Archive for July, 2008

"Going Negative"

July 31, 2008 - 7:13 pm Comments Off

Negative campaigning has a bad name. Every time a campaign releases an attack ad against its opponent or opponents, there’s usually a quick kerfuffle in the media about how it “went negative” and some high-minded chiding from the other side about how pathetic it was that the campaign had to stoop to that instead of making their own guy look good and selling himself on his merits.

Although it’s popular (and people seem to forget every other election they’ve ever been through every four to two years) to claim that negative campaigning is a modern product of television and sound-byte attention spans- we Americans are having to put up with this bullshit during our dinner hours because we’ve gotten so stupid and partisan we don’t deserve any better- cooler heads have pointed out that this tradition is as old as the country itself is. Political campaigns have always tried to make their guy look good by making the other guy look bad.

So, it’s not a new thing. That doesn’t invalidate the point of those lamenting that campaigns “have to stoop to such tactics”, but maybe a better question than “is it new?” is “is this something that works for a better reason than simply appealing to the basest fears and animosities of the voters?”

That would depend on what you mean by “a better reason”. The fact of the matter is that it DOES work and work extremely well, which is why campaigns keep doing it. Does it appeal to the worst in a voter? Maybe. That depends on what you think is “the worst”. Merely because a voter has fears does not mean that those fears aren’t completely legitimate ones, whether they’re fears that a candidate will raise your taxes, continue the policies of a corrupt and detested administration, use nukes, or govern as though they were National Pastor. Voters have every reason and right to take character, problematic public statements, frequent policy reversals, and other things into consideration- and campaigns have every right and reason to highlight their opponent’s weaknesses on these issues, since his own campaign will be trying to gloss those over just as hard as they’re trying to make the other guy look bad themselves. Does that extend to stretching, spinning, or outright torpedoing the truth? It shouldn’t, but it does… because it often works. That is the dirty side of negative campaigning, not the practice itself.

As for sticking to “the positive”, this isn’t as sound a tactic for a campaign as it first seems. The argument goes that if your guy is actually any good, he should be able to sell himself just fine this way- the problem is that, once in office, very few campaign promises are actually fulfilled. There is a good reason for this beyond “politicians are lying bastards”, of course; actual American government is run by thousands of people, not just one guy, and even if a candidate works himself to the bone trying to fulfill each promise, the odds are good that he won’t accomplish what he wanted to because others in government exercised their own power to stop him. This applies just as much to the executive branch, which depends primarily on Congress to actually draft and execute policy; even on areas that are exclusively the executive domain, such as foreign policy, the president can’t do much if Congress decides not to fund any of it. The voters, meanwhile, unless they’ve fallen in love with the candidate- which only happens to a minority of partisans- are extremely aware of this. Policy and promises are nebulous uncertainties- but character and track record are much more concrete right now.

Thus, the candidate must kiss babies, give handshakes, and flog himself trying to prove to three hundred million people, all of whom are of highly diverse background and beliefs, that he’s such a swell guy that he’s got all that character. The problem is that, thanks to that diversity, the same things that make one group’s heart swell with their candidate’s fabulous character make another’s shrivel with his obvious deficiencies. Is a candidate well-educated and well-spoken? He’s out of touch with the common man. Is he a man of strong faith and unwavering moral compass? He’s a religious demagogue with more devotion to a collection of antique shepherd’s tales than to common sense or the realities of a pluralistic society. Military veteran? General Ripper. Not a veteran? Pantywaist completely out of touch with the military he proposes to lead. Successful businessman? In the pocket of corporations. Lifelong politician? Scumbag Washington insider. First-time politician? Inexperienced naif. Trying to show his best side to as many groups as he can? Unreliable weathervane and an empty suit. Never compromises no matter what his audience? Tone-deaf boor who will be unable to work with other politicians or foreign powers. Almost any trait that’s a plus to one group is a minus to another- or at least, it can be spun that way.

