Weird Things
June 27, 2009, 1:23 pm
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I’ve seen Renee Zellweger in many, many movies by now, and I still don’t feel as if I actually know what her eyes look like. Does she even have any? Or just empty sockets where her squints all spiral together in an unidentifiable non-Euclidean vortex?

Why is it a left-wing issue (“cap-and-trade”) for the government to artificially create another security for Wall Street traders to get rich trading? Answer: Because in doing so it will force people to drive less. See, nowadays a lot of left-wingerism is about seeking to prevent (other) people from driving or doing anything else that embodies independence. Especially lower-class, poorer people. So that Wall Streeters can get rich(er).

This may be an unorthodox opinion, but that Michael Jackson struck me as something of an odd bird. Hey I call ‘em as I see ‘em.

It’s pretty surprising that nobody (as far as I have seen) has yet tried to blame the unrest in Iran on the fact that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Well, I know of at least one person who will….

Must Link Internet
June 26, 2009, 7:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

You must click and read these links now.


  1. Fascinating post from curi on One Tree Hill Plotlines. Note: I gather that One Tree Hill is a television show.
  2. Quotes from Justice Scalia, who’s apparently way more kick-ass than I’d given him credit for.
  3. How a rhinoceros can be used to improve your self-esteem.
  4. Calculated Risk on the amazing pulloff of a CDS swindle.
  5. Teaser of a remake of The Prisoner, with Jim Caviezel. A while ago I watched through the whole Prisoner series. Far as I could tell, being “the Prisoner” meant you were stuck on a Mediterranean nautical resort, where everyone dressed in charming 19th-century fashion, with no contact to the outside world, and miniskirt-wearing ladies attended to your every need. But the remake, by contrast, sounds like it turns all that around and being the “prisoner” is now a bad thing. Just shows how times change….
  6. The previously-unsuspected connection between philosophy and detective fiction. This reminds me, I’ve been (re) reading some P.G. Wodehouse, which always reminds me of detective fiction – a comedy version. Is there anything funnier than P.G. Wodehouse?
  7. Bryan Caplan has toenail fungus. Oh, but the point of the post: he explains why you should be happy to discover that insurance doesn’t cover a treatment you want.
  8. Corrupt on why nerdiness leads to totalitarianism.
  9. Arnold Kling says “If you want your shirts to be manufactured using primitive technology so that they cost a lot, then buy local.”.

The Left’s New Dress
June 26, 2009, 4:27 pm
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Unemployment at peaks and still going up. Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security a fiscal shambles. Government has taken Fannie and Freddie and pretty much everyone, far as I can tell, onto its balance sheet. No new jobs coming, no pay raises coming, yet tax increases coming. In foreign affairs, Iran escalating its inevitable crackdown (as I predicted, and feared). North Korea has demonstrated nukes presumably up for sale/extortion, China is China, Russia is Russia, partying Europe still on our tit.

And Obama, and half of our insular self-involved country, is still freaking yammering away about “health care”.

Health care health care health care. Waaah we want health care. So the President keeps talking about copays and x-rays. Historic stuff, what? Just historic. 500 years from now everyone will be so impressed that President Obama of the early 21st century spent approximately 98% of his waking hours dedicated to how many catheters should be allocated to 55 year olds and whether womens’ mammogram histories are computerized or on paper charts.

It’s pathetic. It’s almost childlike. Mommy I want my medicine. I want the medicine that tastes like cherry. That’s what we care about. Those are our priorities, as expressed through our man of the moment.

It’s an obsession with all these people. I can’t even listen to these health care monomaniacs anymore. The answer to economic problems? “Health care”. The answer to foreign policy troubles? “Health care”. The answer to the Navier-Stokes equation? Health care. The answer to life, the universe and everything? Health care. What’s the exponential of pi times the square root of minus-one? Health care.

I’m through taking this obsession even remotely seriously.

I’m reminded of an underappreciated little Depeche Mode song called “New Dress”, that I now proceed to borrow from its context/intent:

Sex jibe husband murders wife
Bomb blast victim fights for life
Girl thirteen attacked with knife

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

Jet airliner shot from sky
Famine horror, millions die
Earthquake terror figures rise

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

It seems to me that “health care” is the left’s “new dress”. Obama and the left want a new dress. They want their pretty, pretty new dress. So don’t confuse them with anything else.

The Youtube Way Of War
June 22, 2009, 4:24 am
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Despite my “pessimism”, I have been watching many of the video clips coming out of Iran, trying to catch up, at least a little.

I don’t like what I’m seeing. Let me specify what I mean by that. First, obviously there is a natural revulsion to the chaos and bedlam they (at their worst) portray. Whatever their meaning and eventual outcome, it must be admitted that at the moment, these events are literally nightmarish. Try to imagine them on the streets of your city for example. It is the stuff of nightmares. I would not like to see it. I would not like to experience it. I want to stay as far away from it as possible. I shudder at the thought of it spreading, of it being the way of the future. We ought to be careful what we wish for, and cheer on. There’s no reason this sort of thing couldn’t come to Detroit, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to New York.

But more to the point, even if I assume that I’m on the side of the protestors (and vice versa, more importantly), I simply don’t see these actions as likely to accomplish anything. These are some properties of scenes I have seen:

-lots of people out in the streets, mostly standing around, looking confused. Maybe walking/rushing from one place to another when this or that thing happens.
-lots of posing and posturing on the one hand, and gawking and rubbernecking on the other. At times it seems like the entire crowd is composed of posturers and rubberneckers. Reminds me of my time at Berkeley.
-chanting/yelling stuff. “Allahu Akbar” being the only thing I can make out, of course.
-rocks. People pick some up, others throw them (I think?).
-standoffs with policemen. I haven’t seen clips of policemen being particularly brutal (which doesn’t mean none such exist) – at least, not compared to, say, the French in Sierra Leone a couple years ago
-at one point in one of the clips I saw, a body is carried through the streets. He’s put down on the ground. Picked back up. Put down somewhere else. Maybe it’s just me but violence in Middle East crowd scenes always seems to be followed closely by medical nincompoops.
-Another guy soon follows running down the street with a bloody hand. he holds it up in the air for all to see. Circles back, does it again. The point being…? (I know, I know, “in their culture” that probably means something significant..)
-people pushing one way. then something happens. so they get scared and run backwards. Policemen.

The general properties I perceive in these protests, or whatever they are:

-superficially demonstrative (“hey look at me”) with no substance; emoting/posing/posturing.
-fear/retreat (on both sides) in the face of any true direct confrontation.
-chants (this behavior at least is universally recognizable; the behavior of a rock concert, a pep rally – apt analogies in my view, because those things accomplish just about as much)
-fascination with blood. I gather that seeing the blood is supposed to make other people do stuff/react a certain way. Blood is magical.

