Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Guns and You

  • It's actually impossible to learn anything about the effectiveness of gun control in the US. Everybody is so full of hyperbole and whatever that logic error where you jump from one easily proved conclusion to some other, much more squirrely, conclusion is just maddening. It's a world of confirmation bias out there and it makes it hard for this INTJ to think.
  • Here's Warren Ellis on gun control. The essay starts out somewhat reasonably but then devolves into hyperbole without really any reasoning. The fact is that it is exceedingly unlikely that any individual person will be killed by any guns anywhere in the United States. But, like being killed in an airplane, or eaten by sharks, we over-focus on "massacres" when in fact your kid is much more likely to be killed (if it's by a gun) on their way to school during a single homicide. Or, as they say, a Colombine happens every day in America. It just, er, happens as "gang-related" violence. (Go ahead, read that the way it's intended. "Gang-related" = what now? You go ahead and think about what that might be code for.)
  • Do you like fun facts? Nobody is allowed to use government money to study gun violence.  This generally helps explain the levels of malarky in the gun control debate. Nobody has any real facts. See point number one.

So here are some fun things. Did you know* that most people think that fully automatic weapons are used in most shootings? Yes. It's because the press and media do such a crap job of explaining anything and love to refer to "automatic weapons" all the time.** This confuses people into thinking of them as fully automatic weapons.
For all practical purposes fully automatic weapons are illegal in the US. Nobody has them. And they're not used in crimes. They just aren't.
And there's no practical difference between an "assault weapon" and a "hunting rifle". In military terms an assault weapon has selectable rates of fire. But none of the guns used in any of the recent murders were fully-automatic. As far as I can tell, an "assault weapon" is one with a pistol grip and maybe painted black rather than having a walnut stock.

So what is my conclusion with all this? That we cannot use emotions or whatever the most recent tragedy was to inform our decisions. If we want to cut down the murder rate we can't retreat into our own confirmation bias (whether that's the "give every schoolchild a gun!" or "take away all the black guns!")

Unfortunately, and this is the gun lobby's fault, we cannot get any real information in order to make rational decisions.



*This is the result of an incredibly scientific survey I did of my dad.
**Do not get the impression that this is the "liberal media's" bias. They don't explain anything well. Just think of something you know quite a bit about or are an expert in. Now think of how the media bungles it every time they mention it. See? It's just them being stupid, not them being ideological.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Zero Dark Malarky

I'm suddenly less interested in seeing Zero Dark Thirty knowing that (for dramatic reasons) it decided to be a propaganda mouthpiece for the pro-torture front.
"A Senate committee last week approved a report that concluded that water-boarding and other brutal CIA interrogation methods did not produce meaningful results."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Walking the Walk

Hey, do you remember how the Fast and Furious program of the ATF let firearms "walk"?
Would I surprise you if I told you it didn't happen?
The way it was advertised to me was that the ATF was actually buying these weapons. They weren't and they didn't.
No, instead what actually happened was that no prosecutors would touch the cases they were looking at where people were buying guns in Arizona and then selling them to Mexican drug cartels.
Guns were bought and walked by ATF agents acting almost entirely on their own. These were the agents who were later held up as heroes by Issa for being against gun walking.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Left to Work

You know, and this is going to sound strange coming from a guy who organized the largest theatrical shop in New York City (outside of the Metropolitan Opera) for a labor union, I'm actually fairly sympathetic to right-to-work.
Now, many people don't know what "right-to-work" actually means. If you ask a labor person they'll say "right to work for less", and if you ask an anti-labor person they'll just start ranting about socialism or some such.
Right to work means that there is a law in the state which says that the employer may not require you to join a labor union in order to be employed. It does not (and cannot) mean that you may not join a union (you have the right to collectively bargain in most industries as a matter of federal law, the states cannot void that.)
Note that I say the employer does not have the ability to force you to join a union. Most of the time people talk about this they say the union makes you join. You don't work for the union. You work for an employer. It's the employer which forces you to join*.
Union folks can get irritated that they organize a shop, they establish working conditions with an employer, and then some employees decide not to join the union, getting essentially a "free ride" off of the union.
That's true. And I say get over it. Make your union so awesome that people are willing to pay dues to be a member. If you can't do that, you don't deserve to be a union.
On the other hand it does indeed seem to be true that non right-to-work states have better wages. Whether that's a cause or effect of the states' not having anti-labor laws I don't know.
I suspect we're about to find out.

