Archive for category We’re Doomed

Boulder’s unique flavor of unruly citizen

We’ve all dealt with assholes, and I mean the metaphorical sort, not the anatomical aperture. Most of us have, intentionally but often unwittingly, been one at various times. Some parts of the world are unquestionably home to a higher proportion of obnoxious, rude, or just plain dismal people than others, with most of these cities being, in my experience, in the northeastern U.S. It’s sort of the Asshole Belt. I love the big city in whose far outskirts I grew up, but I won’t pretend that Boston, or large swaths of it, isn’t a teeming display of drunken, racist louts who in the main would rather see the Red Sox beat the Yankees than save the life of a randomly selected newborn baby.

Yet the sneering, overt assholism of Boston, along with New York, Philadelphia, the entire New Jersey Turnpike, and many proud communities I’ve omitted for want of an attention span, if nothing else leaves no room for mystery. If a guy reeking of Budweiser and a series of poor life decisions tells you to get the fuck out of his way because he’s late for his flight, you may wish ill on him and hope that either he misses his plane or it crashes into the ocean en route to whatever asshole-peppered destination he hopes to reach, but you won’t scratch your head over why he acted as he did. He’s just one more person who unabashedly takes out the stressful comings and goings of his life on total strangers, and in some ways it’s even easy to root for him, the thing about the plane crash notwithstanding. Read the rest of this entry »

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Things I wrote today that were not blog posts

I didn’t time how long it took me to write the following e-mail, but it could not have been more than four minutes. I only wish I could generate words and paragraphs that quickly in my other, for-profit and for-creativity writing endeavors. The only context you need is that I was trading messages with someone who was joining me in a pointless but fun tirade about a subset of the generally self-deluded American populace.

I will also take this opportunity to point out that, as grim as it is to admit, having a Facebook account has largely laid waste to my contributing to this blog. I find it all too easy to fling thoughts that used to be the seeds for blog posts into status updates instead, and I can’t really claim that I regret this because in the end I don’t waste as much time. And while blogging is a dear pastime to me, or has been, that’s all it is. I don’t even read them much anymore, much less contribute to my own.

And most of them are still fat, they’re just staying that way through inadequate workouts and a new form of extra calories instead of pure ass-sitting and traditional empty calories.

This is just classic American bullshitting of each other and ourselves. Remember when we were in college and fat became the devil? All of these fat-free foods hit the market, and it was supposed to mean epidemic weight loss and nirvana for people who embraced these new, magical snacks. Problem is, they still have a lot of calories (many non-fat desserts have even more calories than their fat-rich counterparts — ice cream sometimes does).

So the U.S. continued to bloat, and it was back to the bullshit drawing board, and WOW! Carbs are the problem, that’s it! Shoulda fuckin’ known it all along! So people went the way of your cottage-cheese-slathered co-worker, and they lost some water weight, but their moods blackened and in the end most of them were still big slimy tubs of goo. Whoops! Looks like that one didn’t work out either. NOW what the fuck? We’re out of macronutrients to pick on and target for isolated destruction!

So most of the people on [Web site redacted] seems like dumbasses, and while this is true, unfortunately they’re pretty representative of the American middle class — educated enough to ignore the stink of their own self-righteous shit, but only smart enough to be dangerous instead of visionary. Christ, how much insight does it take to realize that people stayed fit and lean well before all of this paleo and vegan trendiness arose? I even have evidence — photos of thin people from the 70s and 80s! Not photoshopped. And they did NOT do it by trying to fit a 60-minute cardio session into 5 minutes or taking the right combination of nutraceuticals and yoga classes.

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Correlation, Causation, Violent Crime and Guns

Perhaps you’ve come across this argument recently: The UK has a higher violent crime rate than the USA. And you know what else they have? Gun control! The argument hinges on a simple pair of coincident facts and a not-too-keen “connection” between them. Basically, the idea is that the violent crime rate is higher in the UK than in the USA because, in the UK, people don’t have guns to protect themselves. Further, a criminal in the USA doesn’t know whether or not a potential victim is carrying a firearm, and subsequently, is more cautious about attacking. In other words, the argument is you’re safer if there are no laws prohibiting or limiting gun ownership or where said guns may be carried.

Yes, it is true that the UK has gun prohibitions that the USA doesn’t. Does that explain the violent crime rate difference? What other correlations exist between the two countries? Well, the UK does have national health care and the USA doesn’t. Also, they love soccer and rugby instead of American football and baseball. Maybe that’s it. No wait, maybe the correlation is the number of non-white heads of state. (Sound of exploding conservative brains.)