Perhaps the best argument for negative campaigning actually lies in the mysterious and fickle group that everyone is courting the hardest in any election: the undecided middle. Most true “swing” voters aren’t swing voters because they’re ignorant of both candidates (they’d have to have made a deliberate effort to avoid coverage- unlikely to vote), and they’re not that way because they LIKE both candidates; there’s usually enough strong differences in background and policy between any two given candidates that it’s trivial for someone to decide who they like. No, the undecided middle is mostly the people who are trying to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. In February, all three likely candidates had more people who were willing to vote against them than for them- in Hillary Clinton’s case, a much larger clear majority were more willing to vote against her than FOR anybody else!

The truly undecided are usually trying to decide just which son of a bitch they hate just that much more. And they are far more likely to react to negative campaigning than they are to react to attempts to polish the turd or make the douche smell a little sweeter- which is why it is with us, and why, if this election is not an anomaly, it probably always has been and always will be.

Unfettered Enthusiasm

July 31, 2008 - 4:15 pm Comments Off

I’m not sure if this means that Breda has gotten carried away with spreading the joys of shooting, or if she’s just doin’ it that well.
firing-squad

(Stolen shamelessly from Unshelved.)

Confused about your wedding tackle?

July 30, 2008 - 3:23 pm Comments Off

Now you can use your browser history to confirm! Found at the recently redesigned Maximum PC website, Mike Nolet, CTO and co-founder of AppNexus whipped up some javascript that’ll eyeball your browser history and wash it through some fairly simple math and take a stab at whether you’ve got a + or – in the pants region. The test lives here and is pretty dang accurate. LabRat reports that just about every other “I will guess your gender!” gizmo on the web reports her as either half-n-half or more likely to be male, and it gave her a 92% chance of being female. Given my 96% chance of being male, I suppose that means I’m more than man enough for her. I’ll even cowboy up and post my exact results:

Likelihood of you being FEMALE is 4%
Likelihood of you being MALE is 96%

Site Male-Female Ratio
google.com 0.98
amazon.com 0.9
cnn.com 1.35
imdb.com 1.06
weather.com 1.08
hp.com 1.11
sears.com 0.98
gamefaqs.com 1.11
cabelas.com 1.25
newegg.com 2.23
icanhascheezburger.com 1.04
zonealarm.com 1.33
escapistmagazine.com 2.08
midwayusa.com 2.03

What, no girls go shopping for gun parts and computer hardware in the same day? The test is a *little* off since there are a good number of sites in my browser history that just don’t seem to have a ratio (none of my daily blog reads are listed, for instance), and it does take a while to run, but it’s still pretty nifty. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have to find a site or two to buff up that last 4% chick I’ve got in my score. Jegs and Cigars International ought to do the trick.

I have figured out postmodernism.

July 30, 2008 - 12:03 pm Comments Off

Yes, really. I feel this is a large accomplishment for me, because normally postmodernists make cranial fluid start spewing out my ears in about twenty seconds, which only makes the postmodernists feel superior. I know my brain shuts down because it can’t deal with more than a certain amount of nonsense before all the safety warnings go off and everything crashes to preserve my ability to continue making sense of the world, but they seem to take such reactions as evidence that they have hit upon something so brilliant it literally neutralizes the less enlightened.

That irritates me.

In any case, yesterday I came across a professor who is suing her students for discrimination because… well, it’s kind of hard to tell (and let me tell you, the cranial fluid pressure started spiking even before I realized she was a postmodernist), but the best as I can tell, it’s because she got a lot of very negative evaluations and was aggravated by their failure to soak up her worldview like eager little sponges. Then I made the mistake of clicking on the link to her article about how social constructivism or postmodern literary theory or something (she didn’t decide by the end of the article) is the best way to study biology, and had to spend some time in the fetal position. I recommend you only expose yourself to it via the filter of this post on postmodernism in general, Obama, and the good professor.

Initially, I set the whole thing aside because I couldn’t make heads or tails enough of the professor’s prose to realize that her point was that scientists should change the way they study, work, and discuss their work to suit political goals until the above blogger clarified that that was exactly what she meant. The thought process- not to mention the language- was simply too alien.

