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The paradox of the rhetorical circle-jerk

A lot of us are familiar with sort of belligerent online ranters who aren’t afraid to “speak their minds,” “stir the pot,” “put it out there,” and so on — as long as they can control the conversation, that is. On their blogs and social-media profiles, these people grow comfortable talking either into a void or to a (typically small) cadre of equally mindless followers. It is usually evident that their toxic views and flights of ideas are fueled by some combination of glaring intelligence deficits or legitimate mental illness. Their output is blatantly dishonest, repetitive, self-contradictory, and in violation of countless rules of grammar and style.

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Getting unfriended in five joyous steps

I’ve mentioned before that I have more than a few friends who voted for our ever-more-embattled C-i-C, and that they not only don’t take umbrage at the stuff I write about various pertinent goings-on, but also chuckle at a lot of it.

But not everyone has such accommodating people in their online lives. If you have friends or “friends” who disagree with your politics or religious beliefs in a manner you find toxic, don’t worry, you don’t need to take action — soon enough, they will.

This is how it goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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Trump’s first success will be a failure

It’s interesting to imagine what will happen when President Trump first achieves what he honestly believes to be a genuine political victory, and what even some objective observers might view as one. (Insert old metaphor about stopped clocks and twice-a-day correctness.)

Trump will be eager to take full credit for whatever this turns out to be — say, a surge in employment in a given sector or the capturing of an Islamic terrorist on U.S. soil. This is nothing new, since he regularly assigns himself credit for things he had nothing to do with or aren’t even going well, bullshit that the media has been happy to call him on.

Trump is used to being disparaged and mocked in the press, but I suspect that there is a part of him that thinks that he can turn this around by perpetrating some grand or merely grandiose act of presidential shazam. When this doesn’t materialize — and as I think we can all agree, it won’t, as the media is going to keep taunting and baiting him and exploiting his personality disorders for a whole array of good reasons — I think he will be deeply disturbed.

In other words, Trump can take the potshots he’s getting now — not with any amount of grace or equanimity, but without literally collapsing or doing something so egregiously fucked up that some authority greater than him has to intervene. But I don’t think he’ll handle the continued jeers and taunts and insults and criticism when he truly believes he’s being a good president and no one seems to notice or care. Because if there is one thing a narcissist despises more than his poor qualities being maligned, it’s his supposedly good ones being ignored.

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Dumb and dumber, and no fucking way

fb_img_1486073038241I need to un-train my mind in certain ways.

I see this sort of thing and continue to think, “How the hell is it that so many people can rally behind anyone, let alone a U.S. president, who both rages away at phantom enemies (and legitimate criticism) like this and is functionally illiterate to boot?”

Then I recall the output of the most vocal Trump fans I’ve crossed online paths with recently, and remind myself of the obvious: People who like Trump unconditionally aren’t disregarding the fact that he thinks and writes like a preteen with severe lead poisoning; they actually don’t even notice this. If anything, they probably assume that Trump is turning out Shakespeare-caliber prose and thundering away perfectly on-point every time he ejaculates this sort of unintelligible, raving nonsense. They can no more appreciate how his words look to normal people than I can follow the logic of someone doing tensor calculus in his head or merely speaking Russian.

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Every conservative is a fat, Christ-addicted gun nut (and here’s a meme that proves it)

Not exactly, but isn’t it fun to think that way? Doesn’t that get your liberal heart beating with real force?

What I’m actually considering here is a doppelganger of sorts of that argument — the persistence of the “liberals want to live on government handouts” myth. It’s an interesting political phenomenon in that no one internal to the idea actually believes it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mental disarray and personal politics, part II

Building on an observation I made yesterday: When people who are clearly mentally unbalanced are at least coherent enough to form political opinions, in any contest they observe between a candidate who goes about things comparatively quietly and one whose chief strategy is inexhaustible high-volume raving about Stuff That Needs Fixing, they invariably go for the shrieking demagogue. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mental disarray and personal politics, part I

I continue to be intrigued by people who self-identify as conservative in spite of having been supported by some combination of the government and other people’s charity for literally their entire lives. I ponder the underlying psychology and then conclude there’s actually nothing unusual about this seeming contradiction: If you can’t or won’t make your own way in life to an even marginal extent, it eases your internal conflict to symbolically align yourself with those who can and do.

I’m trying to come up with the liberal answer to this kind of person. Maybe a closet racist or closeted gay person who wishes to shed such biases because it’s “right” and who therefore superficially adopts anti-bigotry political stances?

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Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and its seven-astronaut crew.

As a sophomore at the high school where Christa McAuliffe taught social studies as well as an aficionado of the space program, I formed a lot of memories of this event and its aftermath–in terms of both the Concord community and NASA–in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed.