*You actually cannot be compelled to join a union. You can be forced to pay union dues but you can always be "core status" which means you pay the union for its collective bargaining but not any of its political activities.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

War on Men

There's a War on Men don'tcha know? Of course, it requires that you believe Pew Research polls.
I was going to write a Communist Manifesto-style parody, something on the order of "There is a spectre haunting men and it is the spectre of feminism" but honestly the whole thing is just so dumb that I can't even put braintime to it.
Texas likes to brag that its economy is larger than Australia's. We that's not true according to the CIA at least.
It's amusing to me that New York and New Jersey (combined) easily smoke Texas' GDP. And, of course, California gives Texas a great thrubbing.
I can and will republish Danny Thomson's brilliant art as often as I can.
I think it's funny that Texas thinks they'd get a free trade agreement with the US if they seceded. What's more likely is that they'd be treated like a banana republic. The US and Mexico would alternately take turns devaluing Texas currency just for our amusement. Maybe Texas could trade with Cuba? If Austin remains with the US, would we have to airlift in supplies?

Friday, November 16, 2012


OK. So. Hostess is filing Chapter 11 because their employees struck when the company demanded givebacks on wages.
And the big joke is that "Oh noes! No more Twinkies! Ermahgerd!"

Nope. Not buying it.

So, you're filing Chapter 11. Liquidation. On a brand-name product. The question here is: who is going to buy the assets? And once they buy them, what are they going to do with them? Re-negotiate with the same unions?

Of course there is something approaching zero actual reporting on this beyond the silly "Our childhoods are over!" snarkiness.

And you wonder why I post pictures of owls...

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Isn't it just a tad embarrassing that the most organized and active people out there helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy are OccupySandy?
 I mean, it's not embarrassing for the Occupy folks -- it's embarrassing that the state doesn't have the capability -- or desire -- to get in there and do the work.
Of course, anarchists around the world will all say "Right, exactly" in unison.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Drew's Prediction about Mitt's Taxes

So my theory is this: Mitt Romney never paid less than 13% in taxes for the last 20 years.
There are some of those years which he did not pay taxes during the year.
I think he made up for the owed back-taxes in subsequent years.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is it me?

Or is this just kind of... pathetic? This doesn't look like a national convention. It looks like a poorly-attended sales meeting.
Surely they'll fill those bleachers eventually. Right? But those aisles look like they deliberately emphasize how little seating is on the floor.
One place the RNC didn't screw up is the logo. I think it looks pretty nice and the elephant is pretty good looking too. I kind of like how he's in a 3/4 with trunk in the air.

Monday, July 9, 2012

No Need to Think Anymore

It used to be that with few exceptions the real ideologues in economics were on the left. Those days are long gone. There are almost no hard-core communists anymore, except maybe in Cuba. Instead, all the "it doesn't matter what's factual, I know the Truth" commissars are on the right.

Here's a helpful little hint as you go down the road of life — do not pay attention to Austrian economists. Believe me, you'll be better off. If your economist isn't British and gay, there's no need to listen.
In America, the Republican party has abandoned all reason and just become ranting and raving. This happened sometime around the election of Bill Clinton. There used to be a half-dozen reasonable Republicans, but they all jumped ship onto the new, conservative, Democratic party in the US.
The Democratic party contains anyone who's actually in favor of a balanced budget (and actually means it, rather than using it as a talking point and then spending lavishly and crazily when given the first opportunity.)

Friday, June 8, 2012


So. Education.
You can't talk about teaching without instantly being subjected to a political firestorm.
Which is disappointing because I want to know about the science of pedagogy. As it turns out, good luck with Google on that search.
From what I can tell, nobody really knows. They know some things but...
1. Well first of all, nobody can really agree on what needs to be learnt in public education in the US. And
2. As it turns out public education is really freakin' expensive. We spend a lot of money on it. And almost all that money comes from local (rather than Federal or income) taxes.
But all I want to know is how do I teach somebody something.
3. Different people learn different ways. It's probably important for you to learn how you learn stuff. And it may be that an individual person learns different stuff in different ways. Like they might do better learning history from doing their own reading but better at math in a classroom. Or, you know, vice-versa.
Now here's a thing which I kinda wonder about. The military. They teach a lot of people a lot of stuff. They train people in all kinds of things. Heck, they have colleges and universities.
And, oddly, they're somewhat immune from the political whims of education fads.
And does it involve cats?
So my question is: what do they do?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Prive... Prilev... Priv...

