Archive for February, 2012

The News, Summarized

February 28, 2012 - 6:49 pm Comments Off

Or, a simulated version of what reading my various news feeds is like lately.

- Prominent liberal demagogue everyone knows is a liberal demagogue donates a bunch of money to a Democratic president’s campaign. WILL THIS HURT THE CANDIDATE?!

- Women could have sex, at will. This is just terrible.

- Romney says something amazingly tone-deaf revealing his provincialism. Santorum says something amazingly tone-deaf revealing his provincialism. Gingrich sits back with an eye on his watch waiting for his second second look from voters after Santorum finishes melting down this time. Ron Paul may or may not have said something, but no one noticed.

- Allegations that Ron Paul believes in conspiracy theories give way to conspiracy theories about Ron Paul. Progress?

- Basketball player of Asian decent emerges, is awesome. Collective media struck by irresistible compulsion to constantly reference his race. Statisticians determine stereotype, facepalming density will reach 100% by end of current basketball season, predict run on fortune cookies, Noxema.

- Normally irrelevant state primaries become relevant. Statisticians predict monthly, highly local runs on cheap liquor supplies.

- Congress continues to do things. High bipartisan support of violent disdain for Congress continues to unite America.

- Troubled teen with a background of chaos and violence shoots up his classmates. Dancing in the blood of the fallen in support of various political causes surprisingly muted. Progress? Progress.

- Extremely rich candidates from upper-class backgrounds describe opponents of being extremely rich and upper-class. Media accuses candidate of being really white and rich; candidate opponent attempts to characterize same candidate as being basically an Occupy protestor or actually Barack Obama. America posts reactions to My Face When.

- American public expresses concerns about jobs, economic recovery. State governors express their primary constituents’ concerns are jobs, economic recovery. Politicians, media continue to concentrate on contraception, the Girl Scouts, Jeremy Lin, who is the whitest and the richest of them all, and the Catholic church.

- Blogger bursts into bitter tears as Google targeted ads decide that mentioning Jeremy Lin must mean the writer is actually Chinese. Ads change from weird trick discovered by white mom to weird Asian tricks for hair care.

- Awesome new action movie debuts, is blatantly military recruitment propaganda. A nation decides whether it should care or not; settles on pretty much “not”.

Wrong Tool for the Job

February 25, 2012 - 11:11 am Comments Off

Why is it that whenever there’s someone in ahead of me using the ATM, they are invariably attempting to do something like refinance their mortgage, or some arcane financial maneuver you’d be more likely to see an Italian Prime Minster attempt?

Three and a half songs worth of fiddling? And I’m not talking “Hey-ho, let’s go” here either. Please die in a crotch fire as soon as your prius is out of my goddamn way.

LF Raiders

February 24, 2012 - 9:56 pm Comments Off

Because every once in awhile, it works.

Steamwheedle Cartel-US, Hordeside, Reprisal, 10 man runs, two teams, one on Wed-Fri and one on Tue-Thursday, 8:45 server start time, two hour run time. We need a healer for the Tuesday-Thursday team, and could broadly use more DPS for either, as we’re running low on people that can be consistent and more padding is better than fishing around for alts. A tank, especially one with a strong DPS offspec, wouldn’t be unwelcome either. Warlocks, priests, and hunters are particularly welcome. A resto or elemental shaman would be particularly welcome for Tu/Thu but not so much Wed/Fri.

Ping Thraps, Jujutan, or Emming on that server/faction if interested. Or here.

I Less Than Three Kate Beaton

February 24, 2012 - 5:53 pm Comments Off

As she condenses something to a nine-panel cartoon that I’ve been trying to mentally pick apart into a rant for a week. And it’s not even inspired by the same incident.

Perhaps I will yet, but for the nonce hers will do.

How To Drive In New Mexico

February 23, 2012 - 4:39 pm Comments Off

…Or, things I start writing in my head when I have to spend a lot of the time on the road in my home state. Some of these are less local and more universal than others.