The thing is, far from being an argument against gun control, this factoid is a very strong argument in favor of it. Consider two societies that are similar in many respects: a common language, a shared history, the same economic system, similar political systems, similar distribution and consumption of books, films, video games, etc., yet one country appears to have higher violent crime rates. The interesting rub is that this is not an across-the-board rate. While a rough estimate puts the overall violent crime rate in the UK at twice that of the USA, gun related homicides are roughly 50 times greater in the USA than in the UK. All other factors being equal, one would expect the gun-related homicide rate to echo the overall rate but this is not what we see. Clearly, though, all other factors are not equal. And what’s the most unequal factor? Why, the fact that it is very difficult for individuals in the UK to get their hands on firearms as compared to individuals in the USA. In other words, even if you have a desire to commit a violent crime with a gun, if you can’t get your hands on one, it becomes extremely difficult to pull that off. In other words, it’s an effective deterrent to said crime.

While it is true that some places in the USA have strict gun laws, the USA has never had sweeping country-wide laws regulating gun sales and gun ownership at anything beyond a token level and/or for relatively short spans of time. It is hardly “gun control” if, for example, a city bans handguns outright but with a short 10 minute drive to a neighboring state you can purchase firearms of a vast quantity and variety. This sort of patchwork is not the situation in the UK.

So it seems to me that an (admittedly imperfect) experiment has been performed. We have two similar societies. One has strict gun laws while the other does not. The one with the gun laws has a gun-related homicide rate that is 2% of the country without. This is not rocket science.

 

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The Dumbest Man in Congress?

Congressman Louie Gohmert on the Sandy Hook shootings:

Is he actually suggesting that the wild west is a great model for a modern, civilized society? This man is about as smart as a box of rocks.

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Bitter know-nothings are fulfilling their obligation…

…to try to make the entire GOP look like a bunch of howling, ignorant screwballs.

In the course of looking for a detailed county-by-county election-results map, I happened across a blog called “Give Us Liberty 1776,” which is apparently a reference to the year in which a present-day country the blog creators know little about declared its independence from the British Empire.

The first post that caught my eye was titled “Obama did not win a single state that requires photo IDs to vote.” I didn’t have to read a single word of the post itself to formulate a response, but I did, and the level of dishonesty and ignorance in this surreal waste of time and effort is extreme even by the standards of a Wingnut Daily contributor.

I left a comment that most likely will not be approved by the mods. Here it is: Read the rest of this entry »

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Two reasons the general public doesn’t abhor lying

I bring this up because I’m greedy. I’m not intellectually satisfied by Romney’s narrowly losing the election. 48 percent of Americans who voted this cycle chose Romney, and given what a moral-ethical cripple he proved himself to be — not only during his wreck of a campaign but well before it even started — I find this appalling. One may plausibly argue that President Obama didn’t do a bang-up job, even allowing for the unusual level of adversity and contempt he faced when he took office in 2009, but no one can sensibly argue that he is in the same solar system as the Romney-Ryan thermonuclear bullshit plant.

I understand and accept that a lot of people will simply pull the lever for the candidate representing their political party of choice without looking any deeper, but even allowing for such a crass and superficial approach to civic proceedings, it is undeniable that anyone who voted for Mitt Romney, especially given his ramshackle choice of a running mate, simply does not care how freely and unabashedly Romney prevaricates. That, or they don’t notice or don’t believe it, which from the standpoint of fitness for voting is just as bad.

Most parents, even those who exhibit a variety of non-nurturing behaviors (excessive drinking or drugging, physical or other abuse, neglect), instill the idea in their kids that lying is wrong. Even parents who consciously tell lies don’t typically want their kids to lie, at least not to them and presumably in general. So Americans can be said to value honesty at some level. Even fundamentalist Christians who spout arrant bullshit about the afterlife and the universe in general aren’t lying; they’re merely wrong.

So why do we put up with it from our own leaders and potential leaders? Do we simply overlook it, or is there some kind of compromise at work? I see two basic reasons: Read the rest of this entry »

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A Short Story Revisited

Once there was an old man in the twilight of his life. One night he had a dream. In his dream he saw a beautiful sand beach stretching along the shore of a great ocean. And on that beach was a set of footprints heading off into the distance. In a moment of insight the old man realized that the footprints represented his own journey through life. And so he followed the path they made, re-examining his experiences across the years.

At times the footprints were steady and true. At other times they appeared erratic and deeply embedded in the sand as if a heavy load had been carried. These in particular were the times of great duress during the old man’s life. But light or heavy, always the footprints were alone. And the old man wondered how this could be. After all, he always thought that he had “walked with the lord”. Why weren’t the lord’s footprints alongside his own? So the old man cried out “Lord! Did we not walk together? And why were you not with me when the times were most difficult?”