I could be wrong but this is not the stuff that simultaneously successful and good revolutions are made of. (I could, alas, see a successful but not good revolution coming out of this, I think.) What are all these people trying to accomplish? What are they going to accomplish? What they are demonstrating is that they can be called upon to provide chaos. But chaos is just chaos; it is not focused, it is not disciplined, it has no aim, it has no defined end. This is not warfare, it’s not a revolution, it doesn’t even rise to the level of gang warfare (which at least might tend to have clear targets and aims). It’s almost a form of violent performance art. “Look at us, listen to us”, they are saying. And so we do. But so what? The “best” outcome one can hope from all this is that the Ahmadinejad challenger points at them, says “cut me a power-sharing deal and I’ll call them off”, and so a deal is cut, all his distant cousins get on-paper jobs/sinecures in parallel with Ahmadinejad’s cousins, the rest of people go back to work, the dead are buried, the old women wail on camera, Time Magazine does a glossy cover story on the whole thing, and then things get calm again. Soon Iran gets the bomb anyway and that will be that: deterrent. Untouchable.

Maybe I lack imagination. But I can’t imagine anything good coming from this. Besides, at best, the paltry accomplishment of getting some other guy’s good-for-nothing cousins more jobs/cashflows/apartments.

I view this, and similar recurring patterns in that part of the world, as part of what appears to be a long-nurtured cultural trait in some parts of the world: the deeply-held belief in trying to win all wars without actually fighting them, and deeply-held ignorance of how to win wars any other way than through symbolism and theater. At its worst, in our modern era, this becomes the instigation/Palestinian terrorism method of warfare: randomly blow something up somewhere until you induce a response, then when response comes, preen for cameras, and cry, and wave a bloody shirt, and say ‘look how oppressed we are, the UN should do something’. Repeat until it works. I have no respect for this form of warfare. I have no respect for the cultural tradition which values and propagates it.

Seriously: what the heck are these people doing exactly? Are they fighting? Who are their leaders? Who gives them orders? What are their targets? What is their strategy? What are their tactics? Are they gaining territory and establishing footholds? Are they organizing supply lines, chains of command? Engaging in shadow diplomacy, forming alliances, arranging for loans, setting up government in exile, getting arms? Turning former enemies, subverting opposing generals, making secret deals to divide the enemy?

Or are they just wandering around streets pelting policemen, yelling stuff, videotaping it on cellphones, and then posting it to Youtube?

What’s that accomplish? Seriously what? I know, I know, these are just normal, for the most part unarmed people, what can I expect them to accomplish? Well maybe nothing. But so then why should I pretend they will accomplish anything with this bedlam, other than some of them getting killed? Because it would feel so good to pretend? I think we’re all really fooling ourselves as we watch this stuff, tell ourselves “we’re seeing history unfold”, call Twitter the future of revolution, and blog to each other about how exciting this all is. Because at the end of the day, this stuff is not going to accomplish anything.

Let me take the most optimistic view possible and assume (unjustifiably) that the younger generation of Iran, and a majority of Iran, is indeed opposed to theocracy and dictatorship and wants a government that respects human rights and views their current government as an enemy of those aims, and therefore has declared war on that government with the aim of seating a rights-respecting republic that won’t prioritize exporting revolutionary terrorism. Well, ok then. But that’s a serious declaration. It’s a serious act. Running around on city streets mindlessly is not going to get them there. Ever. I just don’t see these methods getting them from A to Z, even if Z is where they want to go, which I doubt.

Maybe it’s just that these cultures have lived in cities too long. They seem to think like herded, hounded city dwellers. It seems like they think street corners are important. It seems like they think whether cars are on fire is important. This is not just Iran, I see this in other parts of the Middle East and in Europe as well; there is to my mind a “citified”, narrow, local, failure-to-think-outside-the-box thought process dominating their actions that makes the overal endeavor look pathetic. Overall their acts appear reactive and constricted and sheeplike and herdlike and small to me. I see no vision. I see no plan. I see no leaders. I see no honorable behavior. And so, I see no victories in their future. I do see street chaos, and perhaps the chaos will be scary or damaging enough to push one guy or another over the top in the halls of power – because his gang is more chaotic/scary than the other guy’s gang. But that is not liberalization, it’s not ‘opening up’, it’s certainly not democracy. To me it looks like more of the same. Or worse – because you never know what the ultimate outcome of this sort of thing will be, which Bonaparte these people might induce to rise to the occasion and put them down. We’ll just have to see.

The only cold comfort I have is that these events must surely be causing distress for the regime and for Ahmadinejad. But at the end of the day, so what?

I want to be an idealist. I want to be a “neocon” and a liberal. I’d love to be wrong. But I just don’t get it. I’m even depressing myself here with my pessimism. Am I missing something here? What am I missing? Please, tell me I’m wrong.

A Very Special Father’s Day Message

On this Father’s Day I thought I’d provide a few of my tips – for reading children’s books during storytime with your kids.

As we all know, according to FDA guidelines you’re supposed to read children’s books to your children for approximately 72 hours per day. And if you don’t, you’re probably a bad-to-horrible parent whose kid will grow up to be Jeffrey Dahmer. If you don’t have time, make time. Quit your job if you have to, and read to them on those long cold nights in the cardboard box by the trash-can firelight. If they try to get up or struggle to find a scrap of food from behind the McDonald’s, don’t let them and just keep on reading, louder if you have to rise above their crying and growling stomachs. These are your children’s formative years; really, pretty much the only things that should ever touch their precious ears are you reading them books, and stuff you listen to on NPR on the car radio that they hear from the car seat as you drive them places.

After all, your child is special, unique, “gifted”, and genius-level brilliant on an unprecedented scale – just like (exactly like) the children of all those other parents at the Barnes & Noble on those rainy Sundays – and the best way to nurture that special gift of theirs is to read mass-marketed children’s fare to them out loud like all the other parents do. You don’t want your oh so unique kid to be the only child of his/her generation who hasn’t heard the phrase “Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?” in excess of a thousand times, do you?

So read to them to develop that brilliance and uniqueness so they can grow up to (like most of those other uniquely “gifted” children being read to nonstop) go to a four-year college where they spend most of their time “partying”, and subsequently become a computer programmer, “project manager”, OB/GYN, bond analyst, or McKinsey-type consultant of some sort. You know – special. (It’s not like just anyone can become those things….)

What should you read to them? Well, any children’s book will do, as long as it’s a children’s book, as in, from the children’s section of Barnes & Noble, preferably at a cost of at least $14.99 for a flimsy paperback. So, this means: Strawberry Shortcake toy tie-in stories, the Twilight series, hagiographic illustrated made-up fairy tales about Barack Obama’s made-up childhood, The Giver, the later more vulgar Judy Blume, My Little Pony toy tie-in stories, Star Wars prequel toy tie-in stories, pretty much anything that’s a toy tie-in of some sort – all equally good. Just read it because reading is important, far more important than what they’re reading. If there’s paper with printed letters on it involved, it’s automatically good for them. I heard it on NPR or maybe Oprah.