Then, it struck me, the secret decoder ring: postmodernists are people who seriously believe in the Theory of Narrative Causality, to the point of constructing an entire academic discipline around it. The Theory, for those of you who don’t want to interrupt to check the link and aren’t Terry Pratchett fans, is the idea that reality is essentially determined by what would be most appropriate to the “story” of a given scenario. In Pratchett’s books, it’s literally the driving law of that universe- plucky heroes will always succeed against overwhelming odds, something will ALWAYS happen on a dark and stormy night, old women who live alone are inevitably powerful witches, and so forth. Obviously, postmodernists do not put it in these terms- they have, essentially, invented a language to go along with the central idea that reality is fixed by how you talk and think about it- but at bottom, this is what’s going on. Simply replace literary tropes with ideas that have been deemed politically pleasing, and you have the central idea and goals of postmodernism.

This is not even a new idea. The device works as well as it does for fantasy authors like Pratchett because this is how humans are intuitively inclined to think about the world; some psychologists even suggest that we can’t think in an organized fashion at all until we develop language. Even education itself is essentially a process of storytelling, at least until the object of the education has become advanced enough to see beyond the borders of the story and intuit according to where the facts point rather than what makes intuitive sense. Theories themselves are stories that are built around large bodies of facts and made to conform to them as rigidly as possible: they are accurate narratives that allow us to mentally map and relate facts to come to accurate new conclusions and discover new facts.

The rigid empiricism that drives science and engineering is actually a fairly recent invention in human thought, and it didn’t appear out of the blue; it was slowly developed as science emerged as an endeavor with recognizable commonalities between disciplines and methods that produced excellent results across them, which is why we have apparent historical paradoxes like Isaac Newton’s obsession with alchemy. In Newton’s time, the “scientific method” was a concept that had yet to be invented. Steven Den Beste wrote one of his more widely-linked and controversial posts about conflicts in philosophical traditions, one of which was empiricism, and another of which was what he called “philosophical idealism”, the much older one- the teleological idea that the universe has a harmonious and aesthetic design that was possible to intuit. This is an obvious line of thought both for human intuition, and for the worldview that the universe was in fact brought into being by a creator God- and the natural conclusion is that we should be able to discover new things simply because they make aesthetic sense in context with other known facts and follow intuitive lines of thinking because that’s how the universe works- as it *should*.

In theory, children learn that the universe doesn’t work according to the way they think about it when they discover that golf balls don’t really have explosives in the middle, jumping off the highest point of the swing’s arc hurts like hell when you land, and there are never, ever, any monsters hiding in your closet or under the bed. 99% of people learn that regardless of WHAT you think and how sincerely you believe, you will ALWAYS hit the ground at terminal velocity when you step off the edge of the Grand Canyon, but this way of thinking is so natural to the mind that it’s extremely difficult to fully discard. It’s probably no coincidence that mechanical and electrical engineers are among the least politically correct professions; when whatever you’re working on instantly fails when you act according to your preferred intuition rather than according to EXACTLY what the math and the data say, it’s a rapid and effective way of training yourself out of thinking this way.

It is no accident that postmodernism originated in literary criticism and does not seem to exist outside the realm of academia. In literature- and in papers, as long as you keep within the circle of people who share your literature-born assumptions- reality is indeed exactly what you, the author, deem it to be. (Having your own language helps, because then you have much tighter control over exactly what you say and how many other people can use your words in unconsidered new ways.) How strange science looks to them- an entire group of apparently rational people behaving as though their words have no impact on reality! No wonder science can produce such horrifying conclusions, and their problem is right here… they’re not thinking about the impact they’re going to have on reality when they say things like “men and women have different IQ curves”. They need to change that, posthaste.

As usual, XKCD gets it right:

One Year Older and a Little Bit Wiser

July 29, 2008 - 1:45 pm Comments Off

So, today is the first anniversary of our blogging experiment. Rather than put on a party hat and run around the room yelling “WHEE BLOGGED FOR A WHOLE YEAR GO US”, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.

