The Closet Moderate: 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Google better back up off me!

Slate is reporting that Google's new prototype laptop keyboard lacks the internet's favorite key: CAPS LOCK.  Don't get me wrong: it's an idea whose time has come.  Caps Lock hasn't been useful in most internet users' lifetimes.  So good riddance.  But click through to that Slate article, and see what they've replaced it with: a search key.  I have one of these keys on my Android phone and, let me tell you, it's good for one thing and one thing only: accidentally hitting it while trying to push another button.  That's the only way this button gets any use on my phone, and the only way it ever will be used on computers.

But here's my bigger concern: the bright young men who run Google are starting to think they can fix everything.  In the field of advertizing and search engines, I support their efforts.  Even this Caps Lock think, as far as it goes, is not terrible.  But they should watch how they fool around with the rest of the keyboard.  These guys have a fin-de-siècle optimism and faith in humanity's willingness to accept rational change.  At the fin of the last siècle, this feeling as applied to language manifested itself in spelling reform.  Theodore Roosevelt was a big fan of this, and even tried to get the federal government to spell words like thru and thoro in new-fangled ways.  Thankfully, the inertia of the bureaucracy was too much even for TR to overcome.

Google, I implore you: Learn from Teddy's mistakes.  Keep your search-optimizing hands off my irregular spelling!

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Monday, December 06, 2010

You wanted bi-partisanship? Here is is:

I don't claim to speak for all of by co-bloggards here, but I think we'll all agree that this bi-partisan compromise out of Washington is a dumbfuck idea.  Alone among the Closet Moderates, I thought there would never be a tax cut I didn't like, but I was wrong.  Listen to the details of this purposed compromise:

  • Extend all Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels for two years,
  • Extend unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks, and 
  • Reduce the employee's contribution to Social Security from 6.2% to 4.2% for one year (the employer's contribution would, it appears, remain at 6.2%)
These arrangements strike me as, in order, half-assed, bad, and what-the-fuck.  Extending tax cuts for two years is, I suppose, a victory, but it just delays resolution of the uncertainty that has been a part of the tax code since 2001.  Businesses are not going to invest based on a tax clause unless they know that the clause will be in effect for the foreseeable future.  Congress may not think past their next election, but the owner of a business must consider long-term effects of policy on his bottom line before investing.  This extension just delays the inevitable decision.

Stretching the unemployment benefits into a third year of indolence offers a host of other problems, but this is a compromise, after all, and if Obama wants to get something for his non-working-class base, so be it.

The third part, however, if what really gets my goat.  Through all my life, and the lives of my co-bloggards, I heard the tale of how Social Security is going bankrupt.  And it is.  But at a time when cooler heads are talking about pushing back the retirement age or decreasing the growth in benefits, President Obama would rather decrease the amount being paid into the trust fund without decreasing the amount being paid out!  In this political age when everyone is supposed to be concerned about deficits, when we see Greece and Ireland falling under the weight of their own fantastical interest payments, the bi-partisan solution out of Washington is to spend more, tax less, and call it progress.  This extremely temporary tax cut isn't going to magically "grow" jobs, as though the government could sow handouts and reap employment. 

It's a phantasm; it's a charade; it's bullshit.

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Nanny-Statism We Can Believe In

The Denver Post Reports:
Schaetzle and a number of his similarly shocked patrons pointed out that both waistlines and blood-alcohol levels could suffer as a result of banning low-alcohol — read, low-calorie — beers from taverns and restaurants.

The Celtic could carry another stout—Guinness teeters right at the cutoff point between the low- and high-alcohol label—but Schaetzle won't be happy about giving up a brew he feels is more authentically Irish.

"It's ridiculous," he said, grabbing for a bottle of wine under the bar. "I don't understand why the nanny state would (ban beers) when the other stuff is three, four and five times more alcohol by volume. It's going to hurt a lot of places."
Bars that sell bottles of 3.2 beer are an offense to all creatures great and small.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare Testicles

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a latex glove gently palpitating a pair of human testicles – forever.
I think the greatest indictment of this program is that the federal government now employs a cadre of people whose full-time job is to grope the genitals of their fellow citizens. That fact amounts to another example of liberals allowing conservatives to have it both ways. These invasive search procedures are a validation of the sort of security kabuki--instituted by Republicans--that's made air travel a nightmare. Beyond that, the institution of these rules under President Obama allows conservatives to gesture the guys who get to know the mean bean machine a little too well as a talking point when attacking, say, social security; they can be a straw man for government incompetence generally. Finally, the fact that this program disproportionately affects members of the chattering class means we're sure to hear a lot about it--Arianna Huffington, Drapes and Carpet Edition. (If that made it onto the Huffington Post as a slideshow, it'd say something important about the world we live in.)

For all that, I urge everyone to undergo the alternate pat down rather than proceed through the scanners. By opting into the groping, you're saying that a government determined to erode privacy ought to have the balls* to do so overtly: jackbooted thugs, not poindexters using national security letters to access my phone records. Also, you get to share an intimate moment with another American, rather than joining the local art installation, "Gnarliest Dicks," in the break room. Under the best conditions, you'll be able to make eye-contact with this fine, five-fingered fellow and whisper, huskily, "you can't take it with you." Plus, if you've every wanted to sexually harass someone, this is the moment to do so. She is, in point of fact, asking for it. In that context, remarks like, "nice cans" are a sort of friendly hello, not an attempt to break professional ethics. It's also the time to postulate the existence of testicular superpowers: "if it would make this go faster, I could have lefty slither down an inch an expand for ya'."

You're both entering a new, uncharted realm of human contact. It's your job to set the course, manufacture obstacles and strange new life for them to encounter. You have become the GM of their trip to hairy hills and squish valley, don't let TSR play second fiddle to the TSA.

*You see what I did there?

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Whose nutz? Deez nutz! An ode to TSA.

This bloggard looks on in glee as the Transportation Security Agency faces a backlash over their growing use of millimeter wave and x-ray backscatter imaging machines. As our readers all know, the machines waylay airline passengers as they try to enter the "secure" area of an airport, forcing them to empty their pockets of every receipt, coin, and piece of lint in their possession while low-dose irradiation creates a detailed image of their fat folds and wrinkles.