But seriously, I do have a bit of a problem with reading to my kids, and the main problem is: most children’s books freaking suck. They are boring and plodding and predictable and repetitive and badly written and repetitive, he said repetitively. And the younger your kids are, the more of a problem this is, because your kids will only care about colored-picture books and the like, and I’m guessing the people who get such writing gigs tend not to be your literary giants.

However, let it not be said that I don’t read to my kids. I do. It’s just that I’ve developed some tricks to make the experience more tolerable, for myself and (I hope) for them. And here is what most of these tricks boil down to: leave stuff out.

It was a year or so before I figured out that I could do this. It kind of felt like breaking the rules. But what rules? Am I violating someone’s copyright if I don’t read exactly what’s written on the page verbatim? If so, who cares? And so once I figured this out, I began to actually enjoy reading, and even reading with emotion and melodrama. You know, like one of those freaking non-grownup dorks on PBS or something (who’s probably gay). (Kidding!)

What would you be leaving out when you read to them, you ask? Well, children’s books are just full of tropes/tics that may work on paper – in a children’s book – but sound like crap out loud. So I just decline to say them. For example:

  1. “Suddenly”. For some reason in children’s books, stuff always happens suddenly. “Jack and Jill went up a hill. Suddenly, Jack fell down.” Is this really necessary? Was there danger of the kid thinking the thing being mentioned happened…gradually? I’ve gotten to the point where I pretty much refuse to say “suddenly”. Nothing seems to be lost.
  2. “he said/she said”. Dialogue in children’s books is all littered and broken up by constantly inserting “he said” in between any two sentences of speech, as if the kid has such a short attention span that he can’t possibly figure out who’s talking if anyone says two or more things in a row. Imagine something like “The princess smiled. ‘I like the pretty ribbons’, she said. ‘They are so pink and shiny.’” It’s bad enough that the writer is forcing me to say this flowery stuff out loud. Do I have to break it up with that “she said” too? I find it’s more effective and fun just to use different voices when reading out loud anyway, and dispense with all the extra insertions regarding who said what. :-) (Note: using different voices not advised for certain books, e.g. One Fish Two Fish by Dr. Seuss, as you’ll quickly run out of different voices….)
  3. Reaction descriptions. “The princess was amazed”, “the prince gaped”, etc. etc. All pretty much unnecessary, because it’s usually quite obvious and implied by what’s happening anyway. Sometimes I’ll leave them in but edit them down in my head first, and say them differently. On a similar note, you can leave out most adverbs.
  4. Sometimes you can just skip entire paragraphs or passages. (For use when it’s especially late & you’re tired & they’re tired.) Are they really gonna notice? Large chunks of rhyming stories such as Horton Hears A Who can be skipped at your discretion as timing requires, for example.

What a lot of these boil down to, in fact, is to take the writing advice Stephen King gives in his excellent book On Writing, then imagine editing the children’s book you’re reading using that advice, and just reading it that way. The bottom line is these are my books, I paid for them, and I’ll read them however I damn well please. And I refuse to just take suckiness at face value and read it verbatim to my kids. That’s not even trying.

Happy Father’s Day!


June 21, 2009, 4:19 pm
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Thanks to Netflix’s streaming feature, I’ve been binging on back seasons of Dexter in spare moments. I can’t figure out why this flawed-but-clever show is so fascinating to me. Okay, yes, there’s the fact that I, too, like the title character, am a sociopathic serial killer who kills according to a quasi-moral ‘code’ at night yet lives a good-natured normal life working alongside law enforcement by day, but besides that? (Kidding)

Seriously though, the character study is definitely a large part of the fascination. Much of Dexter is about Dexter’s struggles to fit in as a normal person, emulating normal feelings and emotions, since (according to the conceit of the show, though at times they back away from this) he doesn’t have any. At its wackiest, Dexter becomes a sort of sitcom of coincidences and misunderstandings in which an empty shell of a guy with no social skills or soul or emotions or real cares ends up falling bass-ackwards into romantic relationships, deep conversations, friendships, favors, complicated love triangles – always in the right place, right time – almost like a serial-killer equivalent of Forrest Gump. In fact, a “sitcom about a serial killer” was a quasi-tongue-in-cheek idea I’d had for a long time, so it’s interesting to me to see how the makers of the show are able to pull it off. One one level it’s a show about a guy with a handicap – his emotions are broken – and how he reacts (and, often, comments dryly, in his noir-style voiceover narration: e.g. “Apparently my new life involves a love triangle. I’m THAT guy.”) to the normal people around him. The results are often hilarious, but more importantly, it’s a fascinating device for throwing normal human relationships and feelings into sharp relief.

But it’s also a show about compulsion, and fate, and free will. And on that note, a slight problem I have with the show is that the overall arc tends to be highly predictable. In season 1, I was able to guess very early on – indeed, as soon as he showed up in a major storyline, pretty much – which character would secretly turn out to be Dexter’s archrival serial killer. I was even able to guess how he would turn out to be related to Dexter. When Dexter gained a new love interest/temptress in season 2, I was able to guess her eventual fate about 8 episodes in advance. I find myself seeing most such surprises and twists coming well in advance. I don’t know how writers of a serial-killer-TV show could possibly fix all this, but it does lessen the enjoyment.

I think this is because the writers of such a show are walking a very fine line: they have a protagonist who is a fricking serial killer who chops people up, yet they have to somehow keep the audience in sympathy with him (hence the “code of Harry”: he only kills other murderers. If you think about it, a TV serial-killer protagonist has to have such a “code”, there’s no other way it would work). Similarly, to keep the drama, they have to make the universe of Dexter seem fairly believable and realistic, they have to give Dexter relationships and love interests (for audience interest – I’m guessing most real-life serial killers are boring loners and a TV show about them would be agonizingly boring), and yet in such a reality, a serial killer with all those entanglements would surely be caught and discovered. Yet ultimately Dexter can’t ever get caught (because that would be the end of the show).

This tension between the need for realism and relationships on the one hand, and Dexter never getting found out on the other, creates a need for Dexter to always be on the verge of getting caught, yet always find a way out at the end. But once you know this pattern in advance, once they set up this or that sticky situation for Dexter, there are only so many permutations and ways-out that (a) keep the show quasi-realistic (e.g. Dexter can’t use magic, angels can’t come down from heaven to help him, etc), and (b) keep Dexter a sympathetic protagonist that the audience kinda-sorta roots for (e.g. one way out would be for Dexter to just go on a murder rampage against anyone who discovers/threatens him and then run away to South America, but then he’d lose the audience’s sympathy). Thus, for example, it’s clear that anyone who discovers Dexter’s secret – as a key character did in season 2 – must eventually die without telling a lot of other people. The logic becomes inescapable from that point:

Okay, I see, this means (a) he must somehow be forced to be on the run or incommunicado, and (b) he must then die. Either he has an accident (unlikely, and unsatisfying), or someone must kill him. Yes, someone’s going to kill him. Yet it can’t be Dexter who kills him (since he’s not a murderer). Who, then? What characters are available to fill the slot of Person Who Kills That Guy? Oh yeah…that character.