1. The driver who seems like they might be drunk, is drunk.

Seriously. It’s damn near the official state participant sport. If a driver is weaving, constantly varies speeds for no apparent reason, and generally seems… off… treat them like they have a twenty-foot force field all around them. Even if that means you get home slower.

2. The beater car has the right of way, at all times.

If you see a car that looks like it has been assembled from the corpses of other cars, you immediately know two things: the driver has no fear, and the driver does not give a shit about his or her car. If you break this unwritten law, the next time the beater car is seen it may be wearing your car’s fender as a trophy.

3. Stringently obey all traffic laws on Indian reservations, and in pleasant-looking little small towns.

In the former case, speeders and reckless drivers are major revenue generators. In the latter, the answer to the petulant driver’s bleat to the ticketing police officers of “Don’t you have anything better to do?!” is an entirely honest “No, I do not.” In either case both communities have more reasons to care about outsiders rocketing through their turf than the state bears or the police forces of bigger cities do. In general, New Mexico is a very bad place to be an impatient driver.

4. The pickup truck with all the tools in the back probably knows more about the road you’re on than you do.

Odds are, the dude in the very well-used looking pickup with the heavy-duty modifications and enough hardware in the back for an Army Corps of Engineers unit has been all over the state and back again, possibly within the last week. If he slows down for no readily apparent reason, he might know more than you do about good reasons to in that particular area, time of day, or weather condition.

5. Washes and arroyos are not merely picturesque local color.

If it’s raining heavily, do not EVER challenge the wash, even if the running water looks shallow. Be aware of the contours of the land around you and retain awareness that, in a rocky, dry area, the lowest points where any liquid will end up. In summer, they are flash flood zones. In winter, they are where the black ice will be. The black ice is not just a good name for a metal band, it’s a good way to send your vehicle skating merrily across several lanes of traffic or into the side of a mountain.

6. If traffic is slow and you are feeling cranky and impatient, so is everyone else.

This isn’t really local and more sound advice for driving in general, but the locals aren’t always the most cautious. When driving in downtown Albuquerque and Santa Fe in particular, be aware that stop signs are treated by some as suggestions and sometimes the only way to get into a major artery at rush hour from a side street is the suicidal dive. Be sure your brakes are good and your attention isn’t wandering.

7. The more bumper stickers on the vehicle, of any sentiment, the more impulsive and dangerous the driver.

The scariest vehicle I have ever seen anywhere was the one in Albuquerque that was completely papered over with bumper stickers from the front doors back. Including the entire back window. The driver acted exactly as you’d expect someone who felt more need to display their opinions than to see out their back window would.

8. The locals are fine with it, and whether you are or not is not relevant.

Crawling speeds and inexplicable chicanes and roundabouts in Los Alamos? Adjust. Thirteen people in a barely roadworthy sedan on the highway north? Normal traffic and minor road hazard. Motorists in Santa Fe who are obeying traffic laws from other dimensions? Standard. Roads in small towns that are treated as universal mixed traffic for pedestrians, cars, bicycles, horses, dogs, and wild animals? Also normal. If you do not attempt to adapt, you will come to a bad end sooner than they will.

9. There is a nowhere, and it is possible to reach the middle.

There are places, lots of them, where there is no such thing as cell service or GPS signal*, and there are no good roads or outposts of civilization. Unless you know the area very, very well, do not fuck around with them. The concept of “here there be dragons” in mapmaking could stand to make a comeback.

10. Just because the manufacturer asserts a vehicle is “off-road” capable, does not mean it is.

It’s entirely possible they mean the vehicle can traverse a grassy plain without bursting into flames or breaking an axle, not that the vehicle can do anything else without the assistance of pavement. Your rear wheel drive only, automatic transmission conveyance that happens to be pickup shaped is not going anywhere once snow, ice, mud, and gravity join forces.

*Or places where you can get signal, but it won’t do you any actual benefit aside from affirming that you are, in fact, fucked.

Show Me Your Moves

February 22, 2012 - 4:45 pm Comments Off

So I think it’s obvious I’m not going to get anything even remotely resembling what I want in a presidential candidate this year, but I thought it would be interesting to think about what sorts of skills or traits or displays I’d genuinely want to see in a candidate as opposed to what they all seem to think will appeal to voters.

