Thursday, January 21, 2010

Exhibit A. An idea that could've worked, but....

Paul Krugman: Jobs Not Created

I got an idea--instead of passing tax breaks helping the rich get richer, let's instead make an offer to those who hire people. If you increase your payrolls, we'll give you a break on payroll taxes. The CBO analysis just showed that it has the most bang for the buck of any similar proposal, and it's not even close.


Fuck it.

Yes, indeed: fuck it.

The election of Scott Brown shows us only one thing--the American people are self-destructive. They do not want hope. They do not want change. They want to watch America go down in flames and then fight each other for the scraps.

Well, fine. If you can't beat them, join them.

The Democrats, led by Barack Obama and Howard Dean, are certainly not up to the task in reversing the disastrous course this nation is on. We needed to see, immediately, the following occur to have any hope of saving our cushy American existence:

1. Massive investment in research and development of non-carbon sources of energy, and most especially, energy storage. Have we seen any progress? No. Will we see any? No. Progress: Zero. Long term prognosis: Hopeless.

2. Sweeping reforms in access to healthcare and reprioritizing treatment and diagnostics to seek patient wellbeing rather than choosing what stuffs the health care industry's pocket? Progress: Zero. Long term prognosis: Hopeless.

3. Massive incentives away from people joining the parasitic MBA class and more towards learning how to create things of actual value--art, new technology, new scientific breakthroughs, and so forth. Progress: Zero. Long term prognosis: Hopeless.

4. Any sort of creative idea to prevent the utter destruction of the middle class. Progress: It's getting worse. Long term prognosis: Hopeless

To be honest, I didn't have much hope in Obama's election actually changing anything, but I went along, thinking that if we had any hope at all we had to elect him. Well, we've elected him, and absolutely nothing has changed. We're sort of limping along, but limping along isn't good enough.

We face very serious crises in climate, energy, food production, health, and economic sustainability within the next generation unless serious action is taken now. And the Democrats are unable to muster the sheer force of will and personality to get these things done. Obama is a fucking joke--a half-wit who can't do shit unless he's in front of a teleprompter. He is even less impressive than John F. Kennedy, a man who was so ill he would qualify for Social Security Disability if the 1960 version of him were alive today. That's an amazing accomplishment for a man who we placed so much hope in.

Seriously, fuck it. Let's just burn the whole thing down. The best way to fan the flames is to vote Republican. I think I'm going to start voting Republican in every election, just to accelerate the collapse. We might as well get it over with.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WTFF. xiii. This post should be shoved up the noses of those who think that "discovery" based math instruction is great.

Cliff Mass: How Good Are UW Students At Math?
Consider these embarrassing statistics from the exam:

The overall grade was 58%

43% did not know the formula for the area of a circle
86% could not do a simple algebra problem (problem 4b)
75% could not do a simple scientific notation problem (1e)
52% could not deal with a negative exponent (2 to the -2)
43% could not do simple long division problem with no remainder!
47% did not know what a cosine was.

These are kids taking an introductory course in Earth and Space Sciences. Ostensibly, that is not something required of all students, so I think I can safely assume that these kids are basically interested in science. So it's fucking criminal that these kids do not come to college with the tools needed to learn what they are interested in.

This isn't just an appalling indictment of pedagogical theories of the last twenty years. This isn't just a regional embarrassment. This is an existential crisis. Economic recovery will never occur without major advances in biomedical and energy technology, and without the next generation having a solid foundation in mathematics, the situation is utterly hopeless.

Makes me want to become a math tutor, like yesterday. I could come up to speed on the crap I can't remember off the top of my head in a long weekend, and kids I taught would run laps around the typical UW freshman within weeks.

Read it all. It should make you very angry.

The dark side of the anti-vax movement.

USA Today: Missed vaccines weaken 'herd immunity' in children

Vaccines do not protect everyone. Some people need to not be exposed to certain illnesses to begin with, because immune defects have devastating consequences when they are exposed to those diseases. This is called "herd immunity," and is a very important component to the public health aspect of immunity.

People are starting to buy into the anti-vaccination nonsense (and yes, it is total nonsense), and this sort of thing is the consequence. Read it all, it's heartbreaking.

How to be elephantine without being a douchebag.

Ted Olson op-ed in Newsweek: The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

I didn't realize very many conservatives like this still existed, and the ones that do have remained utterly silent lately, probably afraid of being called RINOs or worse. But Ted Olson steps up and punches the douchebag contingent of the Republican Party in the face.