In this way I was able to guess the finale of season 2, who would kill who and how, in several particulars, about halfway through the season.

With every story arc the possibilities become more and more narrow once you apply all the constraints that a show like this is implicitly operating under. And so, like a puzzle or maze with only one solution, you can usually work out the plot on your own, and see how the TV writers will have to (have to) resolve Dexter’s quandaries long in advance of them actually playing out. Maybe the fascination lies then with the intricacies of the puzzles the writers set up for themselves, not with the resolutions per se (which follow almost immediately from the setups, like clockwork, due to TV logic).

As for the larger themes of the show, this is where it gets really problematic for me. I can only base my observations on seasons 1-2 (since season 3 has not hit Netflix yet) but, at least so far, the metaphysics of Dexter lie squarely in the Freudian therapeutic culture of repressed memories and badness of pent-up emotions. We are to believe that Dexter’s sociopathic nature traces entirely to, and was fated ever since, a trauma he endured – seeing his mother murdered – when he was 3 years old. According to the logic of the show, since that time, something has been “off” about him. His foster father noticed it, saw Dexter’s true nature, and decided to channel it into something at least quasi-productive (hence the “code of Harry”, Harry being Dexter’s foster father). When we pick up with Dexter’s life, he is rediscovering all these repressed memories, and working through them, which is portrayed as a good (if painful) thing. He’s basically undergoinig his own therapy in voice-over.

So what bothers me about the show, what truly bothers me, is not the serial killing per se, but the implication that such a trauma – and by extension, this or that life event – can lock a person’s true nature in place forever forward. This is clearly what Dexter’s foster father believed, for rather than trying to help and guide and teach Dexter to have emotions and be moral (something that was supposedly not possible), he instead resigned to merely channeling Dexter’s murderous “nature” into certain sorts of targets. Having such a foster father, it does seem only natural that Dexter, too, would be resigned to his (supposed) fate as a serial killer – never thinking he can change.

At its worst, Dexter denies the existence of free will. Or at least, it threatens to.

But I have to put a big asterisk there, because I’ve only watched through season 2 of course. And the thing is, there are times when the show demonstrates a promising glimmer, a tantalizing glimpse of where it might be going with all this. I just can’t say for sure because I know there are at least two more seasons to come that I haven’t watched yet. But if this show really wants to rise to something brilliant, even transcendent, a cool direction would be this:

Just have Dexter change his ways. He settles down, gets married (something I know is coming in season 3), and changes his ways. No more killing whatsoever. He just rejects his supposedly serial-killer “nature”, decides to stop killing, and then stops. That would be awesome.

In fact, if they really wanted to be courageous, they’d have Dexter turn to and beg to God for forgiveness. And then proceed to live a basically normal family and work life for the rest of his days. Make it a show not about fate and compulsion, but about redemption and forgiveness.

I don’t have much hope that this is where the writers will take the show, or that they’d even want to – but I would love it if they did. I would really love it. That would really be something special to pull off. So perhaps this hope, this tiny hope, is what keeps me watching.

Iran Brief: Against Democracy
June 21, 2009, 2:48 pm
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The Unread-Bloggers Oversight Commission sent me a notarized, formal letter of complaint that I haven’t really written about Iran; they threatened to take away my Unread-Bloggers License. So, a few thoughts:

  1. Overall, my stance is pessimistic (at least if believing that other guy, instead of Ahmadinejad, would become “President” of Iran would count as “optimism”). I don’t expect anything dramatic or revolutionary to come out of this. I expect, at the most extreme, perhaps a Tiananmen Square type incident that kills a lot of people, with the government forces prevailing, re-confirming the status quo; I don’t expect, anticipate, or have any hope for anything like an “Orange” or “Cedar” or (etc) Revolution. Iran will still be in effect controlled by the Supreme Leader and whatever theocratic machinery he and the ayatollahs and Guardians control. Could I be wrong? Of course! But I would be surprised. It’s just a bit difficult to get worked up over the “democratic” implications of this thing when this is a place with an unelected “Supreme Leader”. I’m not even convinced that the “President” of Iran isn’t just a figurehead; as far as I can tell, the main function of the “Presidency” of Iran is to make crazy-ass speeches designed to piss off Jews and Americans while wearing suits and thereby making Westerners think/assume that Iran is some sort of democracy and not all that different from them.
  2. That said, if we are supposed to take the Potemkin “democratic” trappings that Iran engages in seriously, in all honesty I can’t claim to have the first clue as to whether Ahmadinejad really got more votes than that other guy. How the hell would I know? I don’t take it as a given just because I happen to dislike Ahmadinejad. I don’t take it as a given that if I dislike him then a majority of Iranians do too. The implication of a lot of Western, pro-democratic thinking is that majorities in all countries must be nice and decent and moral and couldn’t possibly like evil guys. I disagree. I find it quite possible (not a certainty but possible) that a majority of Iranians prefer xenophobia and antisemitism and murderousness and evil.
  3. From a broader point of view, this focus on the election and its results seems misguided. The problem with Iran is not, and has never been, that she is not a democracy. My problem with Iran is that, in her overall (lowercase-c) constitution, as a nation-state, she is ideologically committed to (a) spreading radical Islam as governance, (b) attacking Israel, (c) violating basic human rights, and (d) attacking the United States, and anyone else who stands in the way of (a) and (b). The way people approach/analyze this situation too often veers on suggesting that if only Iran were or could be certified to be really, truly a democracy, then everything would be ok, and we could stop worrying about her. I disagree. I might and probably would still find her worrisome, on the basis of the ideology and culture of the people who rule Iran – whether they get there democratically or not. In general it’s irritating to me when people in the West attempt to use “democracy” as shorthand for “we don’t have the right to worry about or prevent them from doing anything”. That is misguided. For example, Iran wants nukes, and if they are or become “a democracy”, at that point neither we nor anyone else will have any right to stop them. Right? B.S. Lack of democracy is not the only problem; being a democracy is not an automatic blank check giving license to evil ideologies and policies.
  4. In particular, let’s say that the “optimists” get their way, the protesters prevail, and whats-his-name therefore gets certified the victor and becomes “President” of Iran. Ok, now what? What then? Will Iran stop supporting Islamist terrorism? Will Iran accept the existence of Israel? Will Iran remove the fundamentalist-Islamic laws and rules that violate the rights of her citizens? Will she abandon nuclear weapons? Does anyone really think any of those things would happen? Even if we assume that the other guy wanted any of these things (on what basis? because he’s not Ahmadinejad?), a lot of this depends on where the real, true power in Iran actually lies. Surely much of it lies with the military, and also much of it resides with whatever religious-enforcer police they have. Will those people, those ideologues, and/or those entrenched power structures suddenly have a change of heart if the “real winner” of the election (assuming that’s what The Other Guy is) gets into the Presidency? Presumably not. There is too much at stake. Too much history, and lifetimes of devotion to ideology, and people who have risen to powerful positions in the current structure. Those people aren’t going away, and don’t want to go away. They won’t and don’t want to give up their positions and money and houses and power. Let’s imagine that The Other Guy is a true reformer, then – in fact, let’s imagine he’s pro-Western. (Why not? It’s easy when you don’t know anything about him, as I don’t, and as most Westerners don’t.) Even if that were the case, him getting into the office of “Presidency” wouldn’t accomplish any of the above goals that (true) Western liberals would hope for. It would only be the beginning. The true revolution would remain in front of him, and it would be bloody and chaotic. There would be no certain outcome, and there would be no guarantee that the result wouldn’t be worse than what current exists in Iran. So, getting the “real winner” into the office of Presidency – even if that’s what these protests accomplish – wouldn’t be the first step toward reform. It would barely be the zeroth step.