Politicians do dearly love to strike poses in hard hats and trucks and with a shottie over their arm and god knows what else, to convince us they’re “one of us”, part of their ingroup. Guess what? Thanks to the way the American political system works at the national level (it applies to less and less degree the more local you get, but still applies), you need to be very rich and in possession of a lot of spare time to get anywhere. These guys are never going to be one of me even if we technically share a hobby or a general area of residence*. They live in a world that is stratospheres away from the one the vast majority of Americans do, and the nature of the job they’re applying for means they pretty much have to. I’m OK with that. I very broadly prefer some indication that a candidate has at least had some glancing contacts with the world I live in, but overall, I don’t give a damn if a candidate doesn’t know what end the bullets come out of and thinks the stock is the shoulder thing that goes up as long as he or she is not interested in banning them. In-group markers are out, period.

So what, besides the obvious agreement with my various political positions, would actually appeal to me and turn my head even if I disagreed with some or most of theirs? (Which, let’s face it, is going to happen anyway, given my positions.) What would actually demonstrate some form of respectable competency and, dare I say it, character?

1. The ability to teach a horse or dog at least one thing, without losing their temper. “Sit” or the equine equivalent would be too simple. How to walk nicely on a leash or long line would do well- convincing another critter that you’re worth following seems germane. Key point here is actually accomplishing the goal set out, with the critter’s full cooperation, without losing the temper and blaming the “student” or making excuses.

2. The ability to accurately and fairly describe the beliefs and structure of at least five faiths the candidate does not share.

3. The ability to accurately and fairly describe the logic and structure of at least five political positions the candidate is in direct opposition to.

4. The ability to speak on a relevant topic, intelligently, without a teleprompter and without changing the subject, for at least fifteen minutes straight. Optional bonus round- the ability to repeatedly hold town halls while adhering to these rules and without melting down.

5. The ability to pass a freshman economics final exam.

6. The ability to pass a greater-than-freshman level final exam in civics/American government.

7. The ability to hold and execute a successful bake sale, or similar event, using a staff of randomly selected people rather than his/her own supporters.

8. The ability to successfully convey a concept (any concept, but something from American law or government would be most germane) to a classroom of seventh graders.

9. The ability to listen to another candidate expound on a position they hold, that the candidate him or herself despises, for at least twenty minutes, without interrupting, and with an accurate and fair summary or distillation of what they said before responding.

10. The ability to successfully apply for, and pass any requirements not relating to residence, a driver’s license in another state, without handlers or any other help not available over the standard Motor Vehicle Department desk.

Any suggestions from the peanut gallery? Remember, the rules are that they be observable skills or tests that don’t relate either to your politics or to any identity affiliation, that would make you respect someone more as a person qualified as a candidate for any elected office.

*My personal all time favorite example of this phenomenon was Newt Gingrich trying to demagogue Mitt Romney on how much more super-mega-filthy-stupid rich he supposedly is compared to Newt, and therefore the loser in the populist game. Guess what, Newt? Only .5% of Americans are even capable of seeing a distinction between super-mega-filthy-stupid rich, and just super-mega-filthy rich, let alone caring.

ETA: SB7 took this and ran further with it. Good list, I particularly like the basic engineering test and the “cook a meal” test, which was echoed by Jennifer in the comments below as a more advanced dinner-party challenge. I also like the no-sleep bonus round.

Other Sorts of Froth

February 21, 2012 - 5:03 pm Comments Off

So the latest video to go viral in the sorry slog that is the 2012 Republican presidential primaries is this old speech by Rick Santorum speaking to a Catholic university. Depending on who you ask and what their personal bugaboos are, it’s either Rick Telling It Like It Is, an alarming big-government authoritarian justifying any meddle he wants in people’s lives in the name of what they oughtta be doing, a dangerously crazy candidate expounding on his belief that Satan is destroying America, or Nothing To See Here, Move Along.