Compared to the magnetometers previously used, the new technology takes longer but could potentially detect receipts, coins, and lint that passengers previously snuck onto planes. Would these machines prevent a would-be bomber from bringing underwear bombs on board? Perhaps, but are there would-be underwear bombers waiting for their opportunity? Explosive printer cartridges are way easier, after all. And would they stop a would-be bomber from bringing a suppository bomb on board? No. Nor would they stop a whole slew of other potential attack vectors that could be used.

More to the point, who cares!!? Bombs, guns, knives, or snakes on planes are just not a serious threat. As Patrick Smith points out in Salon, terrorists have targeted aviation lots and lots of times, but it's hard. Building bombs, finding and training bombers, and getting to the airport is the hard part, and most people just can't pull it off. Even when they do succeed, we're way more likely to die in a car crash enroute to the airport than from a bombing onboard, or any sort of plane crash for that matter. We're also more likely to be struck by lightning. Lightning people. From the sky!

Part of me hopes that the media attention prompts policy makers to chill. That part is vastly overwhelmed by the part that thinks no national politician alive would dare restore sanity to security for fear of being blamed for the next attack. So in the end, I'll continue to glower at screening agents who probably hate their jobs just slightly less than I hate their jobs.

I also have a plan. It's MacGuyver-esque in its elegance, I think. It involves scotch tape. Specifically, I want to tape a message to my undershirt. It will look something like this:

And if that doesn't work, there are other things to look forward to. I was treated to a demonstration a few years back of a facial "micro-expression" recognition system. The engineers told me it looked for "facial leakages" to detect hostile intent. I give it credit. I stared into the camera and the computer chomped away at the image. Eventually the computer had seen my soul, and a message popped up on the monitor that exactly matched my mood... disgust.


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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They call it peace

In the past few years, the Nobel Prize folks gave out a number of peace prizes that were justly held up to ridicule: Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Barack Obama -- WE GET IT, YOU HATE GEORGE BUSH. But in 2010, Bush is gone and the Scandinavians can get down to business again. This year's Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, is someone whom ordinary folks can look to as a role model. As an advocate for democracy and transparency, Liu has suffered at the hands of his Red Chinese jailors, yet remains committed to his calling. This year, the Peace Prize recipient is no lightweight.

But, as I do every year, I asked myself: is this person someone who, as Alfred Nobel directed, "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses"? Has Liu worked to increase the peace?

The ChiComs say no. As their foreign ministry put it: "The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to award individuals who promote international harmony and friendship, peace and disarmament. Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law. Awarding the peace to Liu runs completely counter to the principle of the award and is also a desecration of the Peace Prize."

On the face of it, the Maoists have a point. Even getting beyond the narrow bounds of Nobel's will and looking at peace more generally, one could argue that Liu has done more to cause conflict than to cause peace. The peaceable man, from the Red Chinese government's point of view, would passively accept the state's boot upon his neck, never causing dissension, protest, or rebellion. Indeed, if all the world submitted to the Marxist state, there would be no conflict, no war, no strife. Is this not peace?

If you recognize a straw man argument, you will know that the answer is no. As another Nobel laureate once wrote, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." The socialist state, while it may prevent revolution and call it peace, is a system based on force, not consent; it is devoid of justice. Their power comes from the barrel of a gun, not the consent of the governed; their agreements are sealed with the jackboot, not the handshake. Liu Xiaobo may not have stopped a war or convened a peace congress, but he has dedicated his life to the destruction of a state made of war -- war of class against class, of a government against its own people. To the oppressed peoples of the world, this Nobel Prize must be a beacon of justice, and thus one of peace.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Movement in No Direction

Over at Slate, Timothy Noah makes a case to avoid the upcoming Stewart/Colbert yak-a-thon in DC. Noah seems to think the March/Rally is part of a political movement aimed at countering the Tea Party and/or Glenn Beck... or at least a political movement of over-educated elitists. It's an odd point though, as I think the rallies are better viewed as an indictment of "movements". These are satirists, after all, and the target here is any political march, rally, or protest that eschews nuance and pragmatism for narrow-minded, self-interest, of which there are plenty of targets across the political spectrum and well documented by these comedian's shows. It's true that Colbert/Stewart attract a lot of liberal viewers, and Democrats will likely be overrepresented at the event. But Stewart specifically called out liberal pols in his announcement. So while the audience of the shows is left of center, the March/Rally is being sold to people who have dem, gop, and libertarian friends, gay and straight friends, Christian and Buddhist (Aqua too) friends and are tired of movements that purport to have the answers to all political questions. It's a critique of the banality of political speech in the U.S., not a movement with proposals on deficit reduction, or national security, or immigration, or health care. No one economic class, religion, or political party has a monopoly on pragmatism or reasoned discourse. So if it's a movement, it's a movement in no direction (or all directions).

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's electric!

In Europe, the Chevy Volt is called the Ampera. If I knew more about electrical engineering, I'd make a joke about what that says about the Old World versus the New.

Any takers?

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It's His Job

How sad is it that it's considered newsworthy when the nation's chief law enforcement officer says that he'll enforce and defend the law? Of course the Attorney General says that the Feds will enforce federal statutes regardless of what the hippies in California decide on Prop 19. And of course DOJ will appeal the decision overturning DADT. It's his job. Its immaterial whether or not he agrees with pot smoking or hot sex. He has to defend the government's position just like your defense attorney has to defend your guilty ass.

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Now, he can make decisions about how DOJ uses its limited resources. I'm willing to bet that DEA agents are not amassing around all California dispensaries waiting to pounce. And I'd also bet that DOJ's attorneys are putting together a very limited defense of DADT. But that's not what the 5 year olds we have in media are reporting about to our 4 year old public. Probably because it's too hard to understand since it lacks a distinct dichotomy between good and evil.

So remember Mr. Holder, you're either with us or against us. Good luck with that.


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Friday, October 15, 2010

Selection bias is FUNdamental!