And the old man listened for an answer but heard nothing. He cried out again but still nothing. No matter how intently he strained to hear, nothing came. And it was then that the old man realized that there was no lord. Rather, it was the old man who had been carrying the burden of an ancient, now useless concept which had made the journey so difficult. It was a concept which had been placed on his shoulders as a child and reinforced by well meaning family and friends as the years went by.

And so the old man straightened himself, cast off his burden, and looking out across the vast ocean, felt at long last a true sense of freedom and relief. He smiled to himself knowing that, truly, tomorrow would be a new day.

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And literacy in New Hampshire is supposed to be quite high

This is the greeting on the Strafford County home page:

Dear Web Reader,
It is with great pleasure that we welcome you to the new Strafford County Website.
If you have any questions reguarding our Site or what is not recorded,
feel free to send us an email to:
SCmailbox@co.strafford.nh.us. We look forward to “seeing” on the Web!

Very Truly yours,

Strafford County Commisioners

It’s not clear what it is these county employees hope to see (or “see”) online, but here’s hoping that they lay their eyes on a grammar and spelling tutorial.

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“Pro-life” Arkansas Congress candidate thinks death penalty for “rebellious” children is appropriate

As they say, you cannot make this shit up.

Charlie Fuqua, who has previously served in the Arkansas House of Representatives and wants all Muslims unconditionally deported and also advocates the sterilization of people who have been shown, by some standard, to be unsupportive parents, is now on record of advocating the death penalty for disobedient children.

One would find this a curious stance coming from someone who lists among his top ten agenda issues as “protect the sanctity of life,” but all bets are off with these mindless assholes. In some sub-worlds it makes perfect sense to be a rabid anti-abortionist while seriously advancing the idea that society might be better off if kids who merely sass their parents too much be hanged, shot or given lethal injections.

Every time I intend to mitigate my opinions about certain U.S. states, something like this rolls around and seems to legitimize every harsh prejudice I am apt to cling to.

 

 

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Same story, different headlines: a great example

Since sectarian religion by definition plays fast and loose with the truth (I’ve always wondered where the “fast” part of that saying comes from, but for now I’ll just roll with the cliche’), it should be no surprise that Christian news outlets are even more deep into the spin game than most media outlets, virtually none of which are free of at least some degree of obvious bias.

In 2009, a lawsuit was filed that aimed to block President Obama’s expansion of the availability of embryos for embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) via federal funding. (Ironically, the suit was brought not by pro-life opponents but by a pair of scientists concerned that the change in policy from the Bush Administration, which allowed ESCR but not its taxpayer funding, would ultimate backfire and hurt progress in ESCR.) The suit was tossed by a lower court, which determined that there was no basis for the suit since it was predicated on the erroneous idea that embryos in the federally funded projects were “harmed” in the process, which, if true, would violate a 1996 piece of legislation. (The quote marks are mine; feel free to argue with their inclusion if you want.) This decision was appealed, and on Friday, and appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision. Read the rest of this entry »

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Armstrong’s defenders: parallels with religious fervor

Unless you’ve been chained in a basement somewhere or in the throes of a drunken blackout, by now you’re aware that Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner and the most decorated cyclist in history, has been banned for life from the sport by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association (USADA) as a consequence of the case the agency has been building against him for months, if not years. Armstrong is charged not only with cheating via chemical enhancement, but also with trafficking, possessing, and administering banned substances. USADA also stripped him of all of his TdF titles, though the body lacks the ultimate authority to do so — that will fall to the International Cycling Federation (UCI). For any one of a thousand similar breakings of the story on Thursday afternoon, try this one in the NY Times. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the “If everyone had a gun, we’d all be safer” claim

Near the Empire State Building yesterday, NYPD officers shot and killed a recently fired man who had just executed his ex-boss by putting five rounds in his head. In the process, they wounded nine bystanders on the crowded Midtown sidewalk.

For whatever reason (I can think of better examples), this has catalyzed a lot of Internet discussion concerning the claim in the title of this post. I want to use what I believe is a credible, almost assured scenario to explain why this idea is as ridiculous as any other cast forth by the rabid faction of the pro-gun crowd. (I am not against private gun ownership, within limits.) Read the rest of this entry »

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A Lot of Money

Like many scientists and engineers I deal with very large and very small numbers daily. Sometimes, though, it is easy to lose perspective. Whenever I want to get a more visceral grasp on the relative size of something I make a similar ratio using stuff from the everyday world.