Ten years ago, I expanded on these in a series of five posts on this blog, and nine years ago on this date I underwent a surprising experience related to the disaster. Links to all six entries are below.

Into the distance, a ribbon of black
“A major malfunction” turns 21
Life in a Northern Town
STS-51-L: what went wrong
The galactic price of organizational arrogance
Reflecting on a retrospective–with a jolt

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Some thing’s never change’s: Grokster’s still happily inhabiting an alternate realities

Until today I hadn’t looked at Granite Grok in several months. With a Clinton presidency all but assured and the Dems’ taking back the Senate more likely than not, I figured that the loons who keep that Internet turd bobbing along in the sewer pipes of cyberspace had become even more irrational and incoherent than usual. Then I remembered that their achieving this is as about as feasible a prospect as exceeding infinity; maxed out is maxed out. But I was nevertheless far from disappointed.

This post jumped out at me because it has all of the usual Grok nonsense: written in barely comprehensible English, relying on fringe characters and sites as sources, and laced with untenable amounts of wishful thinking. The lowlights: Read the rest of this entry »

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“New Atheists” may chafe, but that doesn’t make calmer approaches to fundamentalism effective

Yesterday, TIME’s online edition ran a column jointly created by three fellows who purported to have a new answer to combating Islamic fundamentalism. They invoked the annoying term “New Atheist” a lot, and while they acknowledged that the stridency of some of the highly visible contemporary atheists has its place in productive discourse, in their view it would be preferable to approach would-be jihadists in a gentler, more diplomatic way.

I was immediately skeptical of this for reasons I will get to even though they are probably obvious to many of you, but I kept reading to see what this novel and apparently magical strategy appealing to jihadists’ kinder sides would consist of.

And then the column ended. Read the rest of this entry »

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The paradox of human intelligence

You have to love it when someone burbles, “I’ve finally realized after all these years that I was doing X all wrong” immediately before making the very same bad life choice he or she just claimed to have put in the past. No, really, I do. The ability to simultaneously learn from a mistake and make that mistake repeatedly anyway is an exquisitely human thing. (I don’t like it when someone who happens to consider me a mortal adversary plays this game, but this is rare, even if it’s what inspired this post.)

In practical terms, wild animals with small brains alter their behavior in accordance with reward-punishment schemes much more readily than people do. If a lizard eats a plant that makes it sick, thanks to its limbic system and the intimate relationship between olfaction and memory, that lizard will never eat that type of plant again. A human, on the other hand, is inclined to engage its cerebrum, and concludes things like, “Well, maybe if I switch from vodka to beer, alcohol won’t be a problem” or “I’ll at least mix in some filtered cigarettes” or “As long as I limit myself to 10 tanning sessions a month, the gratuitous UVB rays really aren’t going to serve as a cancer risk.”

Ironically, we’re the only animals smart enough to be capable of completely pulling the wool over out own eyes. We readily conflate being aware of a problem to having solved it with no further effort.

Is this trait adaptive? It certainly helps reduce cognitive dissonance, which always  provides psychological relief, but in general — no. It allows people to repeatedly engage in behaviors that cause them pain, and the fact that it exists to a more obvious degree in mentally unstable but otherwise fairly intelligent or even very intelligent people seems to suggest that it’s not a good approach to the world.

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A subprime extended analogy

Imagine that for some reason the Bolder Boulder 10K — which I will be running for the first time on Memorial Day — fronted me 200 race bibs for this year’s event, and told me that they wanted $10,000 ($50 per bib) in return. Recognizing that the homeless and low-income population of Boulder is an untapped and eager market for this race — there’s a lot of free food and a free T-shirt involved, after all — I canvass the downtown area and offer to give race bibs away for $5 each, along with any EBT cards with a balance of between $25 and $50 (I might throw in a pint of vodka to sweeten the deal). I am able to very rapidly hawk all 2,000 numbers, giving me about $1,000 in cash and a pile of EBT cards. I have no idea if these have any value and I don’t check because I don’t care.

The reason I don’t care is simple: I’m on the hook for ten grand to the Bolder Boulder, but that is about to become someone else’s problem. Through a process of possibly illegal but complicated forgery, I manage to make the 200 EBT cards look like Whole Foods gift cards with a value of $250 each, and I offer these to people around Whole Foods stores and on Craigslist for $50 in cash, explaining that I have a gripe against the company and want no part of any of their nasty-tasting, overpriced garbage and homeopathic woo-woo. In the fine print of the agreement, which is written in Sanskrit, I have each “gift card” buyer sign for my personal tax records, it says that they also owe the Bolder Boulder 10K $50 in the form of a mandatory charitable donation to the Bolder Boulder 10K itself. It also says that the gift cards are only good in Whole Foods stores that open on or after January 1, 2020. No problem. Read the rest of this entry »

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Obamacare: Source of angst, source of lies

I have been a beneficiary of the Affordable Care Act since the first open enrollment in January 2014. As a freelancer of long standing, I hadn’t had health insurance in almost ten years. When I filled out the online application at the Colorado Connect site (a technical Hindenburg, then and now) and told them I was essentially a self-employed business owner who expected to earn X that year, I was surprised to get a card in the mail just a few days later that includes a very decent plan. They asked for no verification of any of the info I’d supplied them, and have renewed my coverage twice now with no help from me.