In the strain of comment coming from people who believe this is either unremarkable or unfair to Santorum, I see three primary arguments:

1) It doesn’t matter because he’s talking to Catholics so therefore it’s religious stuff irrelevant to his ambitions as President.

2) Rick’s being demonized for being religious.

3) It doesn’t matter because he won’t have the power to ban (abortion, contraceptions, sex outside of marriage, being gay, etc.)

I can only believe people who argue the first either haven’t watched the video, or share Santorum’s worldview so utterly they cannot see what’s remarkable about it. He’s talking very explicitly about government, about the history of American government, and what the founding principles and documents of American government mean, and he states very clearly that freedom is defined not by the freedom to do things, but by the “freedom” to act in accordance with God’s will. That essentially makes the idea of liberty meaningless, and redefines it as whatever the person in power believes to be God’s will. That’s a statement of his worldview and governing philosophy that has everything in the world to do with how he would act as the chief executive of the United States of America, not just Rick Santorum, Conservative Catholic. It’s not just Santorum expressing himself poorly, either; it’s a belief he has reiterated time and time again.

As for the second argument: Santorum’s not being picked on for being religious, Santorum’s being picked on because he believes he knows what God’s will is, he also believes the state should have the right to enforce God’s will, and he is running for not merely political office, but the highest political office in the land. Religious freedom means the freedom to believe and practice as you will- not to enforce it on others, even by majority vote.

As for the third- Santorum probably can’t actually get contraception or abortion banned, but that doesn’t make his bedrock belief both in his own divinely mandated rightness and the absolute right of government to legally enforce morality somehow irrelevant. He’s running on culture-war issues in an election where most voters care chiefly about whether they’ll be able to get a job or afford to run a business; it is something he cares deeply and passionately about and has for his entire political career. If he can’t shut up about contraception* and gay people for the campaign to win the primary, it’s fairly ludicrous to believe he’ll set all those issues aside once he’s got the veto pen, the power to push legislation, and the status as head of the military because of “political reality”. There are a hell of a lot of ways to chip away at individual rights without blanket bans or compulsions, and we’ve seen quite a few of them over the last fifteen years or so.

I really and truly do not care if a candidate is sincerely religious. Given what political poison even not being a mainstream Christian is in America, I’d be a hell of a lot angrier if I did. I do care when a politician conflates being religious with a calling to serve as National Pastor with a legislator’s pen rather than whatever civil position they were elected to.

Santorum’s taking a media beating because he richly deserves to, not because the media is just so unfair to religious people.

*I don’t believe this is or should be a huge issue in this election. I do believe it’s extremely telling of Santorum’s worldview that he seems to think the primary users of contraception are wild libertines and not, for example, married couples who do not want nor can even afford unlimited children. Or for that matter single, unpartnered women or girls who are getting hormone therapy as part of normal health care- as I was for many years before I even lost my virginity.

Bucked Stars

February 19, 2012 - 11:44 am Comments Off

So apparently there was something or other involving a burnt coffee superchain and something about gun folks, and no doubt a plethora of not only “guns r evil ’cause bad” opinions, but for icing on the mocha ventilated, plenty of back and forth on the pro gun side between our own that has slid far enough into stupid that I’m not even going to describe it. I was going to just let this whole thing slide as just too “Really? No, really?” to comment on. But I’ve seen one place too many trumpeting this as a victory to refrain comment further.

Moreover I would’ve bet that the overwhelming and deafening corporate “Meh” from last year wouldn’t lead to a repeat. I forgot that the overlap ratio between internet gun people and borderline-Asperger’s “You’re trolling me, right? No, really this is a troll.”-reaction generators is nearly 1.

So the sum total of all the hoopla for this year’s titanic victory? “LEAVE US THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR GODDAMN CRUSADES, WE MAKE COFFEE.“*

Yeah, we knocked that one out of the fuckin’ park.

*Paraphrased.