1. I know about as much about my own writing process as I know about the daily chemical reactions of my liver. Before I actually started, I was pretty sure I was mostly going to do politics with some science thrown in. I got THAT backwards. I also thought I’d probably write brief, pithy posts, like the comments I left on other people’s blogs. Turns out I’m only brief when I’m trying to get something up for the sake of having posted. I also thought fisking- going through a bad argument and tearing it apart line by line- would be a mainstay. Also something I only do now when I’m hard up for material. I don’t know WHAT the hell I’d call the long essays I turned out to actually be good at- around the world in ten thousand words, maybe- but it’s not at all what I expected.

2. No wonder writers refer to “muses”. I can’t tell when the hell I’m going to feel like writing, how long or exactly what the thesis and execution will be, when I’ll feel like spewing an ocean of verbiage on something that annoys me and when I can’t think of anything to say other than “bah”, or how long good periods or bad ones will be. Blaming the frustrating black box on a personalized abstraction seems as useful an approach as any other.

3. Promising a post on a specific subject is a bad idea. Sometimes I’ll turn out not to have the argument I thought I had, sometimes it will turn out I actually wanted to write something else, sometimes I’ll realize a fatal flaw and the whole thing will collapse into a heap of smoldering rubble, sometimes I’ll realize someone else has already done it better and I’d feel lame next to them. And, of course, sometimes I’ll burn out on a subject with a flash and a pop that is damn near audible. I hate it when that happens.

4. I’m an atrocious judge of my own writing. Something I felt kind of bad putting up because I thought it sucked will suddenly turn out to be popular and linked around our corner of the blogosphere, something I posted feeling rather clever and full of myself will draw maybe one comment. I think the number of times I’ve accurately judged how popular a given post will be is actually a fair bit worse than sheer chance.

5. This was a really, really good idea. We’ve probably gotten much more back in value from this project than nearly any other we’ve started in the past year. (Save, maybe, for ponying up for central air.) Thank y’all for reading, for linking, and for generally being a highly entertaining and useful audience.

Network News Junkie Newsletter

July 28, 2008 - 12:21 pm Comments Off

Volume 37, July 2008

Your sponge could KILL YOU! Learn the terrifying secrets of the deadly bacterial nightmare in your very own kitchen! p.28

Ladders! The vertical deathtrap! We blow the lid off 14 7/8 secrets that Big Ladder doesn’t want you to know about! Secrets that could SAVE YOUR LIFE! p. 7

Bird-flu nightmare! Learn the shocking truth about this deadly winged killer of death and your .2% chance of DYING TO DEATH! p. 3

If you’re not scared shitless about global warming, YOU’RE A BAD PERSON AND YOU WILL DIE! p. 16

Investment strategies! We’re so damn right about everything else, here’s how you should manage your money! Or you might DIE! p.48

THE SKY IS FALLING! No, we really mean it this time! We explain why you’ll need at least 6000 gallons of fresh water and canned food enough to nourish the 82nd Airborne for five years just to make it through the weekend – or you could suffer! p. 25

Pornography on the internet? We reveal the shocking secret the rest of the world has known about for thirty years! p. 18

Guns – the loudest killer! Having the means to defend your shitloads of water and canned goods WILL GET YOU KILLED! p. 52

Safety legislation! Does your senator oppose mandatory helmets for masturbation? We ask why he wants you dead! p. 9

Shitting where you eat? Not just for internet gun-board whackjobs anymore! Find out how your toothbrush is laden with DEADLY E. COLI DEATH! p. 14

NASA Assassins! The deadly rain of debris from beyond the atmosphere could fall in your back yard! These astroNUTS are trying to kill you! p. 20

Science shocker! So-called “law” of gravity could spell firey death for airline passengers! Can TSA protect us? p. 33

Cereal killers! Genetically modified wheat is a mutant in the breadbox! How will this affect YOUR LIFE? p. 40

Shocking survey! College kids DRINK! Will your 20-year-old child be next?! p.45

From Russia with Love? How EVERYTHING YOU OWN is made in China! The Red Menace is back, and deadlier than ever! p. 25

“Cell”-ular death! Your phone is giving you THE CANCER! p. 16

Out of service, out of life! If you don’t have your phone with you YOU WILL DIE! p.17

Just give up and die. You’re fucked anyway. p. 59

Why no, actually, that isn't a good idea!