As usual, I have been stirred from my usual state of slothful non-bloggitude by the statistical illiteracy of someone at Slate. Only this time, its worse, because its a write-up of a study by some legitimate economists, and they're really the ones to blame.
The study is a randomized control trial of management consulting. The authors went to a bunch (66) of midsize textile companies around Mumbai and offered them free consulting provided by Accenture. Then, of those that accepted (17), half got the consulting right away (the "treatment" group), and half got the consulting six months later (the "control" group). By comparing improvements in the treatment group to improvements in the control group, we can get an estimate of the impact of the consulting itself. In this case, the authors found that profitability in the companies increased by 16.8% on average. Wow, that's awesome, time to whip that into a little counter-intuitive parable of the importance of management, send it in to your editor, and cash that fat business reporter paycheck, right? Right, except that the real headline here should be: "75% of Indian firms turn down free consulting (market value: $500,000) from internationally renowned firm". In fancy pants economics terms, what the authors have estimated is the treatment on treated (ToT); that is to say, the effect of the treatment on those who complied with the treatment process. But Mr. Fisman is implicitly interpreting this as being the average treatment effect (ATE); that is, what the effect would be of forcing compliance on everyone. Thus he writes:

And what of the cubicle dweller lamenting the injustices of the modern office? When the 38 principles of good management meet the realities of running an organization with tens or hundreds of thousands of employees, what results is a rigid set of rules, regulations, and constraints that can seem designed to make office life a pointless misery. But it's also what allows the modern corporation to avoid the chaos of the unmanaged cotton weavers of Mumbai.

But you can't look at the effect of consulting on those who accepted it and say "wow, this consulting really works." Presumably, the minority of companies that said yes were the companies with the poorest management among the original 66. If we really believe in the intelligence of the other 49 company owners, the fact that they rejected the help means that it would've had a small or even negative impact on their business.
This paper shows us that, yes, management matters for some, but it strongly implies that it only matters up to a certain point. You have to go to the worst 25% of companies in a country with bad management practices in order to get big gains from improvements in management. If you made some bold assumptions about the relationship between baseline management quality and the effect of consulting, you could even conclude that management consulting is counterproductive for all but the very worst companies in America, and that, just as the cubicle dweller suspects, "best management practices" are a total crock of shit.
To be fair: the paper itself does not claim to be estimating an ATE, and they apparently didn't start out intending to find an ATE; however, given that the paper doesn't appear to be geared towards a statistically-sophisticated audience (i.e. Slate columnists), they should do more to emphasize that fact. And on the whole the paper is worth reading; there is a lot of interesting material in it beyond the headline result.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

"If it saves even one life then it's a good law."

This post's title is a quote from Bostonist, that sets a high bar for idiotic oversimplification or terrible use of sarcasm. I mean, really... any law? Despite what mommy told us, human life is not priceless.

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If it were, we certainly would not be allowed to banter about over-the-top assertions like this using a toxic material filled computer sucking up electricity produced from mined coal and dumping asthma inducing particles into the air while sipping our cappuccinos and ignoring the homeless guy asking for change outside. We're making trade-offs at every moment between our comfort and other's health and lives.

But we all know that, right? Surely the intent here is that the life of a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver is worth the potential inconvenience of not texting. We could be even kinder, and at Closet Moderate we're nothing if not kind, and impute that Bostonist means the value of every life cut short by a texting related accident is worth the cost in lost texting-related efficiency. But can we please say something like that? I'm happy to accept some limits to personal liberty in exchange for some amount of security and safety for all. I'm even happier to have a reasoned debate about what gains would balance what limitations. That debate should never include platitudes like this line. Especially when followed by the one bit of data provided, which directly contradicts everything else. It's maddening enough to make me think Bostonist has to be joking. But that just opens up a whole discussion about what a terrible humorist the writer is.

Now here's an example of this discussion done right.


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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Throw clichés under the bus

Back in '08, it seemed like every politics article contain that vulgar formulation "throw [x] under the bus." Lately, "teachable moment" has gotten nearly as common. "Under the bus" had, at least in its infancy, the pleasure of sounding novel and interesting. "Teachable moment" was always a politicians' nonsense phrase, but lately I've even heard normal people say it.

The problem with clichés is that they take the place of original thought. I know not everyone is capable of coming up with original pithy phrases, but they should at least refrain from adding to the mental ossification such phrases cause.

What turn of phrase pisses you off lately, gentle readers?

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Causation and Journalism

This is who we are now:
Newser's Michael Wolff notes that the more a candidate seems to lack "gravity," "probity," and "confidence," the better he or she seems to do this cycle. (I'd add: when the media points out their lack of such qualities, the reaction from people who support these candidates is to say to themselves, "See? The media is attacking US. Let's spit in their eye.") "Can anybody be president," he wonders? Wolff suggests that wackiness cuts through the clutter.

I've got a different thesis. Wackiness will always cut through the clutter. But the difference this cycle is that wackiness has been MAINSTREAMED. Hecklers and provocateurs have been mainstreamed.

Then the question becomes: How did we get here?

The answer is
, apparently, "reality television."

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Monday, September 20, 2010

On scales and competition

Not only will we be bringing you reprocessed and irrelevant bloggy news, but also half-formed musings that may or may not be of any interest! That, dear reader, is our commitment to you. Enjoy!

One question we scientists like to ask is: why can't you think more like us? What are you, stupid? But seriously, I've been wondering what is it about the scientific way of dissecting a problem that is so alien to us as layfolk. One big issue is that of scale. As a registered scientician, I am happy to think about things being a trillion times bigger as other things, and I am willing to say that if something is twice as big a something else, they are basically the same size. Why are these ways of thinking, which can be so helpful when dealing with huge ranges of scale, strange concepts before you spend a lot of time doing physical science, and/or operating a sliderule?

I think it has to do with competition. In the real world a lot of what you encounter is under intense competition. Biological organisms, for one, have gone through the Darwinian wringer, and have all come out rather similar. I mean, yes, we are black, white, short, and tall, but even Dikembe Mutumbo, for all his epic scale, is not, by any stretch, even 1000 times taller than me. He's not even twice my height! From an astronomer's perspective, he is pretty much my size. But if I told him that, well, he might take me for a walk in the cake. So, with that in mind, we have learned to group similar things together and tease out their subtle differences. It is that razor's edge of competition that makes all the difference in our world. Same goes for products on the market: I can't buy a car that drives 10 million miles an hour, because if I could no one would be selling Honda Civics. It's those few extra horsepower, or few thousand miles of reliability, that separates the Toyotas from the Studebakers.

These rules just don't apply in subatomic physics, or in outer space. Just because one black hole is the mass of the sun, doesn't mean another one can't be a billion times heavier. They aren't in some kind of competition, they don't pass on their black hole genes to their black hole babies, and there is no one saying "well, I'll buy the billion-times-as-big black hole for the same price!" and putting the solar-mass black hole company out of business. A particle can be any mass, speed, or flavor it damn well pleases, as long it obeys the basic laws of physics.