I'm one of those middle-aged, middle-class, straight, white, men who objects to the term "White Privilege".
One reason is because I can't spell the word "privilege" worth a damn.
The other is because the bulk of the things we talk about when we're talking about the "privileges" are not privileges, they're rights. But elevating the fact that I'm very unlikely to be shot by cops when I'm walking down the street to a "privilege" I think we end up denying the fact that a right denied does not create a privilege.
Which, to me, sets us back a whole step.
John Scalzi has, once again, put better thinking into something. He suggests that being a straight white male is like playing a video game at the lowest difficulty setting.
To which I say "exactly". That doesn't mean the game isn't difficult. It doesn't mean that other people, on higher settings, can't play. But there are lots of things much easier to play because of being an American white guy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Elective Influence

You know, even as a former union organizer, I've been opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act because it allows a union to bully workers into signing cards and not a secret ballot in order to make the union their bargaining agent.

Because the way I see it, why not just make elections happen faster?

Well, presumably they are now. Faster. Which means that the entire system is more fair. I mean, that seems to be the case on the face of it.

I'm a big fan of the secret ballot. It works both ways -- the employer can't force you to vote one way or the other and the union can't either. In fact, in some cases there's more than one union trying to organize a workplace.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

War with Russia

The Republicans are really hot to go to war with Russia. I have no idea what makes them so excited about getting into a war with Russia, but they are.
Of course, it's difficult to manufacture an excuse to go to war with Russia. Russia clearly doesn't care very much about any countries which it doesn't share a border with. But the Republicans are very giddy about the prospect of either a war with Russia directly or a proxy war with Iran.
Mitt Romney thinks that Russia is America's "Number one geopolitical foe." It's the sort of thing which makes you think "Wait, what?"
How is Russia a geopolitical foe of the United States at all?
But remember, the second Bush Administration ran a proxy war with Russia though the state of Georgia.
I don't see that there's any reason they wouldn't do that again if they had the chance. Setting up missiles in Poland, attacking Iranian installations, whatever the Republicans can get away with they will. They are hot to go to war with Russia. And that could be disastrous in a way we haven't seen on earth in over 50 years.
It almost doesn't matter what else Barack Obama does, if he doesn't actively pursue a war with Russia we'll be better off under an Obama administration than a Romney one.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Times

Sometimes someone makes a comment on the Internet which is just so dead-on that you can't believe how out-of-it big papers like the New York Times are.

In regards to the Times' hand-wringing about being perceived as "skewing left", Deborah Weiss says:

Basked a bit in the warm glow? A strong current of skepticism holds that the paper skews left? Oh, please. The paper's failure to endorse McCain-Palin in 2008 wasn't evidence of a leftward skew, it was merely evidence of a slight skew toward sanity, from which the Times seems to have recovered very nicely.

Debbie Hayford gets a +1 from the Internet today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Draft-dodger Ted Nugent wants to kill the President.

I find the complete disconnect between reality and what the NRA thinks to be somewhat fascinating. They desperately believe that, somehow, Obama is going to take their guns away. The Orlando Sentinel asks if Nugent embarrassed the NRA. But obviously the NRA can't be embarrassed.
In fact, Obama not doing anything is part of the conspiracy to take away our guns. Get it? Right. Exactly.
The NRA likes to think of itself as a one-issue organization. And of course it isn't. But I suspect that the nuttiness will work against them in the general election because to the undecideds and the independents, they just look like a bunch of nut-jobs.
So if you were a pro-gun-rights and pro-Obama person, what organization could you possibly join?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Today's Question

How much larger would Israel's economy be if they didn't have military conscription? What percentage of the GDP is eaten by their semi-universal conscription? You're taking most of your population out of the workforce for more than a year. What exactly does that do?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Or: "My Marines are winning this war, and you people are losing it for us in your papers."
-- Dispatches
Do you ever say to yourself, "Hey -- I don't really understand what the Vietnam War was all about?" Well don't be too hard on yourself. Nobody understands it. Nobody understood it at the time, and it hasn't started to make more sense since then.
Wikipedia's article on the war is extraordinarily well-written and concise. When I say "concise" I mean it's incredibly long but considering how complicated the war was... well it's pretty darn concise.

I have a friend whose dad was a Lt Colonel on Westmoreland's staff. Apparently the dad said that "General Westmoreland is hands down the stupidest man I've ever met."

The age-old questions are:

  • Why did the true believers want the war so badly?
  • Why did it take so long for the American public to realize that the government was lying to them?