So, I have no personal complaints. But I am sanguine enough to acknowledge that this says nothing about the experience of other people, and I am close with a few of them who have less than glowing things to say about the bureaucracy managing the ACA show here in Colorado. Moreover, the healthcare system in this country remains a nightmare for many. And while it makes no sense to blame President Obama personally or declare the program an on-balance failure — clearly, some people will thrive under the system at the expense of others, and I don’t think anyone in the know suggested this wouldn’t be the case — it is very easy to do this, because a large segment of the population is sufficiently bitter and blinkered to draw a direct line of causality between America having black Democratic president and their persistent case of anal warts.

I’ve just described the perfect storm for right-wing bloggers are pseudo-journalists, many of whom seem to prefer writing dishonestly to experiencing orgasms, to embark on a prolonged and gleeful misinformation spree. You’ve got angry right-wingers, lots of polls about health insurance, plausible debate over the overall effectiveness of the ACA in doing what it was intended to do (there are far more articles echoing this and this than stories offering opposing ideas in major media outlets, but we all know what the Yosemite Sam Brigade has to say about the mainstream media). That adds up to carte blanche for conservative “reporters” to throw meat scraps at the starving low-information piranhas just looking for one more reason to bitch about socialism, liberals, and (in the right company) blacks. Never mind that the meat is actually Tofurky or some such vegan impostor; stoking the fury of the pig-ignorant masses is critical. If you can do this by attaching a whole ton of deceitful shit to a central kernel of truth or even faint legitimacy, you’ve done your job and your site’s hit count will rise.

I found a great example yesterday Read the rest of this entry »

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That’s not what “information” means, sir

The greatest thing about unintentional irony is that its power to amuse is immune to the sands of time.

We live, of course, in an era in which every slack-minded crusader with Internet access seems to think that his frantic and delusional ideas about politics, religion and life in general merit a personal blog. This has boosted the number of people publicly expressing thoughts that are not only profoundly stupid but also magnificently oblivious to levels no observer could have predicted even twenty years ago. Nevertheless, every new addition to the canon of “Look at the pile of chocolate it looks like I stepped in! Why does it stink?” is just as entertaining as the ones preceding it. If nothing else, these actors are largely insulated from uncomfortable emotions such as shame and embarrassment, because they lack the intellectual candlepower to see how badly off the mark their shots invariably fall.

Hence my fascination with Granite Grok. Read the rest of this entry »

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The understated value of low-wattage Internet pilgrims

Since you visit the Internet, you’re surely aware that it features a colossal army of jabbering fools whose self-appointed role is to tirelessly clutter the Web with a staggering amount of fact-starved and barely decipherable material every day.

One of the many silver linings of this inexhaustible supply of really, really dumb bloggers is that morons offer excellent examples of the phenomenon of cognitive bias. We all indulge in this practice, but unsophisticated thinkers cannot see their own cognitive biases (hello, Dunning! Meet Kruger!) so they have no motivation to conceal them and probably couldn’t even if they tried.

My one-stop shop for what the dumbest right-wingers in America are thinking, Granite Grok, is biased against atheism, gay- and transgender-friendly legislation, immigrants, minorities, global warming, taxation, and educated people. Not because they have evaluated any of these things objectively on their merits — such a task would be too Herculean for them to even ponder — but because they believe that as “conservatives” they are supposed to automatically categorically reject a well-defined array of issues and concepts. Read the rest of this entry »

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The futility blog

If you’ve spent any time reading blogs, you’ve seen at least a few of them that, rather than serving as a linear chronicle of events and ideas sharing a common theme in the writer’s life, center on a particular event, purpose or goal. In a typical runner’s blog, the writer describes his training and races and daily experiences, with the implicit idea that the blog will be regularly updated until the writer gets sick of it or quits running or no longer has the time. It’s essentially a journal, nothing more. But sometimes people start blogs with titles like “My Journey to the 2016 Olympic Trials,” or “Getting to the Bottom of Russian Doping” that have either a fixed temporal endpoint or a finite purpose or both.