What this all means is that our typical tools for comparing objects in the terrestrial, day-to-day world aren't much use to us when examining objects that aren't under the rules of competition. And so it makes a lot of sense that we need to stretch our brains to understand exponents, logarithmic scales, power-law distributions, and order-of-magnitude calculations. I find these ways of thinking about the world endlessly rewarding, and now I think I understand better why it takes a long time to wrap one's head around them.




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Good managers and bad teams

As a part of our commitment to you, the reader of The Closet Moderate, we plan to blog more around here. As a result, the posts will likely be more bloggy -- i.e., ill-informed and amateurish. In that vein, here's a thought that's been rattling around in my head the past few months: Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets is a good manager.

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Now, this is hard for a Phillies fan to admit, but let's look at the monstrosity that is the New York Mets and figure out what's wrong with them. Terrible pitching. Players who don't play as a team. Injuries. Two of these are the general manager's fault, as he is the one who signs the players. Injuries are really nobody's fault, but a truly magnificent team like the Phillies can overcome them. So, on its face, what has Manuel done wrong? Nothing.

Now let's look at what the Mets do right. Small ball. They've been stuck with a stadium larger than any seen since the dead-ball era, so the American League-style game (three-run homers) is out. Instead, the Mets have actually gotten good at stealing bases, sacrificing, moving runners, and generally playing old-time baseball. And it works: they're 44-30 at home this year.

This is a manager's job: take the people and the stadium he's given and make it work. Manuel has done this. Yes, he'll still not be back next year, because the Mets' ownership are (lucky for Phillies fans) morons. But the real scapegoat for the past few years' failures in Flushing should be the general manager, Omar Minaya, who signed all of these terrible players. So, if the Mets know what's good for them, and the want to take advice from an ignorant bloggard who hates their team, they should fire Minaya and re-sign Manuel.

Also, fire Mr. Met. That guy's ridiculous.


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The Role of Lifetime

A rare look behind the scenes of a new film, directed by David Mamet, starring Danny Devito:



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Monday, August 16, 2010

51Park

Ok, I'm going to wade into this morass because I have had it up to here with the so-called Ground-Zero Mosque debate. There are a lot of reasons for me to hate this. Obviously, the ridiculous bigotry and hypocrisy should top the list. You want to restrict the religious freedom of people to build near Ground Zero, a place where people attacked us because they don't like our views on religious freedom (among other things)? Really? Also, I should hate the fact that you are trying to thwart the foundation of a place whose major point is to promote religious tolerance. I mean, this is just dumb. I should also be pissed off that the point of all of this is election-year fear-mongering.

But no, none of those are the reason I hate this debate so much.

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As a New Yorker, the idea that everyone from candidates for governor in Missouri to radio hosts in Wyoming (making this up) is weighing in on this just pisses me off. Seriously, this is private land in a place you do not live and have probably never seen. You have nothing useful to say, so shut the fuck up. I invite these people to take out a map and try to find the number of establishments closer to the world trade center than 47 Park Place. Indeed, Masjid Manhattan (a currently operation mosque) is a 6 minute walk from Ground Zero, and 51Park is a 5 minute walk. If you want to drive however, the "ground zero mosque" is further, because of how the one-way streets work. But you wouldn't know anything about one-way streets or how to get around in New York because you don't fucking live here. We'll decide where we put our mosques. Thanks.



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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bob and George


Not for nothing were Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner known as “the Voice of God” and “the Boss,” respectively.

Sheppard’s authority came from the magisterial tones that rang out across the gathered faithful in The House that Ruth Built. His was a voice that came from everywhere, in tune with both the sorrows and joys of his flock. From his perch in the broadcast booth, he was, in a very literal way, the Sheppard Above.

Steinbrenner’s ministry was of a decidedly more Old Testament flavor, though no less awe-inspiring for all that. He gladly played the part of taskmaster God, the enumerator of failures, the capricious deity with a taste for intervention and an unforgiving view of mortal weakness.

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The Boss elevated and ruined careers, egos and entire dynasties with a facility that the God of Moses and Job could surely appreciate: Meacham, demoted straight to AA ball; Irabu, publicly derided as “a fat toad” for his failure to cover first; the Yankees, back-to-back World Series Champions in in ’77 and ’78, wallowing in obscurity by 1990. In Billy Martin, Steinbrenner had his Saul--forever at odds, fired and re-hired and fired again, all for want of a David. John McMullen, an early partner, stepped ably into the role of Lucifer, remarking that “nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of George’s,” before acquiring his own fiefdom to the south. Steinbrenner leaked stories to the press, freely contradicted himself in public fora, and practiced a mixture of jealousy—he came to resent Joe Torre’s elevated profile, eventually calling for his ouster at the end of the 2007 season—and kindness unseen in American sports.

The rules simply did not apply to George, save for one.

In the passing of Sheppard and Steinbrenner, Yankees fans confront not only the end of an era, but a sobering reminder that nothing is eternal. One day, we will watch Mariano Rivera’s last bow towards third. Jeter will set down his bat, and Pettitte’s eyes will glitter above the rim of his glove for the final time. While we cursed George and loved Bob, these twin losses are a time to remember that one day we will all take up, with heavy hearts and clumsy hands, the burdens that now confront Hank and Hal, Paul and Barbara.


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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fixing the leak; or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Since the beginning of this oil well mess in the Gulf of Mexico, many pundits (including your humble bloggard) have proposed closing the well by detonating a nuclear weapon. Actually, my exact drunken words were more akin to "drop a fucking A-bomb on the sumbitch." At first, even I thought this a fringe theory, but now even ex-Presidents are suggesting it. And, as you will see after the jump, it's actually been done before, successfully.
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This Soviet film tells us just how they managed such a feat back in the USSR:



I know the Soviets were liars, but the New York Times says this actually happened (they wouldn't be taken in by Soviet lies, would they?). The article linked above has several non-crazy people backing the idea.

I know President Obama is trying to get rid of nukes completely. But that's just because he wants to weaken us as a nation; surely dropping the big one to stop environmental disaster would be acceptable, wouldn't it? Since the administration "quickly laughed off" the Clinton proposal, maybe we'll never know, but one thing is certain: a President McCain would've used the bomb. Hell, he might've even delivered it himself.