I realize I’m sounding like a reactionary and that I’m trying to throw cold water on a lot of excitement at the moment. Maybe I’ve changed and become more cynical over the past five years or so. The current U.S. administration also certainly doesn’t provide one with many reasons for idealism or optimism that freedom and liberalism (as opposed to statism and socialism) will spread. But overall I do want to discourage a myopic focus on “democracy” at the expense of other things which, in my view, are more important. Like human rights, and anti-terrorism, and a basic respect for other nations. Iran lacks all three at the moment. Nor is there any sign that this will change, whoever becomes her “President”. My fear is that with all this focus on “democracy” and having the “real winner” seated in some (Western-emulated) office in Iran, even if we get what we’re all saying we want, we then risk putting the “democratic” stamp of approval on an Iranian power structure and ideology of revolutionary terror and theocratic fascism. This will make us paralyzed and anesthetized to it, powerless to stop it, even convinced we don’t “have the right” to stop it.

Even more so than we already are, I mean.

In my more cynical moments, I wonder whether this could be in fact what Iran’s powers-that-be are seeking.

So let me reiterate: the problem with Iran is not merely that she’s not “democratic”, and “democracy” alone is not the solution to Iran. It runs deeper than that. Democracy, by itself, will not soothe or appease me.

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Again)
June 21, 2009, 12:51 pm
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Joy Division, in throat-singing.

Consoler Of The Lonely
June 21, 2009, 4:50 am
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By The Raconteurs.

Comedy Takes Time
June 16, 2009, 11:38 am
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The Letterman/Palin controversy is not so much offensive as pathetic. Surely the critics have made too much of Letterman’s joke, and now that Letterman has apologized, the whole thing should be dropped, but it’s worth reflecting on the real reason Letterman made the joke he did: laziness and lack of creativity.

Late-night comedy shows like his have to supply a night batch of “jokes”. These “jokes” have to be topical. Well, they don’t have to be topical and mention current events so much as the joke-writers need current events in order to have new stuff to write jokes about, easy/lazy/cheap hooks to hang their jokes on. One imagines them sitting around their office frantically channel-surfing during the day to find some handy news item to reference, that will give their jokes currency and topicality – suppose a politician sex scandal arises, you can almost hear comedy writers cheering and yelling “jackpot!”

This explains why late night comedy talk shows, and to some extent SNL, seem so repetitive and unoriginal. Virtually all their “jokes” are of the same nature; it’s as if they have a small set of, say, 5-7 Joke Templates, and they update names from time to time (starting in 2000, “Bush” replaced “Quayle” in all the Stupid Jokes, etc.) to stay current. The details of the joke change but each joke can be boiled down to some purified Joke Essence, with this or that name from current events plugged in: [Bush] Is Stupid, [Palin] Is White Trash, [Cheney] Is A Bloodthirsty Monster, [Britney] Is A Druggy Slut, etc. etc. etc. In some case, late-night-comedy writing is just the art of disguising one of these Joke Essences in a clever manner, cloaking them in sarcasm and current-event references and inverted structures so as to hide how wholly unoriginal they are. Maybe this is why all the comedy writers need to have, like, Harvard degrees.

I literally haven’t watched more than five seconds of Letterman in perhaps eight years, but I really don’t get the impression I’m missing anything. It’s the same jokes, same pose, same attitude over and over again, two hundred times a year. I could tune in tonight and feel as if nothing has changed in 20 years other than the particular celebrity/politician names he plugs into the “Stupid” jokes, the “White Trash” jokes, the “Slutty” jokes. At least with a soap opera, if I haven’t tuned in in years, it would take some catching-up before I’d be able to follow along with the storyline again. I can’t know what Alexandra Spaulding’s been up to on Guiding Light, or what Erica Kane’s been doing on All My Children, without taking some time to catch up on the storyline.

With Letterman, and Conan, and Jon Stewart, there is no storyline.

The problem seems to be that – apparently – writing good jokes is really really hard. It seems not to be something that can be done well on a daily, repeated basis. Even a weekly schedule seems to be quite demanding and draining, judging from the burnout rate and high drug usage on the set of SNL. If you’ve ever watched the documentary Jerry Seinfeld Comedian, you know that even a great comedian like Jerry Seinfeld agonizes over his jokes and routine, and practices, and discards jokes that don’t work. There’s no time for any of that if you’re David Letterman. There’s no time for him to even write his own jokes, actually; he has cynical, snide, metrosexual twentysomething guys to do that for him. Which is why I didn’t get mad at Letterman over this Palin controversy in the first place, when it came out; I knew he probably hadn’t even written the joke himself & barely had time to look the material over. It was some kid who wrote it – plugged the name “Palin” into the “White Trash Joke” Microsoft Word Template.

Unfortunately for Letterman and his ilk, this is also why I don’t watch them in the first place. Good comedy takes time and they don’t have it, by definition.

Weird Thoughts
June 16, 2009, 2:27 am
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If humanity were to die out tomorrow, leaving only our internet blog archives for some future alien race to discover, and they translated our language and read through our archives, they would probably conclude that someone called “Sarah Palin” was humanity’s greatest monster. Or let’s say they couldn’t fully translate our languages, but were able to run our net archives through some sort of automated statistical translation algorithm; based on context and correlation matrices, they would find a 99% probability that the phrase “Sarah Palin” was our word for “evil incarnate”.