With the latter type, you’ll often discover right away that the person behind the blog has a goal he or she stands no realistic chance of attaining, either because the goal is worthy but simply out of the blogger’s reach (for example, a 40-year-old man with a marathon best of 2:50 hoping to make the Olympic Trials standard of 2:19) or the entire scheme is founded on delusional thinking or ferociously corrupt logic (say, a runner who predicts that a Nepalese marathoner will set a world record this fall because of sherpas’ proven ability to perform yeoman physical feats in the presence of very little oxygen). In such cases, you have unearthed a genuine futility blog. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bad ersatz-Christian logic, #349 in a series: “If you say there’s no God, you appoint yourself God.”

First of all, I should explain what I mean by by an ersatz Christian. To me, this describes anyone who ignores the idea that Christianity — despite the wreck it’s been turned into in both recent and less-recent periods in world history, the methodically violent and otherwise destructive directives in the Old Testament, the fact that the being its the core is undoubtedly mythical — is supposed to be a force for good. It is supposed to be about forgiveness, humanity, humility, equality, and other outstanding human traits and states of mind.

Now, many atheists may understandably suggest I am being overly accommodating by suggesting that Christians who say and do stupid things, especially when those things have scriptural justification, are not genuine Christians — that I am indulging in a “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy. Perhaps, but the fact is that I do know Christians, more than a few of them, who so in fact have no use for the divisive LGBT bullshit or the shoehorning of creationism into public schools or the mindless opposition to things like embryonic stem-cell research and Planned Parenthood Gardasil on religious grounds. They are generous and kind, often more so than I will ever be, and these people are the ones I choose to view Christians. The noisy louts are the feminism’s answer to feminist women who really do hate men and position themselves as women’s advocates almost solely on this platform, or the skeptical community’s counterpart to people who consider themselves roundly rational simply because they make the facile choice to not believe in the existence of deities.

Anyway, that digression leaves me looking at yet another shitburst from a bottom-of-the-barrel right-wing squawking head and self-described Evangelical Christian, Skip Murphy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Camille Paglia on Election 2016: Whether 2 plus 2 might equal 5 for sufficiently large values of 2 is anyone’s guess

This is unbelievably bad by the standards of both Salon and Camille Paglia, which is like saying that Donald Trump just said something amazingly ignorant about foreign policy, the economy, Christiani…oops! I’m not supposed to do that, because, see, as Paglia scolds, liberals are responsible for the explosive rise of Trump to the top of the Republican shitheap. (Andrew Sullivan has been saying the same thing, almost as tediously and tendentiously.)

Paglia asserts that Democrats have been “playing the race and riot cards against him to the max.” While I’ve never heard of the “riot card” before. I am mystified as to what the appropriate response to people disturbed by racist comments from a leading political candidate should look like. Feigning deafness? Nervous giggling? Sighing, “Ah, that scamp, he’s a bit much, but he’s just trying to breathe life into things”?

Paglia seems oblivious to the fact that Republicans have been pillorying Trump for the same things, as loudly as they dared, throughout the campaign. Well, except for respected voices such as David Duke, The American Freedom Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and various other Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, who in viewing Trump as a racist might as well be shouting their closet liberalism from the rooftops, on Paglia’s view.

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NY Times’ “The Biggest Loser” article light on key facts

It would be great if an acclaimed — and more importantly, extremely widely read — U.S. newspaper could boast “Health” and “Science” sections that boasted consistently impressive articles. This one is getting a lot of attention, and with good reason: something like two-thirds of adult Americans are considered overweight, millions of them are trying to shed pounds, and Gina Kolata’s article in effect conveys the message that they are screwed.

I’m going to assume that anyone reading this has read the article and the study it draws from or at least has tabs open to these, because I am not going to review it in depth.

A couple of very quick, seemingly obvious, and (perhaps deliberately) underemphasized or omitted points:

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Curious George Will

George Will is a hack. A very glib one, who can deftly turn a phrase and whose columns are usually worth a read for their literary dynamism alone. But he’s still nothing more than a blindly partisan shill.

Here he proclaims that Donald Trump has done serious damage to the Republican Party, but that the destruction has only really just started and that if he’s nominated, the damage will only multiply. What he ignores is that Trump didn’t himself knock the down the door allowing undisguised bozos to walk into the GOP clubhouse; other Republicans started tearing this door off its frames years ago, and Trump has merely strolled through the now-unguarded opening, yammering and telling off-color jokes in a manner reminiscent of Rodney Dangerfield’s character in “Back to School.” Trump did not create Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Mitch McConnell, Michele Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Steve King, Jan Brewer, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rick Scott, Orrin Hatch, Paul LePage, Mike Pence, Sam Brownback, or, most recently, Pat McCrory or Robert Bentley.

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