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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

En garde!

We hear a lot about gun control nowadays. It always makes me wonder: if there were no guns, wouldn't some crazy bastard go around killing people with a sword? Now, from Indianapolis, we have the answer: swords indeed do kill people.

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This story (h/t Deadspin) tells us of just such a murder, albeit of the drunken, accidental sort. Will people find drunken ways to kill each other even in a police state with no right to bear arms? Or is the proliferation of guns (and swords) such a force multiplier that banning them would be worth the deprivation of liberty? It's worth noting that when the original Bill of Rights (England, 1689) allowed people (Protestant people, anyway) the right to bear arms, they were as likely to carry a sword as a gun.

Another interesting question: is the dead guy in this story the last man in America named Adolf? Based on those dates, he was born in 1944 (other stories give his age as 69 in 2009, making his birthdate 1940 or so. Adolf has never been popular in America, but Adolph was among the top 1000 names until the 1970s. Strange.


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Friday, May 14, 2010

OTBNW -- Dummy Hoy

William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy was a turn-of-the-century center fielder for several teams in the American and National Leagues. Hoy is best known today for being the most successful deaf baseball player in Major League history. And successful he was, racking up more than 2,000 hits in his fifteen-year career. His nickname, a reference to his deafness, sounds cruel by today's standards, but was unremarkable one hundred years ago. As his article on The Baseball Biography Project attests, "he referred to himself as 'Dummy' and politely corrected those who, for whatever reason, called him 'William.'"

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Born in Ohio in 1862, Hoy went deaf at the age of three. He graduated from the Ohio School for the Deaf in 1879 and became a cobbler. He played some amateur baseball when business was slow, and was soon discovered by the Oshkosh team of the Northwest League, which signed him to a minor league contract in 1886.

In 1888, Hoy signed with the Washington Nationals of the American Association, then a major league. Hoy was not the first deaf ballplayer --two others were in the majors at the time -- but he soon stood out as the best of them. His speed helped him to cover a lot of ground as an outfielder and to place among the league leaders in stolen bases. Hoy moved to Buffalo Bisons in the Players League in 1890, then returned to the American Association in 1891 with the St. Louis Browns. When the AA ceased to be a major league following that season, Hoy jumped to the National League's Washington Senators.

Hoy was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after the 1893 season, and stayed with that club through 1897, hitting more than 20 doubles each year. He then spent two years with the Louisville Colonels until that team was contracted by the National League in 1899. Hoy signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1900 when the American League was still considered a minor league. It became a major league in 1901, and Hoy played with them that year, when they won the American League pennant. 1902 was Hoy's final major-league season as he returned to the Reds. That year he faced a deaf pitcher, Dummy Taylor, and got two hits off of him. Despite hitting .290 that year, Hoy was released and played the 1903 season in the Pacific League with the Los Angeles Angels.

After retiring from baseball, Hoy bought a dairy farm in Ohio and also worked for a time as a personnel director for the Goodyear Tire Company. He married and had several children. When all his children had grown, Hoy sold the farm and worked for a publisher until he was 75. In 1951 Hoy became the first deaf athlete elected into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf's Hall of Fame. The baseball field at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., is named for him. In 1961, Hoy, at the age of 99, threw out the first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series between the Reds and the Yankees in Cincinnati. He died two months later, on December 15.

A group of people started a website promoting Hoy for induction into the Hall of Fame. A book about him is said to be forthcoming.


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

OTBNW -- Cupid Childs

A little late, here's this week's Old-Time Baseball name of the Week: Cupid Childs.

Clarence Lemuel "Cupid" Childs was a second-baseman who played with a variety of teams, but mostly with the Cleveland Spiders, a team most noted for once posting the major leagues' worst record: 20 wins and 134 losses in 1899.

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Childs was born in Calvert County, Maryland just after the Civil War and later moved to Baltimore. He was 5'8'' tall and weighed between 185 and 195 pounds, making him even more out of shape than your humble bloggard. According to the Baseball Biography Project, "[i]t's safe to assume that his resemblance to the fictional matchmaker was the reason for his cherubic nickname. He is also referred to in various newspaper accounts as 'Fats,' 'Fatty,' 'Paca,' and even 'The Dumpling.'" That's a lot of nicknames for one pudgy second baseman!

Whatever you called him, Fatty could hit, and he made his major-league debut with the Philadelphia Quakers (now the Phillies) in 1888. He had a rough start there, dropping back to the minors in 1889, but returning to the major leagues as a member of the Syracuse Stars of the American Association in 1890. The American Association ceased to be a major league after that year but Cupid, who had led the league in batting, signed with the National League's Cleveland Spiders. He had apparently also signed a contract with a Baltimore team in the American Association a month earlier, but after fighting it out in court, Childs became a Spider.

The Dumpling hit .281 his first year in Cleveland, and hit above .300 in five of the six years that followed. Childs was one of many good players for Cleveland, and the Spiders were routinely in the top half of the league, playing in the post-season Championship Series three times. Things for the Spiders took an odd turn after the 1898 season, however, when the Spiders' owners bought the St. Louis franchise, too. Realizing that they could sell more tickets with a good team in St. Louis, they transferred all of the best Spiders players to their new team, which they renamed the St. Louis Perfectos (now the Cardinals). The plan backfired, as the Spiders had their aforementioned last place finish, but the Perfectos only finished fifth. After the season, the National League contracted and the Spiders were dissolved.

The St. Louis trade harmed Fatty Childs personally, as well, as he contracted malaria while playing there. The illness affected Cupid's play, and he hit a mediocre .265 -- not bad for someone with malaria, but not up to his usual standards. He was sold to the Chicago Orphans (now the Cubs) before the 1900 season. The effects of malaria, combined with injuries suffered in a fistfight with Pittsburgh's Fred Clarke, made the season a disappointing one for Childs. The following season, 1901, was his last in the majors.

Childs spent the next three seasons bouncing around the minor leagues, but never regained his earlier form. He worked as a driver for a coal company in Baltimore until his death at the age of 45.


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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Brits!

Interested in the U.K. elections? Nate Silver is live-blogging here, and the Times has some great maps here.




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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Old Time Baseball Name of the Week (2)

Oyster Burns.