Consider money.  You can map quantities of currency onto scalar distance to get a feel for just what constitutes a lot of money. Suppose one US dollar is equivalent to half of an inch. That’s a little less than the diameter of a dime or about the diameter of a AA battery. So $1000 would be 500 inches or a little over 40 feet (nearly 13 meters).

What’s a lot of money for most folks? How about one million dollars? It’s about 20 times the median annual household income in the US and noticeably larger than the “nest egg” most people hope to retire on. Well, a million dollars equates to roughly eight miles in this scheme. A dime versus eight miles. Pretty big, right?

Contrast this to a billion dollars. A billion dollars is roughly the diameter of the Earth. So, think of how wide a dime is and then think of how wide the Earth is. That’s a billion to one ratio. Now there are people on this planet Earth who are billionaires. For example, the Koch brothers and several members of the Walton (Walmart) family are each worth in the neighborhood of 20 billion dollars. That’s 20 or more Earths lined up side-by-side. In comparison, if you have $100,000 in the bank, that’s equivalent to about 1400 yards.

At this point it is worth noting that the Supreme Court has pretty much said that money equates to free speech. So how loud do you think your voice is now?

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The Week that Was in…What?

The Johnson twins, who run Letsrun.com — long the pre-eminent distance-running site on the Web thanks to sheer game energy predominating over questionable self-importance and various flagrant abuses of Web design and language — have often been maligned for their conservative political stance, which has crept into their message-board climate. This, it seems, is largely the result of a basic stats principle, tendency-toward-the mean: In this case, the more people involved, the more likely it is that those people will reflect the general intellectual proclivities, tenor, and abuses of the population at large. That is, if this were a place with only 100 or so regulars, one would not be surprised to find, for example, a preponderance of Obama supporters or agnostics; but with thousands of daily denizens, the weight of FOX-vs-MSNBC, Dems-vs-Repubs, realists-vs-creationists on Letsrun is highly representative of the populace at large.

That’s fine; if the reportage of relevant content is on-the-money, which it usually is, it shouldn’t matter what the proprietors think or adhere to (think liking a Tom Cruise flick in spite of knowing the guy is a flake, or respecting Madonna’s music even though she may seem a moron). Still, I’m surprised at the extremes the Johnsons have gone to lately — and that’s my mistake, given the message-board-moderation direction over the years and the fact that this is an election year in which the GOP is looking hapless-to-pathetic.

From today’s “The Week that Was,” presumably in running:

That ad on the left is just fucked-up, and this would be the case without the ghastly and unabashedly ruthless fiscal realities engendered by the Bush administration. (That’s all I will opine on the specific politics of the matter.) The site deserves a source of revenue, and if I were in the Johnsons’ shoes I might whore myself out in the same way for a left-wing cause…but I doubt it. For whatever reason this just smacks of self-parody. What Could Happen To The White House if Aliens Representing a Hybrid of George Will and Ted Nugent Took Over Washington? I don’t know, but the WorldNet Daily might.

You won’t believe me, but I would find such lowbrow pandering on behalf of the left equally bizarre-cum-pathetic. I already do. I guess in part I’m just tired of listening to well-meaning Wal-Mart clerks express contempt for the current administration because their personal circumstances suck (and this is not a metaphorical assesment) and wish they would at least give weight to the fullness of the “debate,” but more than anything else I suppose I am just in my usual mode of not tolerating intellectually devoid messages of any sort.

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A Healthy, Fundamental Right

If one were to make a list of healthy hobbies, that list would probably include distance running, bicycling, rowing, skiing, hiking, swimming, and a variety of other self-locomotive activities. If a second list were to be created that detailed fundamental rights which need to be protected, it’s a safe bet that it would include items such as the rights of self-determination, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and so forth. What’s the intersection of these two lists? Just ask my Congressman.

New York’s 24th district is represented by Richard Hanna, a conservative Republican millionaire who was swept in with the Tea Party surge of 2010. Now that the next election is less than a year away, we have begun receiving mailers from the Congressman informing us of the important work that he has been supporting. One arrived just the other day. The winning line for me was the following:

“Hunting, fishing, shooting, snowmobiling, and trapping are not only healthy hobbies – they’re fundamental rights that need to be protected.”

Apparently, sitting behind a loud two-cycle engine and breathing its exhaust is both healthy and a fundamental right. So is standing around and shooting at a target. And certainly everyone admits that fishermen and hunters are known for their buff physiques and strong hearts.

For the most part I don’t really care whether or not someone finds fishing or snowmobiling or the like to be a fun pastime. We each have our preferences.  I think it’s a bit of a stretch, though, to describe some of these things as healthy or fundamental rights.

