about the health insurance of her employees, and how many staff does she pay to handle it? Zero.

Cheap Labor Republicans

November 30, 2011

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has the GOP completely pegged:

When it comes to a modest tax cut that mainly benefits middle-class workers, Republicans had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table, and even now insist that any extension has to be fully paid for. But when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, which are huge and primarily benefit the well-off, they fight for them tooth and nail and bristle at the very idea of paying for them. Funny, that. It’s almost as if the only tax cuts they really care about are ones for the rich.

I don’t remember who first said this, or where I first read it, but the GOP’s motivations can be boiled down to just two words: Cheap Labor. Keep the workforce poor, or on the brink of poverty, and limit their economic mobility so they’ll remain willing to work cheaply and enrich the wealthy with their labor. That’s pretty much it. If they pretend to embrace “family values,” or fundamentalist religion, or patriotism, it’s only for purposes of marketing. If they object to the work of the mainstream scientific community, or to people’s exercise of civil liberties, or to government transparency, those positions can all be traced back to cheap labor. If it promotes cheap labor, they’re for it. If not, they’re against it.

That’s the pattern. It explains GOP positions that are otherwise inexplicable. Take a look for yourself and see if the current political landscape doesn’t become more coherent and understandable.

NPR reports: Many Large Corporations Are Paying No Income Taxes

November 3, 2011

I expect some people will call this report an attack on capitalism, which of course it isn’t.

Report: Many Large Corporations Are Paying No Income Taxes : The Two-Way : NPR

Citizens for Tax Justice, a left-leaning research organization in Washington, D.C., sifted through the financial reports of 280 Fortune 500 companies and found that 78 of them paid no federal income tax in at least one of the past three years. Thirty companies, the study found, paid a negative tax rate over the three-year period.

Keep in mind that the companies in question are in the Fortune 500, not the struggling startups and small businesses that the GOP pretends to care about. These companies have manifestly benefitted from the way our economic system is set up, and yet they’re willing to let that system fail in favor of their own selfishness. It beats me how that has anything to do with capitalism.

The limits of religious freedom

October 23, 2011

Since I expect to see a lot of people invoking religious freedom for political purposes between now and November 2012, STFU, Sexists provides a handy reminder of what ISN’T included in that freedom:

Religious freedom DOES NOT MEAN that you can:

  • Restrict/deny the rights of others in accordance with your religious beliefs
  • Demand that everyone else believe like you do
  • Demand that the laws of a secular society reflect your religious beliefs, or obviously support a religion
  • Hide behind your religion as an excuse to act in a way that is bigoted and/or hateful

I would go so far as to suggest that we should not vote for anybody who does any of this, and then claims that calling them out on it is unAmerican.

Why do store clerks keep saying “Hi!” to me?

October 17, 2011

Michael O’Hare seems to know:

Small town virtues « The Reality-Based Community

The big stores that sell me stuff cheap have even figured out a way to imitate the unrehearsed social intercourse of family-scaled retail. At the local Safeway, and Fry’s, and Best Buy, staff who are complete strangers greet me walking down an aisle with “Hi! How are you doing?” in a creditable imitation of the way people who know each other enough to care about the answer interact. At the Safeway checkout, the clerk always asks “did you find everything you wanted?” [though they never seem the least bit interested if I tell them about something they’re out of] and then offers “help out to your car?” This one puzzled me as I do not look especially frail, have just pushed the same load of groceries around the store in a wheeled cart by myself, and there are no steps between the counter and my car; I asked about it and was told the clerks are instructed to ask everyone, and indeed they ask my very fit students too. Of course the effect of this robotic pseudo-friendliness is exactly the opposite of Mr. Fabrizio’s bending the comic book rule. The “hi’s” and eye contact at Best Buy are actually uglier; this distasteful little fakery is put on because it has been shown that people are less prone to shoplift if someone has made eye contact with them and uttered some sort of greeting. I have started reassuring these folks “don’t worry, I’m not planning to steal anything!” but they don’t seem pleased to hear it; indeed some give me an unmistakable fish eye. Odd.

I often feel guilty for blowing off these people. I know they’re just trying to keep their terrible jobs, but I also know that feeling bad about shunning them is a natural reaction that does nothing to purify their motives. The exception to all that is the local Best Buy, where they’re so smarmy and so aggressive that it destroys any illusion that they’re only trying to be friendly or helpful.

Quotes du jour

October 6, 2011

“Palin Not Running. In a related story, a person no one likes announced they didn’t want a job they couldn’t do and wouldn’t get.” — Dana Gould

“As governor of Texas, Rick Perry executed 236 people. Turns out many of them were guilty.” — David Letterman