July 26, 2008 - 6:18 pm Comments Off

Larry Correia slams one out of the park, over the parking lot, past the interstate and somewhere out into the badlands. There is no other description possible for a rant which not only explains why Barack Enough With The Redacted Jokes Obama is dumber than our dog’s empty nutsack and about as concerned with staying within the bounds of the Constitution as a paramecium is with astrophysics, but he has offered up the best plan I’ve seen in ages in the process. Allow me to qutoe:

“‘Proportion’? Are you serious? A presidential candidate threw out a random tidbit about how he wants to make the largest change to the US government since… well… ever… and that’s ‘out of proportion’? Out of proportion would be digging a trench around Washington DC, filling it with lava, and then using trebuchets to launch plague rats into the city, only that would cost less. ”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off trying to get the Lava Plague Rat Plan on our local ballots.

This is leadership?

July 26, 2008 - 4:23 pm Comments Off

In my opinion, the Republican Congress of 2006 most thoroughly deserved to get voted out of power. With apparent total command of two-thirds of the government, the only thing they could seem to agree on was that they didn’t care overmuch for Democrats but WERE huge fans of spending lots and lots of money on dubious bills and programs. They left with a bootprint on their butts and an ignominious 25% approval rating. As anyone with three neurons to scrape together could have realized, the Democrats were on their way in. Harry Reid took over as the new Senate Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

While I certainly believe the Republicans deserved to lose their jobs, I do not believe America deserved these people.

One of today’s interesting web finds was an older interview with Mr. Reid, on the subject of taxes. Here’s Harry:

The upshot of his position? Taxes are voluntary in America, unlike nasty other countries. For serious: he spends the whole goddamn interview trying to defend this position come hell or high water. His objection is to the interviewer’s use of the phrase “threat of force” to describe the government’s position on taxes, but his problem is that he doesn’t just admit this is absolutely true and defend taxation- he tries to argue that because deductions exist and fines come before jail, it’s not really force and taxes are really voluntary. Amazing.

It’s a great pity this interview hadn’t gone similarly viral in 2006; we would have saved ourselves a lot of grief. He went on to declare the Iraq war lost in 2007, deride General Petraeus as “out of touch” when he said he saw signs of progress in Iraq, and that he wouldn’t believe him anyway if he said the surge was working:

…and, of course, oil and coal make us sick and are ruining the world:

Which might be slightly more productive if they weren’t also our only current options, along with nuclear. Nevermind; Reid is the Majority Leader, the Senate is the last line to fall before any further drilling or other use of the world-ruiners is approved in Congress. The Republicans (and a few Democrats who are getting nervous about the reaction back home to obstructionism on energy) are pushing him hard. He reacts by… castigating the press for not reporting his energy policies in a way more favorable to him. Oh.

Result: 25% has become 9%.

Does anybody know how many running this year have an I after their name rather than D or R? It’s starting to look like we need a third option, and last I looked in on all of our most prominent third parties, they were getting their policies via direct transmissions from other planets.

Gone Inkin'

July 25, 2008 - 8:54 am Comments Off

Off today to the tattoo parlor so I can continue my transformation into a sure loser. Wretchedness? At least I don’t look like Orville Reddenbacher tried to go mountain-man, Dick Richard.

Real content to resume shortly.

New add to the blogroll- go here for erudite political snark

July 24, 2008 - 6:42 pm Comments Off

I was reflecting earlier that the only thing I really miss from Livejournal is having Doqz as a regular read.

Problem solved.