I keep coming back in my mind to the case of the $500k/yr Wall Street professional who thinks, or speaks as if he thinks, that nationalized health care will somehow save him money. I wonder if this affliction is, perhaps, biological. I need to get my hands on one of those little doctor’s mallets; my plan is to go around and tap lefties on the knee with it. If – as I suspect will happen – a sizable fraction of them yell out “nationalize health care!” in response, I’ll be pretty sure I’m onto something.

The noteworthy thing is not that Iran’s election was a fraud. The noteworthy thing is that Iran feels the need to pretend to have elections for some reason. Why bother? I’m beginning to wonder why we even bother.

It took me a long time but I finally figured out how to characterize the difference between a CDO and a pyramid scheme. In a pyramid scheme, you buy yourself into a slot on the pyramid, hoping that there will be enough buyers later, down in the layer(s) below you on the pyramid, to give you the cashflow and return that the pyramid promises. When new buyers trickle to a stop, it blows up. In a CDO, everyone pretends that the bottom row of ‘buyers’ is already there and paying, thus the buyers of the slots up above book their (projected) cashflows in advance. That way it doesn’t have to blow up until it’s no longer possible to pretend the bottom layers are there. Brilliant innovation, actually.

It took having kids to remind me how fascinating the Star Wars movies were to kids. Easy to forget (I did!) how hilarious “Laugh it up, fuzzball” and “Get this walking carpet out of my way” were, to a 5 year old. I think that’s what the prequels were missing. It’s not that they weren’t good movies for adults per se (they weren’t, but neither were the first three, really), it’s that they didn’t even have the child-appeal of the first ones. At least I think they didn’t (mine haven’t gotten that far yet).

Different Strokes
June 15, 2009, 11:22 am
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And thus it occurred to me that Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution, is quite different from me:

I occasionally wonder that if I had a) a new identity, b) enough money to live on, and c) a willingness to live abroad and no family for them to threaten, how long would it take a team of ten professional hit men to find me.

I can honestly say that I’ve never wondered that.

Stupid Stuff People Believe
June 14, 2009, 2:05 am
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Leave it to Steve Sailer to ask a very reasonable question: Is Osama even alive?

I get quizzical looks whenever I reveal my belief on the subject (that the most reasonable inference is that he’s been dead for a while). For some reason people tend to think we are to assume that he’s alive until proven otherwise. According to this policy, Jimmy Hoffa is still alive. According to this policy, we’ll probably have to still all walk around believing Osama bin Laden is alive 1000 years from now.

But that’s silly. And it’s silly to “assume” that all faraway, incommunicado, strange people are still alive until proven otherwise. Because after all, people can die without leaving worldwide media-promulgated “proof” of their death. It is physically possible. It’s not as if there’s a giant switchboard in some central underground locationi showing the names of all living humans and whenever a human dies, the name magically flickers out. There’s no Central Clearinghouse Of Alive People to check periodically as regards to whether Osama bin Laden has died yet.

He could’ve just died without being polite enough to tell us. This has never occurred to you, has it?

So why does everyone assume he’s still alive and that it’s crazy to think he’s dead (as I do)?

I know, I know, from time to time Osama “releases a tape”. This supposedly proves he’s alive. Just like when Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. release recordings.

Oh, but unlike those posthumous releases, Osama mentions current events, that’s how we know, you say. Of course, there’s no possibility that the voice on these “tapes” could be anyone other than Osama bin Laden. After all, whoever produces and sends these tapes to media outlets always SAYS that they are tapes of Osama bin Laden. They probably even write “voice of: Osama bin Laden” in big black letters with a magic marker on the padded envelope. And then, sure enough, the voice on the tape goes, like, “Hi. This is Osama bin Laden. Didya ever notice…” (or whatever he says on those things, I never pay attention). So that’s good enough for me and should be good enough for everyone. Alive.

What’s that? Oh right. “Voiceprint analysis technology”. Or something. The CIA, or maybe the NSA, or CTU, or someone, has super-secret 100% accurate algorithms that can analyze fuzzy recordings and detect a MATCH of someone’s voice print. That’s a known fact. I think I saw it in a Jodie Foster movie or something. It’s probably like a big machine that looks like a heart monitor and you feed it a tape and if it’s the guy then MATCH shows up in big letters on the screen, but if it’s not the guy then it says NO MATCH, and that’s really all there is to it.

So basically what it boils down to is: y’all believe Osama bin Laden is alive, because you assume there’s such a thing as “voiceprint analysis” technology that is 100% accurate, as accurate as DNA analysis (which itself is not 100%, but I digress). It literally has never occurred to you that there might not actually be such technology, or that whatever voiceprint technology exists, might not actually be as accurate as all that.

Am I right? C’mon, admit it, I’m right, aren’t I?

What Investment Banking Is Like
June 13, 2009, 1:32 pm
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For someone who is a high-ranking investment bank employee such as myself, you can well understand my interest in seeing the thriller The International, starring Clive Owen and what’s-her-name-pasty-face who is Nicole Kidman’s girlfriend (looked it up: Naomi Watts).

Now, audience members may wonder how much of the film is realistic and how much isn’t.

After all, at first blush the plot may seem somewhat outlandish (spoilers): a Luxembourg-based, fictionalized version of the bank “BCCI” wants to corner, as a broker, the small-arms market out of China. To position themselves, perhaps to show China their capabilities at facilitating deals etc., they decide they need to make a mass upfront purchase of missiles from China first. They have forward-buyers of these missiles in the form of Iran and Syria, but only contingent on their being equipped with a special guidance system that (Iran and Syria believe) Israel can’t defeat. So they desperately need to procure the guidance system to deliver on the forward purchase, at the risk of the deal falling through and their bank going under. But there are only two companies who produce it. One of them is an Italian defense company, but that buyer (whose CEO is a prominent, Berlusconi-like Italian politician) pulls out after he suspects BCCI of duplicity. So BCCI assassinates the politician and tries to deal with his sons instead. But they pull out too when they get wind. BCCI realizes they need to deal with the other supplier, a Turkish company whose main customer is Israel – indeed, Israel has bought countermeasures to the guidance system from them. They are willing to deal, but it all must be kept hush-hush lest Israel hear the Turk is double-dealing & stop all business with him, and lest Iran/Syria hear about the countermeasures & that they are purchasing a neuteured guidance system & decide to pull out. Two of the bankers die in some hi-jinx, but the deal apparently goes through and the bank’s efforts succeed.

(There’s also some stuff involving the characters played by Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, but I wanted to focus on the banking stuff here.)

Now, you, the viewer, seeing all that, might feel a little skeptical. “Is that really what banking is like?”, you think to yourself. “Guys sitting calmly around sleek ultramodern-architected offices, calmly plotting assassinations and wars?”

I can only speak for myself but: yeah, pretty much. They got all that spot-on. Uncanny.