Thomas "Oyster" Burns was an outfielder (and sometimes shortstop) who played from 1884 to 1895. Most of his playing career is with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later the Dodgers) and the original Baltimore Orioles (later moved to New York and became the Yankees), but he began his career with the Wilmington Quicksteps, a team that should also qualify as a good old-time baseball name.

Ol' Oyster was a fairly good ballplayer, finishing his career with a .300 batting average and 129 triples -- more than any current player has today. The 1890 season was his best, and a good one for the Bridegrooms as they finished first in the National League. He also hit for the cycle that year.

According to the Dodgers Encyclopedia, Burns got his nickname because he sold shellfish in the off-season. Oyster (or "Erster," if the Brooklyn fans pronounced it anything like my Brooklyn-born grandparents) stayed with the Bridegrooms until 1894. After a year with the New York Giants, he retired, living in Brooklyn until his death in 1928.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Old-time Baseball Name of the Week

Cannonball Titcomb.

Old-time ballplayers had the best nicknames, but this one was clearly worthy of blogging.

Ledell "Cannonball" Titcomb was a left-handed pitcher from 1886 to 1890. He put up a lifetime record of 30 wins, 29 losses, with an ERA of 3.47. Not terrible, anyway. In Titcomb's final season, while pitching for the now-defunct Rochester Broncos, he threw a no-hitter against the equally defunct Syracuse Stars. The teams both folded at the end of the season. Titcomb bounced around the minor leagues for two more years before retiring in 1892 after an arm injury. He died sixty years later and was buried in Kingston, New Hampshire.

Why was he given the nickname "Cannonball?" My internet research is inconclusive. One source suggests that he was a hard-thrower, which seems reasonable enough. Another suggests that, at 5'6'' and 157 lbs., his physique resembled a cannonball. The hard fastball sounds more likely, but who knows?

So, will this be a regular feature of the Closet Moderate? Or will it be something else my fellow bloggards and I forget to blog about? Only time will tell!

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Openness v. Progress

When President Obama campaigned for a more open government, it was one of the few things I agreed with him about (to be fair, McCain said a lot of the same things). But as this health-care "summit" approached, it occurred to me that having it on television was the worst possible idea. It's unlikely anything would have been accomplished anyway, given that Obama already released his proposal and the Republicans are determined to start over completely. Still, any value the meeting might have had is negated by the cameras. Now, instead of speaking to each other, they'll just talk to their own supporters and accomplish nothing.

I don't know if there are any smoke-filled rooms still allowed in Washington, but that's the only place from which an actual compromise might emerge.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

In praise of the Olympics

This blog does not only represent those from the left and the right, but also those from the sports-watching world and those from without. While I may pin down a middling-left political stance, I can say with honor that I am the far end of the sports-ignoring spectrum, with the possible exception of Waldorf.

And, in light of this, I wish to praise the Olympics.

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You see, every four years, we all have to put up with commentators, and now bloggards, saying "Every four years we have to learn about how curling works and pretend to care and then go back to our regular lives". And what's more, they say this as if it is a bad thing. Let me explain.

For a sports geek, I can only assume that the idea of learning about the mechanics of a sport only to see the last few minutes of the most-upper echelon of competition expertly over-narrated by the great Bob Costas is somehow sacrilegious. Where are the years learning about the subtleties of the Detroit Tigers bench? Where is the blood and sweat, discussing managerial decisions by FC Porto? While I realize this is the true fan's way to appreciate sport, it is not the only way. Those of us from outside the sporting zealotry actually enjoy ignoring the minutia of the game until only the best of the best remain. Like real sports fans, we too are annoyed by the over-hyping of the Apolo Ohnos and Lindsey Vonns of the year, but when we know just enough about a sport to understand when something exciting has happened, and who to root for, it makes for a few enjoyable evenings of television. I love that these obscure folks pop into my life for a few weeks every few years and I get to make them into makeshift, temporary heroes.
So here's to curling, luge, super-G and the rest: I'll be so excited to think about you again in 2014.






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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Narrative and Counter-Narrative

Leon Wieseltier has a charming ability to let it all hang out, as he does in his latest screed against Andrew Sullivan. As Matt Yglesias notes, the two have some history that may inform this exchange. It's a long article, so a brief summary is in order:

  • Part I: Christian theology and Jewish theology are different
  • Part II: Stereotypes bad, Charles Krauthammer OK to Good-ish
  • Part III: Andrew Sullivan hates the Jews
  • Part IV: Andrew Sullivan is a lazy thinker, Muslims are crazy
  • Part V: FUCK BLOGGERS
[Cont'd]

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I like to make fun of things. Every now and again, a thing comes along that is so self-evidently stupid, so utterly confused that it almost overwhelms my urge to mock it. It's a lot like signing on for a quick fat joke and finding yourself face-to-face with a treatise on political philosophy written by Karl Rove. What do you do? You strap the fuck in, that's what you do.

Wieseltier has one solid knock on Sullivan: he deals in broad strokes when it comes to Israel, and a lot of the things that Wieseltier objects to flow from that. The larger issue, though, is that Andrew's posts are a distillation of an idea that Leon dislikes: that we should view Israel less as "the America of the East" and more like a regular ally or client state. If Israel is just another ally, the thinking goes, why do we take so much shit from them? Why do we allow Israel to imperil our regional interests without incurring substantive costs? The Israel Lobby by Walt and Mearsheimer offers an explanation rooted in the actions of Jewish advocacy groups in Washington D.C., and Sullivan is clearly swayed by the overarching paradigm, if not the particular account offered by W&M.

Sullivan's broad characterizations notwithstanding, those are claims that someone could, theoretically, evaluate. You could present aid figures, make an attempt to assess the supposed damage our interests have suffered, and weigh that against the benefits (however defined--but yes, they must be defined) we reap from our support of Israel. That would be a productive way to argue the point.

Given that simple reality, Wieseltier's decision to tar Sullivan as an anti-Semite is shameful. In place of a narrative he doesn't like, Wieseltier decides to substitute a narrative that's more amenable to his perspective. In short, he opts to attack Sullivan's lack of nuance using a similarly lazy, Manichean device: Andrew Sullivan secretly hates Jews. Wieseltier does have one thing going for him, though. His narrative is far more established than Andrew's, and his rambling, fact-free screed is aimed at the heart of Jewish insecurities about Israel.