Belated Gun Meme

February 16, 2012 - 6:27 pm Comments Off

So I was whining to Spear about having nothing to post because everything political lately is making me incoherently angry and nothing else interesting seems to be getting my brain juices going. He suggested I do that “Five dream guns” meme that made its way around awhile back; I replied that I had skipped it at the time because compared to most of my blogosphere I know very little about guns and care even less about them beyond their being fun to shoot and useful tools. He indicated that would be why he’d like to see my version. So be it.

1. (categorical answer) A 1911 for every occasion. A super-slick custom 1911! An authentic milsurp service 1911! A beater 1911 to fuck with! A compact 1911! A 1911 tricked out for goblin zapping! A 1911 tricked out for target shooting! If we ever lucked into sufficient disposable cash to do stupid shit with, a gift 1911 presented in a box alongside a fox with some socks, with little 1911s sewn onto the socks!

I’m not going to participate in the pistol equivalent of the Cola Wars; 1911s have a number of drawbacks compared to similar pistols used for similar purposes. I just happen to like them, they fit my hand well and point naturally for me. Not the best, but pretty much the best for me.

We are already well on our way to this goal, minus the fox, socks, and box.

2. A .30-.30 lever action rifle. Lever actions are just great fun for me, it’s got a lot of historical appeal, and they can be carried around relatively painlessly and used to shoot whatever needs shooting, be it game, zombies, or goblins. I already have one of these and enjoy shooting it more than anything else I own. Only drawback is I either need to find a very good pair of tight-fitting gloves I don’t mind beating up, or accept the sacrifice of one of my thumbnails.

3. A Mosin Nagant, preferably of Finnish or Russian make from the 30s. This is pure historical battle rifle geekery; I find something just plain neat about a weapon made to be used to either shoot, stab, or beat Nazis to death with no appreciable ill effect to the weapon. There’s also the slightly mad (and more than a little masochistic) idea that if you can get minute-of-bad-guy accurate with one of those things with iron sights, you can shoot anything. There are certain orthopedic ill effects associated with this plan, but a possible solution may involve an equally regional tradition of wearing a coat made out of two sheep and a boat sail.

4. A shotgun that points swiftly and naturally for me and runs reliably. I also already have one of these. (Actually two, but one of them is OMGWTF long and wears me out faster than the other.) After having shot many shotguns I have mostly concluded the make and model are not actually all that relevant.

5. An AR-15 built specifically for me according to my preferences in weight, sights, barrel length, stock length, handedness, shoe size, and zodiac sign. This is the purest expression of the guns-as-legos desire, basically the rifle version of my 1911 fetish. Once this goal is accomplished I anticipate feeling vague shame about still liking the .30-.30 more. Goal in progress.

That word you keep using….

February 15, 2012 - 9:16 am Comments Off

Talking with NFO about “pathological science”, the anti-gun movement, and what we usually describe the same thing as today- pseudoscience. He’s part one; I’m part two.

The first thing I want to talk about is the notion that there is a single, real thing called Science and any confusion between it and pseudoscience (or “pathological science” as Langmuir codified it, which I had not encountered until recently and rather like) is like misidentifying species. It’s not true; it’s closer to true now that it ever was historically, although we often talk as though science has been an unchanging edifice or force, but it’s a reification of a collection of processes, models, and methods rather than a thing unto itself. The idea is to make a model for acquiring reliable knowledge that is robust against all the cognitive biases and fallacies of human thought processes; however, given that the entire enterprise is still done by humans, it’s merely better than less careful approaches, not infallible.

To give examples, here are some things that, within the lifetime of many readers, were either still serious scientific debates or were seriously held and debated theories: status thymicolymphaticus (died out for good in the 60s), whether plate tectonics is a real thing (considered crank science until the late 60s, seriously debated by the credible well into the 80s), whether menstruating women secrete toxins into their blood and sweat (didn’t start to really die out until the 1980s). Science and purely rational processes can come to completely wrong conclusions if the data or assumptions are bad.