The US military has been plagued by incompetence since its inception. And the stereotype is that, at least for the beginning of each war, they're fighting it like it was the last war.

The irony is that the lesson the military took from the war was that you couldn't trust the newspapers. The reason that's ironic is because of how credulous the American media was, for so very long. The US newspapers and TV would be the mouthpiece of every general who told them the war was almost over until finally, finally, the BS piled up so much that even they had to finally admit that there was no winning the war.

Boundaries Not Authoritative
And then almost exactly the same thing happened again with the Second Gulf War. Credulous press, believing every lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction. The military opened up to the media just a little bit, so that they could gush over the weapons and the glory of men in battle.
But maybe, just maybe, the total level of Malarky was recognized just a little bit faster this time around. Certainly far fewer people (American soldiers and everyone else) were killed.
But that's not where I'm going with this. I'm on my way to the Goldwater-Nichols Act and how we have the best (and smartest) military we've ever had.
But I'm not there yet.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Long Until This Gets a Parody?

If you were going to make a movie of The Turner Diaries it would essentially have the feel of this Santorum spot:

The Turner Diaries has a similar theme of the Government oppressing the poor White people in small down America. The FBI, using Affirmative Action (remember that?) is now all Black agents who rape white women with impunity while the impotent White men are powerless, etc., etc.
And, just like the Turner Diaries, the narrative in this fake movie trailer of Santorum's completely breaks down. After hearing all the horrible things about how the freedom of religion is under attack and there aren't any jobs we hear "one President's failed policies really hit home."
Wait. What?
You gotta be specific, man.
Failed policies? What failed policies?
You just can't go general like that. You absolutely must be specific. (Of course, they can't be specific because there's no real content there -- they can't identify any particular policy having done any particular thing because... well because none of those policies actually exist.)
It also doesn't work dramatically. If you made the movie this spot is pretending to be a trailer for you'd see the evil President declaring martial law and doing all the things which lead to the attacks on religion and higher gas prices. But you don't see those things here (because they don't exist.)
They've also made another critical dramatic mistake in the trailer.
When you hear the typical "In a world where (attack on religion, loss of jobs, threat by Iran), one man ("one President") must do blah-blah-blah in order to save (his family, the world, etc.) This is a formula. And it's a good formula.
But what's the issue here? The "one man" is the supposed antagonist in this spot. No, no, no. The "one man" needs to be the hero. He's Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. So the Santorum campaign has already defeated its own message by dramatically inserting Obama in the place of the hero protagonist when it says "one President".
These guys are not the A team. They put together a very dramatic spot without realizing the inherent flaws. I'd guess that's because they're all "true believers" so they're willing to overlook the absurdities of their own positions.
And I say to the Santorum campaign "Keep up the good work there."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Neither Onboard or Off

So there's this new "Kickstarter" law that's being passed. By and large I'm favorable toward people being able to crowdsource any sort of funding.
Now I respect Bernie Sanders. And he seems afeared that the law will lead to fraud and (primarily) old people being ripped off.*
So, uh, yeah. I think we need a more sophisticated analysis of this proposed new law to really reach any conclusion.
Certainly the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act is not actually important to startups. I can imagine it might launch a thousand movies -- all of which will lose 100% of the money put into them.
I think too that it might be best if there were a limit to how much an individual could "invest" in all of these Kickstarter-esque startups in a year. Say $500. That way nobody could sink their own pension on putting thousands of dollars into scores of different businesses.
Bernie has a point that this law could create a gazillion mini-Enrons. But the key here is "mini". Not full-sized Enrons. Because every idiot with a half-baked idea will make a public offering. I wonder how much the SEC filing and the yearly costs of one of these corporations will be.

*Hey old people -- why do you fall for scams so easily? Just stop doing that. You didn't fall for them when you were in your 30's and 40's, why do you fall for them now?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The US attacks Great Britain in 1983

We begin with the Monroe Doctrine -- where the USA says that ain't nobody in Europe gets to meddle with countries in Central and South America. And if by telling European countries not to meddle we imply that the US may meddle, well that's just the way it is.
OK, so Manifest Destiny took us through most of the 18th Century. The idea was that America was expanding Westwise and that's all there was too it (and incidentally an interpretation of that was that America should export democracy too).
And that kinda explains the Spanish-American War, which knocked Spain out of the Western Hemisphere and dumped a bunch of "territories" into American possession (not including Cuba which the Cubans kept for themselves, as they tend to do.)
So starting at some point after the War of 1812 the USA and the UK defrosted their relationships. Through WWI and (especially) WWII they became such good friends that their relationship was described as "special". And the US never engaged in any hostilities against the UK until 1983.
Yes, the United States attacked a Commonwealth Realm in '83. (As I pointed out earlier, I remember the day. I was sitting in Hebrew class as a freshman in college when we heard about it. I thought I was going to get drafted.)
Ronald Reagan had ordered the invasion of Grenada.
I'll say something which seems incendiary, and isn't quite true.