Is Andrew Sullivan a nefarious Jew-hater who will, if unchecked, end up emboldening Israel-destroying Arab fanatics? In the world according to Leon, probably. To his credit, Wieseltier is charitable enough to allow that Sullivan may not mean to do so. But that, of course, is the inevitable consequence of his transgression against Leon's (entirely legitimate) feelings about Israel. The reality is that Sullivan also has strong feelings about America's relationship with Israel, but not, perhaps, the highest level of erudition on this issue. For that he is a labeled as a contemptuous gentile.

The result is that the reader is tasked with choosing sides rather than evaluating arguments. And we choose sides based on non-substantive criteria. Rather than educate, Wieseltier opts to polarize and wield a story that has been told time after time, across 5000 years of history, in service of a personal vendetta. That's not a defense of Israel, that's a defense of Wieseltier. And a shitty one, at that.


Also, Leon, you can't diss bloggers for "[exempting] themselves from the interrogations of editors" when your own piece clearly never saw either end of a red pen.

Edit: Daniel Larison makes similar points. Read it.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Speculative Politics: Narrative [2 of 2]

A recent poll found that Fox News is the most trusted name in news. You should've already filled your britches, and not because Fox News is partisan, or chockablock with shallow megalomaniacs. You could say that about many TV news outlets. The reason you should be scared is that Fox News--and the GOP generally--has figured out how to make storytelling the dominant mode of information consumption. In 2004, a Bush aide said this to a Ron Suskind, a reporter for New York Magazine:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Though the phrase "reality-based community" is still much-mocked in liberal circles, that aide was exactly right. [Cont'd.]

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To wit: earlier this year there was a hullabaloo because the White House communications director flat out said that Fox News was partisan, not, as their motto argues, "fair and balanced." Fox wasted no time casting this as a "War on Fox," which is, make no mistake, a story. The fact of the matter could be summed up as "A said B about C, based on D." In other words, she was making the argument that Fox had a history of partisan statements and distortions that made them, in effect, an outlet for GOP talking points. You can evaluate those claims using higher brain functions. But by framing that statement as part of a war on Fox, the network was able to dodge the whole issue of whether the statement was accurate. Instead, they cast themselves in the role of aggrieved victim of unjustified belligerence on the part of an entity that had no right to such aggressive action. That is a story, not an argument, and was designed to arouse tribal anxieties. It worked. The press corps, already shaken by the decline of traditional media and associated prerogatives, was incensed by the White House's interference.

That episode, in and of itself, is not particularly significant. But what it represents--the primacy of storytelling--has some explanatory significance when we're trying to figure out why our legislative process is gridlocked. The story that the Republican Party has told Americans for the last 30+ years is, essentially, "government can't do anything right." At this point, the worst thing they could do is change their story.

There are a couple of tangled threads here, all based around the the three factors I mentioned in the previous entry. First, there's the issue of cognitive fluency. A short way of restating the linked article is that, in most cases, familiar things are more readily accepted and subject to less scrutiny than strange things. In other words, over the course of a generation the GOP has conditioned their base to accept stories about the uselessness of government.

It follows that Republicans have an interest in making government appear to be useless. After all, that validates their story. Now, it's indisputably true that the perceived uselessness of government is due to the GOP's shameless abuse of Senate procedure. But that doesn't matter. Given the low information nature of the relevant audience (only 26% of Americans know 60 votes is required to break a filibuster), it's a useful tack to take. People shouldn't have to give a shit about the procedural ins-and-outs of their government in order to produce a working legislature. They ought to be free to elect Scott Brown a senator without halting all legislative action on Capitol Hill, but that's not the government we have.

I don't know to what extent this was conscious, but the Republicans have uncovered (and abused) a powerful reality of modern existence: most of us just don't have time to process things outside of our core areas of interest. So we have coping mechanisms: frequency becomes a stand in for accuracy. Received wisdom from a trusted source replaces inquiry. Narrative replaces argument. Yes, that's always been true of human existence, but the rate of issue turnover has accelerated in unprecedented ways. By the time I'm done dealing with relevant thing X, relevant thing Y has already eclipsed it. Storytellers are always spinning the next tale by the time fact checkers have finished with the previous one. And the value that novelty carries in the age of digital media means that the new hotness will almost always overshadow its predecessor, with little regard for the merits of either.

That's the brilliance hidden behind the baldness of the reality-based community quote. The judicious study of reality simply can't keep pace with the invention of new stories and new realities. Thus, the only form of permanence is the creation and reinforcing of an identity--a relationship between storyteller and audience. The nominal separation of the interconnected sources of the GOP, Fox News and the wider right-wing noise machine exist entirely to create and foster an identity by abusing the coping mechanisms of their audience. By moving in concert from one story to the next, they never provoke "cognitive disfluency." The result is a remarkably homogeneous base of Republican voters.


The bottom line is this: Democrats need to become better storytellers if they want to move their agenda through Congress. So far, they haven't, and Obama seems less enthusiastic about being the Storyteller in Chief for the rest of the party.

Edit: This article makes a similar point about information overload and how we cope with it.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Speculative Politics: Narrative [1 of 2]

When a reporter starts talking about narrative, reach for your wiffle bat. Talking heads, political commentators, reporters, the whole D.C. media establishment (the "filter" or "village" for short) are paid to write and talk. In short, they're paid to fill space. People who fill space shouldn't get to weigh in on the character of the space they're filling.

There are two types of discourse that I'm concerned with here. First up: making an argument. An argument states a position, produces evidence, and then argues that, if you accept the evidence as valid, the conclusion follows. What matters in an argument is the quality of the evidence and the extent to which the conclusion follows from it. An argument that produces a lot of evidence for the proposition that the sky is blue, but then tacks on "therefore pigs can fly" is a bad argument. So is an argument that reaches the same conclusion based on the fact that you once saw a pig with cardboard wings taped to it.

However, the second type of discourse is more common in political circles, and more pernicious: narrative, or storytelling. Narrative, it turns out, is a very useful tool when you have a lot of empty space to fill and are rather thin on actual things to fill it with. It also has nothing to do with argument--when you're telling a story, the most important thing is the relationship between the narrator and the audience. Three aspects of that relationship matter: [Cont'd]

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The first factor is the ease of acquiring and understanding contradictory evidence. If my story is "the sky is always green" then I'm not going to get a lot of love from the audience, as they can look up and see that the sky is not green. However, if my story is "5,000 years ago, the sky was green" then we're in a whole different realm. There isn't one member of my audience who has access to firsthand knowledge of that time. Alternately, if the contradictory information is sufficiently obscure, I may be able to tell a story that flies in the face of that information. Creationism is a classic example of that kind of story. There's plenty of evidence out there that it's total bullshit, but that evidence requires a lot of time and effort to assimilate. Therefore, we fall back on what we believe.