June 12, 2009, 11:58 pm
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By now everybody has made note of the Obama Administration’s spin that their policies have, or are going to, “save or create” such-and-such number of jobs. People criticize this because, they say, by adding “save” into the mix, Obama is able to inflate his numbers arbitrarily, well above what they could ever rightfully claim to have created. After all, there’s no way to check how many jobs get “saved”, right? So (the criticism concludes) an honest administration would only speak of jobs created, not “saved or created”.

This criticism is wrong, and here’s why: government doesn’t even “create” jobs, let alone “save or create” them. The widespread, long-held idea that it makes sense to speak about how many jobs this or that government policy “creates” never made a lick of sense in the first place. Sure, “save or create” is wrong too. But let’s not give “create” a pass here.

Late Nite Rants
June 11, 2009, 6:11 am
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When you can’t sleep, rant…

  1. To be clear about something, re: this graph: the problem is not that the Obama administration predicted future unemployment wrongly. If they had predicted it correctly, it would have been shocking. But I don’t expect, or even want really, the government to predict how many “Jobs” will exist over some future time period. Actually I wish they wouldn’t even try, because it perpetuates the myth that we should ever look to the government as an authority on that sort of thing. My problem is not that I wanted their bogus-ass Jobs Prediction Chart that they pulled out of their butts to be “accurate”. (Any “accuracy” it would have had would have been misleadingly accidental anyway, like a stopped clock.) My problem is when policymakers use charts and numbers that they pull out of their butts as arguments for some policy (i.e., phony-baloney pseudo-evidence they cook up for some policy that they want to do anyway, for ideological reasons, regardless of evidence). The take-away lesson is not that policymakers in government need to do a better job of being “accurate” in their bogus-ass prediction charts (which would be impossible, frankly). The take-away lesson is that no one should place any stock in predictions that come from the government.
  2. Being on Netflix leads to strange coincidences in the movies I watch. For example I watched Waitress (which had Keri Russell), and I watched Match Point (which had Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), which must have caused Netflix to calculate that I’d like August Rush (which had both), because I ended up adding that to my queue as well. This phenomenon is always kind of creepy (“did I suddenly, subconsciously become a huge Keri Russell fan?”, I think..) until I realize that’s what’s going on.
  3. Speaking of Woody Allen’s (?) Match Point (which was great), I somehow got suggested to go back and re-watch Manhattan. (See? Another connection.) Which I did. That’s when I realized why I never became a Woody Allen fan. Don’t get me wrong, pleasant enough to watch, interesting/diverting, but I always feel like I’m missing something in a Woody Allen movie. Just not that funny, for one thing. Oh, one chuckles under one’s breath from time to time. Or at least forms a half-grin in a grudging recognition of moments/one-liners intended as humor. But I remain convinced that people who claim to find Woody Allen hilarious are lying. Seems to me a single Seinfeld episode has more laughs than Allen’s entire filmography. The other thing though is that I found it depressing. Manhattan, it seems, does have a serious undercurrent theme that has to do with integrity, which the characters lack (and are mostly in denial about), which is where the humor would come from (if it were truly humorous). There’s an effective scene where Woody gets at some truths, wondering how future generations would judge them. But that scene has probably lost its power, because at the time I imagine the characters were more extreme outliers than they would be today – I think people have become more, not less, like them, and now would have no negative judgment of them at all. Which is what is depressing.
  4. Have you noticed that people are still talking about Sarah Palin? What the heck is wrong with people? For crying out loud, I’m tempted to become a diehard Palin Voter For Life merely out of spite. And I can’t be the only one. It’s as if the Palin-deranged crowd are trying to increase her popularity in the most efficient way they can think of. I can’t help but look at some of the Palin-haters and think that anyone they hate this much must be doing something right.
  5. So my boss name-drops that his kid is in the same chi-chi preschool with the kid of a well-thought-of movie actress and her even more well-thought-of movie director husband. I’d probably be more fascinated by all that if he paid me enough this year that my income, less taxes, over the year exceeded my cost of living over the year while he’s sending his kid to chi-chi preschool with moviestars.
  6. The notion of President Obama’s “brilliance” has been on my mind recently. Why/how did people become convinced of this? In what way has Barack Obama ever demonstrated this supposed “brilliance”? As far as I can tell, it boils down to: he’s a black man who looks good in a suit, and when he talks he doesn’t sound like a blithering idiot or an uncouth lowlife. “Why, a black man who can wear a suit, and speak proper English? He must be a genius!”, all the progressives exclaim in unison, like some 18th century British slave-trader aristocrat amazed to learn that an African who he thought could only sing and clap can be taught his letters and recite the alphabet as well. Well? Is there any more to it than that? Because if there is, I’m not seeing it.

June 9, 2009, 2:33 am
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Now, in convenient ordinal-list format for your reading pleasure. Beta!

  1. Tyler Cowen excerpts someone blabbing about the “Islamic roots” of Star Wars. I commented there, as I recall. Personally I found National Review’s John Simon far more convincing when he identified the sex-and-drugs roots of Star Wars (cannabis -> Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn = ‘quick on gin’, Leia = a good ‘lay’, etc.).
  2. Further to my rant about whole milk below, Megan McArdle on “evidence-based medicine”. From my experience around doctors, it became clear to me that the main appeal of “evidence-based medicine” – like that of “campaign-finance reform” – is that the phrase sounds good. (Indeed, who could be against it?) But no doctors really seemed to know what it meant, not really; and that seems to make it all the more unassailable.
  3. Jayson Stark says it’s time to fix the baseball draft because the likely #1 pick, Stephen Strasburg, got a $50 million dollar signing bonus, which is obviously wrong because other baseball players would be jealous and not like it. Well actually, Strasburg hasn’t actually gotten the $50 million bonus yet, but he’s going to, when the draft occurs. Okay, the $50 million is just a ballpark figure, but it’s accurate, based on the predictions of objective third-party observers. Well, scratch that part about ‘objective’ (and ‘third-party’); $50 million is just a number that Scott Boras has bandied about, apparently. Who is Scott Boras? Why, he’s Stephen Strasburg’s agent. For crying out loud. So what’s the argument for “fixing” the baseball draft exactly? Why oh why can’t we have better sports columnists? I should write a freaking sports column.
  4. More health news: turns out lard is good for you. I knew it! See my point about health news and everything we’ve known since the ’90s being wrong?? Which reminds me, I’d like to testify in front of the California Senate and suggest mandating lard for day-care children, just for kicks. HT Arts & Letters Daily
  5. Made the rounds already but what the heck: woman tried to sue Cap’n Crunch With Crunchberries cereal for misleading labeling, since it didn’t really contain berries called ‘crunchberries’. Surprisingly, the judge threw it out.
  6. Thought-provoking post from Cobb on how culture and preferences influence the economy. As always with Cobb, you really need to read the whole thing.
  7. Curi (agreeing with me, evidently) on hypocrisy:

    All good men must be either frequent hypocrits, or frequently silent.