The United States attacked England.

OK, so that didn't really happen. But the US did attack a Commonwealth State. When was the last time we'd done that? 1800-and-something, right?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Let's Revisit the Falklands

So, OK. It's like this.
Firstly, you see, the Argentine government (which you'll recall was put in place by the US) invaded the Falkland Islands in April of 1982.

The British responded by re-invading the Falklands.
(For those of you playing along at home, the Falklands have fewer than three thousand inhabitants.)
So who was on who's side?
Well at first the US was neutral. Then it was on the side of the UK.
(Hey -- whose side were the Israelis on? Why Argentina, of course. Apparently because they were already in Argentina.)

Then, a bit more than a year later, the United States invaded Grenada. No, wait. That actually happened. On October 25th, 1983 (I actually remember when I heard about this -- in Hebrew class in my brief stint in college.) The invasion by the United States was criticized by the British and Canadian governments. Granada was actually a British colony.

Now one wonders. There are a lot of BS reasons given for the US invasion of Grenada -- from trying to rescue college students who could have left at any time on regularly-scheduled flights, to saving the Grenadians from Communism or something. But the reality is that the US hit a Crown Colony. And it was a year after the UK went messing around in South America. Hmm...

Let's keep that in mind while we look at two major developments in American policy:
1. The changes of the US Military after the Grenada invasion
2. The eventual abandonment of the Monroe Doctrine

In the meantime, here is my sister's cat Pippin to keep you company.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The GOP are with the Communists

Ironic that the Right is always accusing Liberals of being un-American.

As for the Volt, it is emblematic of a larger problem the GOP has: the sense that they are rooting for America to fail,” Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and adviser to President Obama’s super PAC told TPM. “When a good jobs report comes out, Mitt Romney looks sad. When Clint Eastwood makes an unapologetic, patriotic Super Bowl ad for Chrysler, Karl Rove says it makes him sick. They booed a gay soldier at a GOP debate, and didn’t even want to give the President his due for ordering the mission that killed bin Laden. One wonders if they will be rooting for communist China during the summer Olympics.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How Many Times Do You Have To Be Wrong

Before you change your mind?
Infinity times, apparently.
So apparently you can try terrorists in a civilian court.
I can't figure out what the actual position of the Republican party is on anything -- except that it be the most wrongheaded and ignorant position.
Certainly it's not "conservative" in any real meaning of the word. Conservatives are against change. The Republican Party wants radical crazytown change. They want a military government. They want to go to war against all kinds of people (although we'll note that they've apparently forgotten that Central and South America exist -- which is mighty good for the democracies of Central and South America.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Super-Duper PACs

The Colbert/Stewart parody of Super PACs is brilliant.
But I'm troubled by the whole fight about money in politics. Why?
Because the Freakonomics guys say it doesn't matter. And I haven't seen any critiques of their position which are compelling.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Political Economy of What the What Now?

“You have to ask the question, is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of people and then walk off with the money?” -- Newt Gingrich on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital.  

Well, I don't know, Newt, is it? Are you suddenly channeling Occupy Wall Street? No, that can't be it because nobody there would be willing to defend "capitalism".

Modern politics in the US seems to have a bizarre disconnect with reality. Certainly with economic theory. And most certainly with the fundamental questions about how our economies do operate and how they should operate.

I wonder if any of these Republicans ever asked "What is capitalism?" And then came up with a coherent and non-inherently contradictory answer. Between this and the Sarah Palin attacks on "crony capitalism" supposedly practiced by Obama, you have to wonder if the Republicans are going to one day be the party of the deranged. Oh wait. Sorry. That already happened...


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States

Will he win the election because he killed Osama bin Laden?
Will he win the election because he passed comprehensive health care reform?
Bo Obama and his security detail.
He'll win because of the economy.
How do we know what shape the economy is in? It can be measured by the surliness of employees at McDonalds.
And yesterday the lady behind the counter at McDonalds wouldn't even look at me.
Obama's gonna win.