Unless, of course, you’re trying to reach out to your base. In that case it’s better apparently to make them feel better about themselves and mention minor, tangential items that you support than to address the large concerns and necessary legislation that will, in fact, actually help people in a major way.

 

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Woe there, Gribbit!

As always, I can’t resist the combination of supreme confidence and spectacular ignorance. It’s what made NBC’s The Office — the central theme of which is Michael Scott’s unremitting self-delusion concerning his own capabilities and esteem — such a hit. And it’s what makes Gribbit, the rabidly anti-socialism blogger who lives on a government paycheck, such an enchanting wreck of a commentator. (Unlike Scott, Gribbit lacks the sort of nominal charm and that accompanies good-hearted cluelessness and guilelessness, and is merely a malignant asshole. (His attempts to keep people from cutting and pasting, or even linking to, his content are also a continued source of amusement.)

Gribbit is again playing the “you should have listened to me” game again with this incoherent rant about…well, Obama and stuff, which begins with this: Read the rest of this entry »

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How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying): Sam Harris

This is great. Sam Harris’ responses to criticism of his essays and views are always perfect, but then he would not have gotten to where he is without a pachydermal bearing.

The Blog : How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying) : Sam Harris.

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Rick Perry doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change…

…and in a similarly shocking vein, certain Jamaicans are suspected of cultivating marijuana.

One nice thing about leaving my otherwise treasured home state of New Hampshire is that I don’t have to see first-hand the parade of Republican hopefuls who — thanks to New Hampshire having the nation’s first presidential primary election — begin flooding the place in pre-election years when there’s a Democrat or two-term GOP-er in the White House. This year, more than in any other, virtually all of them hold fifth-degree idiotbelts, from the no-hopers to Obama’s potential adversaries. It’s a sad day when someone like Mitt Romney has to be given credit for admitting that human-caused climate change is at least worth a look.

Rick Perry, the Texas governor known as much for his coif as his stances, told a crowd in Bedford that he’s a global warming skeptic. This in itself is no surprise. Perry represents a state with colossal fossil-fuel interests and has previously hit all of the podunk low points, from advocating “Intelligent Design” to opposing same-sex marriage to condemning abortions. As someone pandering to a citizenry like Texas’s, he has no choice but to support such causes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Violent crime and a cratering economy: not what people think

Yesterday afternoon, three women were robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight on the busiest recreation path in Boulder. This sort of thing almost never happens around here, but the incident comes on the relatively close heels of the shooting death of University of New Hampshire football player Todd Walker, who attempted to intervene in a robbery on University Hill.

Last night I overheard someone discussing yesterday’s robbery, and at the end of his soliloquy he declared that this was the kind of thing that would continue happening thanks to people defaulting on their mortgages, losing their jobs and otherwise suffering the ravages of a shitty economy. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard some version of this claim, not the second, nor even the tenth. It’s a bona fide meme, and I’ve never believed it.

Think about it: How often do you see canned CFO’s and out-of-work software consultants jailed for pulling a gun on a random person in the hope of grabbing maybe fifty or sixty bucks? People of means happily commit crimes, but do not typically indulge in such offenses as robbery, burglary, larceny and other brute-force malfeasance. Instead, they defraud banks, skim from their employers, commit identity fraud and do end runs around the IRS.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Ironically, uninformed people say mistaken things

That’s obviously (I hope) not an example of irony.

“Ironic” may be the most misunderstood and misapplied adjective in frequent use. It’s a tricky word; ironically, it can be hard to distinguish irony from its diametric opposite. But while it’s understandable and no big deal that the rank and file continually misuses the word “ironic,” one would hope that broadcast journalists in a major metropolitan area would know better, or at least that their producers would.

This morning, one of the Denver news stations ran a story about the wind-induced collapse of a stage at the Indianapolis State Fair that killed four people. The anchorwoman had something very close to this to say: “Ironically, an announcer warned the crowd of severe weather just a minute before the collapse.”

Okay, let’s break this down. Someone points out that the weather is getting nasty, and an element of that nasty weather nastily wrecks something. That’s irony? If so, then so is “Ironically, after spending eight hours in the Florida sun, Maine vacationer Charlene McGillicuddy suffered a terrible sunburn. Now, had the announcer in Indianapolis boasted that the facility had just received the “Safest Set-Up of 2011″ from the American Association of Fairground Structures right before the collapse, that would have been ironic. Coincidence is not irony. Unfortunate timing, like last night’s, is not irony. In fact, I’d guess that in four out of every five instances of someone using the word “ironically,” replacing it with “not surprisingly” or “sure enough” would create a far more coherent delivery.

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