That said, there are some things that are fairly telling markers of pseudo, or pathological, science:

1. Not only is falsification of the underlying theory not seriously tried, it seems to not be thought of at all.

It’s not enough to make predictions about things that happen, real science needs to make predictions based on theoretical logic that can be fully laid out and also account for cases in which the theory makes predictions that fail to happen. Predictions that fail don’t in and of themselves falsify theories, but they do call for explanation and investigation; in real science, predictions that fail wildly are a major engine of further research and progress.

Or, to return to what we were speaking of, when people predict an uptick of gun violence in states or cities where greater legal access to guns is granted, their next interest should then be whether that actually happens or not and if it fails to, investigation into exactly why. If it fails to happen over and over again, that should be the hottest topic in the field, not a minor detail.

2. Proponents of the theory treat every event as being clearly and solely about it.

Again to use an example NFO brought up, the Loughner shooting case is a case of gun violence, and a case of a dangerously mentally ill man having been able to get his hands on a gun. But it’s also a case of fixation and stalking, and all of the implications of “a mentally ill man was able to do a thing normal citizens are” are thought through, it raises a serious debate about freedom and security and how we logistically expect to differentiate “dangerously mentally ill” from the vastly more common “just mentally ill” and what justifications we may invoke to lock someone up and drug them against their will. There are also issues of privacy and the question of what happens to people who work with guns for a living, such as the danger for law enforcement and military in fearing mental health services due to a rational fear of being diagnosed mentally ill and thus potentially being diagnosed out of their careers. For professions with serious risks of depression and PTSD, no small concern*.

When it remains reduced to “access to guns” as the sole issue, that’s a sign there is something wrong.

3. Relevant experiments conducted by outsiders are ignored or only selectively acknowledged.

See the first point. In the case at hand, “experiments” are done nationally and locally on both a legislative level and a “local reality” level. This is much more glaring when said experiments are only noticed when they appear to confirm the theory; to give an example of an “experiment”, we have Japan, a country that has always had very strict gun laws. According to the theory that the presence of guns is a controlling variable for violent deaths, low/strict access to guns leads to fewer homicides and fewer suicides. Japan has a substantially lower homicide rate than the United States, which is touted as a fulfilled prediction- but its much higher suicide rate is left unaddressed.

Now, both the anti-gun/Violence Policy Center/Brady position and the pro-gun/NRA/Second Amendment Rights positions are politics, not science. Ultimately, they both start from an explicitly ideological position** and exist to justify their own existence. The reason I’m holding it up to the mirror of pseudoscience is that a great deal of anti-gun argumentation uses social science as its justification, and that social science must be judged by scientific standards; ignored evidence, ignored variables, manipulated data, and arguments based on faulty or disingenuous assumptions all count. This goes for the pro-gun side as well, and they have their own problems (OH JOHN LOTT NO)***, but ultimately their argument rests on the idea that access to tools for effective self-defense is a human right, not that private ownership of guns will make society better or is even in all cases a necessarily good idea for an individual.

The argument that private citizens should not be allowed to own guns because they shouldn’t be allowed to own/do anything that could result in the death of another citizen, no matter the circumstances, is not psudedoscience. Pseudoscience does not mean “disagrees with me”. Treating the presence or mere existence of guns as a strong controlling variable in ostensibly serious social science about violent acts and deaths, no matter the the circumstances, is.

*See this VPC editorial on military suicides. Note that the VPC position is unambiguously that anyone diagnosed as mentally ill at any point should be barred forever from owning firearms; note also the complete lack of concern or acknowledgment that such a policy might make veterans suffering from PTSD, depression, or plain old serious life issues reluctant to seek help or even acknowledge there is any sort of problem.

**Ideology is not inherently wrong just for being ideology. My position that we should under no circumstance put puppies in blenders is pure ideology, which does not make it in any way a bad idea, belief, or value.

***Or, more seriously, the domestic violence issue, on which both sides can be awful. The presence of a gun is not a bigger variable than the presence of an abuser willing to threaten or kill, but likewise its presence is not a magic talisman against the specter of killing a loved one. If abuse victims are often reluctant to report explicitly because they fear ruining their abuser- a loved one’s- life, how willing are they likely to be to shoot them?