    I couldn’t have said it better (and didn’t).

Stupid Health Ideas
June 9, 2009, 12:29 am
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I’m used to creepy and I’m used to idiotic but lately people just seem to be both. Via Jacob Grier, California apparently intends to regulate what food must be served in day care centers. Among the items are a prohibition on whole milk for children over 2:

(a) Only 2 percent milk shall be served to children over two years of age.

The premise on which this provision is based, I assume, is that whole milk is bad for humans over the age of 2, and that 2 percent milk is better for humans over the age of 2.

This premise is idiotic. Where did the geniuses in government get this idea? From Oprah? (For some reason I blame Oprah for many of the bad health ideas that have been promulgated since the ’90s. ‘Fat is bad for you’ being one of them.)

Anyway, conservatives are pretty good about explaining (to that fraction of people who are inclined to listen to them) that big government has unintended consequences and unseen effects. What goes underemphasized, it seems to me, is how often big government involves stupid, ignorant people making decisions for the rest of us based on idiotic theories and bad information. Whether it’s using “Keynesian” economics to promote so-called “stimulus”, inventing cap-and-trade schemes to (supposedly) stop global warming, or just these smaller health matters like forbidding whole milk in day-cares, or declaring war on salt (as Mayor Bloomberg of New York has idiotically done – ‘salt is uniformly bad for you’ being another idiotic, incorrect health premise beloved by the cognoscenti) – the fact is that when you give sociopathic busybodies government power, they’re not shy about using it even on matters where they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. After all, that’s the kind of people they are (sociopathic busybodies being disproportionately attracted to government power).

This is a good reason in and of itself to restrict and circumscribe government power. You can’t hope to eliminate idiots (let alone sociopaths) from government. But you can hope to draw boundaries about what areas of life they can affect with their idiocy. Lately though it seems that all I have is hope. Hope, and ridicule.

UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more irritated I get. According to these geniuses, the reason children are obese has something to do with drinking whole milk (not with eating candy, and processed food, and fast food, and being sedentary). Nope. It’s the whole milk. 2% will accomplish something. For crying out loud. Idiots.

Beta To The Max
June 8, 2009, 11:01 am
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WordPress has a ‘tag surfer’ feature which allows you to subscribe to a list of ‘tags’, and then see blog posts that have shown up on WordPress blogs with those tags. I use it sometimes. That’s all well and good, but what I want to write about here is this blurb of text that always appears at the top:

This is a collection of posts around from people talking about the same stuff that you do. Beta! You can add tags you want to follow on the left-hand side, and also remove tags that you aren’t that interested in. For more information, check out this post.

Emphasis mine. See, I always wonder: Why is the word “beta” there? And why does it have a fricking exclamation point after it?

What person, from any walk of life, reads that blurb and thinks “Oh, it’s beta? Okay then, I shall think about this feature differently than if I didn’t know it was beta. I’m sure glad WordPress pointed out to me that it’s beta. That’s really good to know. Just think if I hadn’t known it was beta!”

Part of me thinks that WordPress just put the word in there as computerey-jargon to make WordPress seem more computerey. I mean, it’s almost as if the author of this blurb didn’t even really know what “beta” meant, but was ordered to include a blurb about it being “beta”, and figured it was just some nice, cool, hip feature they had to advertise. So they put the exclamation point after it the same way one would put one after, oh, “Extra Strength!”, “Fast Acting!” or “with T25!”. The message seems to be: “Hey kids, it’s beta! Get excited about it because it’s beta! You like beta, don’t you?”

It’s also just so abrupt. Look at how poorly the whole thing flows: Sentence. Beta! Sentence. It’s almost as if the writer has Tourette’s and interjects random “Beta!”‘s into everything.

And by the way, when is it ever not going to be “beta”? I’ve been on WordPress over a year now and this message has been there the whole time. Of course, Google’s Gmail is still called “beta” after like 4-5 years, so I guess this is nothing.

I’m tempted to conclude that “beta” – which always was silly, irritating, insider jargon to begin with – has now officially lost whatever meaning and purpose it may once have had. It doesn’t even really seem to mean anything anymore.

Not that I miss it. I’m just wondering why these companies still use it. Is “beta” trying to make the transition from “test-release version of software” to, more generically, “something new and cool”? Are schoolkids going to be saying “dude, that was totally beta!” to each other 20 years from now? Sure hope not. I was just starting to get used to saying “awesome”…

Politics As Self-Delusion

The Ezra Klein article I cited below raises a larger issue, which is the curious phenomenon of the gulf between what people say they want and what they actually advocate.

In health care the way this plays out is upper-middle class lefties, who are upset that their health plan costs so much (and, in many cases, that they can’t visit their doctor with unbounded frequency for every ache and pain without thinking about money), thus run around saying “health care needs to be reformed!”, totally oblivious to the fact that any such “reform” would work by taking more money out of their pocket one way or another. In the extreme version, of course, this can turn into the tragic (and incurable, I suspect) case of the $500k/year New York finance Obama-socialist who thinks his health care costs are too high and that makes a good case for reform.

But actually there are many examples of this divorce between stated goals and political reality. Let’s take all the folks who supported the big McCain-invented issue of “campaign finance reform” 5-15 years ago, for example. Most of those people, when hearing and using that phrase, probably didn’t really know any details of what McCain was always yammering on about and just had some vague notion that it would involve ‘getting the money out of politics’. Well whoop dee doo, “campaign finance reform” passed, and Bush (mistakenly) signed it. So we got what we are all supposedly asking for – ‘to get the money out of politics’. And then Barack Obama 2008 proceeded to spend a record number of hundreds of millions of dollars to buy win the Presidency. I know, I know, this is because he didn’t accept public funds – but wait a minute. Wasn’t “campaign finance reform” supposed to get the money out of politics full stop? Wasn’t it foreseeable that a charismatic like Obama could decline public funds and then spend a record amount? Yes and yes. Shouldn’t this undermine somewhat the arguments people were using to garner support for “campaign finance reform”? Yes. So will all the former “campaign finance reform” enthusiasts look at this reality and have second thoughts about what they supported? I’m not holding my breath.

The larger issue here is that it’s quite often fruitless to take peoples’ stated political views seriously, to analyze their likely effects and outcomes, to discuss them. People don’t adopt their political views for such tangible, objective reasons as that. Often, people adopt political views for how it makes them feel, or for how “cool” it makes them in front of others, or perhaps simply for the age-old healing power of self-delusion.

That’s why we elected Obama, after all. Electing Obama has led to “change”: it ended the Iraq war, it closed up Guantanamo, it stopped torture, it Made Us Safer, it made The World(tm) like us. Well okay, it didn’t actually do any of those things, not in reality. But it has allowed the majority of the country to delude themselves into thinking those things have happened – and that’s the important thing, apparently.


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