That brings me to the second aspect of storytelling I'd like to discuss: repetition, or "priming the pump." A lot of what we accept as true is based on the amount of times we've heard it. I have never experimentally verified the existence of the nucleus, but I've been told by a lot of people that some Rutherford guy bounced alpha particles off a sheet of gold, and that this confirmed the existence of the nucleus. I don't know if that's true, but a plurality of sources I trust (father, chemistry teacher, textbooks) have asserted that it is, so I take it on faith that the world is so. As a result, I'm more likely to accept a connected story (say, "the story of radiation") than I would be to accept a wholly separate narrative.

I hinted at the third aspect of the audience/narrator relationship in that last example: trust. If I've heard the same story from a number of sources, and I haven't found or understood any contradictory evidence, then those sources become trusted sources. That means that I'm predisposed to believe unrelated stories that they tell. Parents do this all the time when they give pre-pubescent children "the talk." If they time it right, they're drawing on the trust they've built up with previous stories and the lack of information on the part of the child to establish a narrative around the opposite sex. Put another way, in elementary school I learned a song called "teach your children well." It really ought to have been titled "program your children early and well, and establish your narrative before they access to contradictory information."


In short, storytelling, or narrative, is a way around the critical thinking process. To think critically about something, you have to have access to two rare commodities: time and information. Research, a fancy term for "acquiring information" requires time. After you've invested that time, you need additional time to process that information and figure out how it relates to the issue in question. While we all do this to a certain extent, we don't (and can't) do it for everything we encounter, so we rely on experts or trusted sources.

In the next entry, I'll explore the unfortunate consequences that has for American politics.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Bernanke

The CM roundtable on reconfirming Bennie B., executive summary:

Silent Cal:

I think he's well-qualified, but more important is that re-confirming him strengthens the Fed's independence. If Obama were to bow to extremists' demands in Congress, it would result in a Fed that was less bank and more an arm of the government. Take a look at Venezuala if you want to know what that would be like.

Waldorf:

Its hard to evaluate Bernanke. We didn't go into the Great Depression, thanks at least in part to his various good and unorthodox moves, but we are in a pretty serious recession, which he might in theory be able to alleviate with further (purportedly) good and unorthodox moves. So hating on him is kind of like Will Smith being prejudiced against robots because, when he was drowning, a robot chose to save him instead of the girl who was also drowning.

Harold Lasswell:

I was just going to say that he deserves the job simply by virtue of his nickname, Banke...

Fake Steve Hawking:

I'm generally in favor. My impression is the man is smart, and generally agenda-free. I'm a sucker for a good technocrat.

Herodotus:

As much as I love deflation on a personal selfish level, I am a fan of [Milton] Friedman. And since Ben is too, I'll give him a thumbs up.

Statler:

I'm broadly in agreement with Waldorf, but I'll also cop to having most of my ideas on this issue defined by Matt Yglesias.

http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/maybe-ben-bernanke-is-a-conservative-republican.php
http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/two-targets-no-accountability.php

Stealth Democracy is a great book about how we all want a government that governs in our best interests, not its own. That's why Obama's "the best people from whichever party" rhetoric and transition were widely admired. But the fact that government looks out for its own interests, and underneath that umbrella, the interests of various factions within it is also the root of a lot of the frustration with government that defines conservative values. As the past administration admirably demonstrated, government is government is government. You should appoint qualified people, but you should really try to appoint qualified people who share your goals.

GeneralSzod:

Kneel before Szod!



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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Condition Our Condition Is In

In tonight's State of the Union address, Barack Obama will:
  • Admit that Evan Bayh is his least favorite Senator, with a saucy wink at Joe Lieberman.

  • Admonish the GOP for their unfair besmirching of America's oldest sport: the pie-eating contest.

  • Announce a three year brain freeze, and then demonstrate his ability to lead the country by eating an entire crate of Flavor Ice.

  • Stand around awkwardly waiting for people to stop applauding.

  • Revive his flagging agenda by announcing plans to revive human-animal hybrids, pack the Senate with them.*
Be here for every exciting moment!



*Line borrowed w/o permission from Chris Lehmann.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Human Capital Is Made of People!

I wanted to talk a little bit about Maxine Udall's post on the financial meltdown. I'm not an economist, so I can't speak to the post itself, but I wanted to highlight a dimension that I think hasn't been discussed, in part because it's a matter of intuition rather than data: the political consequences.

Cont'd.

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We can discern three trends about employment/education over the last 50 years:
  • Opportunities, potential for advancement and job quality for people without a college education have decreased.
  • The % of people w/a college degree has increased.
  • The cost of a college degree has increased dramatically.
In other words, "having an undergraduate education" and "having a (decent) job" became tightly linked, and in response the cost of that education rose.

If you're on board with that assertion, it seems like we're in for a bumpy ride, politically. As this WaPo article outlines, there are two processes taking place. First, older college graduates are being laid off at an unusually high rate. Second, those that are finding work are finding it in less-skilled roles. The article devotes one paragraph to what is, to me, the most important part of the picture: those jobs are coming at the expense of opportunities for recent college graduates.

In other words, there's a group of people out there who have paid a lot of money for a piece of paper that says "you're employable" who are unemployed. In addition to the financial burden of college loans, recent graduates lack the skills to compete with the folks who are trading down, and it's hard to acquire skills when you don't have an income or a job. When the status quo ante was "you can have X" and then the forces unleashed in a cataclysm you had no role in creating and no ability to prevent say "you can't have X" there's going to be a certain amount of bitterness. Amplified, of course, by the fact that you're still going to be hurt by it a decade and a half later.

The lasting political legacy of the recession years may be a great many people who are conscious of the ways in which their prospects and opportunities have been curtailed or destroyed, and feel unable to do anything about it. That cocktail of awareness, bitterness and disenfranchisement is going to take our country to an ugly place if it isn't addressed.


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