On the other hand, the last thing I really want is Republicans starting to sound reasonable again, because that means they'll start winning elections. Democrats are floundering on their divided loyalties to the financial elite and the dispossessed (probably a 90-10 balance, which is why things like health-care reform are going so badly.) However, I do like a challenge, and more like this from the right will be a game-changer.

But it's not likely. What I suspect will really happen is Ted will be torn limb-from-limb from the Palin-Malkin dominant wing of the party. That will be sad, but hang in there, Ted.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Christopher Hitchens: Intellectual complexity and atavistic Islam.

Michael J. Totten: An Interview with Christopher Hitchens, Part I

I've had complicated feelings about Christopher Hitchens. I first encountered him back in 2002 via the film version of The Trial of Henry Kissinger. When I read the book, I was blown away by the quality of Hitchens' writing and thinking. He's definitely a heavy-duty intellectual for our times--comparable to, say, George Orwell. I also thought of him as an atheist version of C. S. Lewis because of his vivid moral clarity.

Unfortunately, I got rather disillusioned with him after that. Because he generally went all-in in support of George Dubya Bush's crass military adventurism in the name of "fighting terror," or whatever the fuck it was supposed to be. As annoyed as Hitchens was with theists in general, he seemed really afraid of atavistic Muslims--the kind who support things like 9/11, burqas, and other obnoxious extremities of Arab and Islamic culture. He got so obnoxious about it that he proclaimed that waterboarding wasn't torture.

I mean, that was puzzling! Why would he write such a damning treatment of Kissinger, but then turn around and support the same obnoxious bullshit 4 years later?

But he's had some encouraging rethought about some of these positions. The first thing is that he said, "you know, maybe I'll try waterboarding." Afterwards he said, "if that isn't torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

This interview also suggests he has a more clear idea of the sorts of things he's afraid of. The interview is worth reading, because it will restore your confidence in Hitchens if you are left-leaning. On the other hand, i worry a little that he is not critical enough of the civilization he defends--he freaks out about toxic ideas in Muslim culture, but he appears insensitive to similar ideas in our own culture.

Along these lines, I've been promising a critique of Hitchens' ideas and those of the other "Four Horsemen of Atheism" (Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett) for some time, ever since I've read Harris' pathetic offering, The End of Faith. I'm still working on it, though.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fun stuff: How to totally confuse your friends with archaic Latin phrases and abbreviations.

Most people know "etc." It's short for et cetera, which means "and so on," used to denote a list that continues into irrelevancies.

But why stop there? Why use plain language when you can use highfaluting abbreviations? Impress or confuse your friends with these, inter alia (among others).

et al., short for et alii, "and others". Used like etc., but when mentioning proper names of things.

i. e., id est, "that is". Use it when you would otherwise say, "in other words".

e. g., exempli gratia, idiomatically meaning "for the sake of example."

viz., videlicet, "namely."

cf., confer, "compare to" or "consult with."

q. v., quod vide, "which [you should go and] see." Used to denote a cross-reference with something else in the same work. For multiple items, you should use qq. v.

idem, "the same". In a list of things, if you're too pretentious to use "ditto," use that. If you really want to confuse people, use i. q., short for idem quod, "the same as."

ibid., ibidem, "in the same place." An archaic way of citing consecutive uses of the exact same source in a bibliographic citation. But if you really want to hose someone, use it in another context.

op cit., opere citato, "in that which was cited." Similar to the previous, but perhaps of a different section of the work.

Q. E. D., quo erat demonstrandum, "which was to be demonstrated." When making an argument where you are proving something, you say this after you prove it. A highbrow way of saying, "so there!"

ergo, "therefore."

quære, "you might ask." If David Byrne was Roman, the verses of "Once in a Lifetime" would be a lot shorter. Used to anticipate criticism of a rhetorical position. You also get bonus points if you use the "æ" ligature so your writing causes encoding drama.

ceteris paribus, "other things being equal." An assumption that controlled variables are actually controlled. A lot of economists use this, especially stupid ones.

And, of course, when accusing someone of logical fallacy, a good command of Latin phrase will give you that extra bit of authoritative mojo:

non sequitur, "it does not follow." When the conclusion of someone's argument doesn't seem related to the premises at all, or the relationship is misleading because of inappropriate context.

ad hominem, "at the person." When you call someone names or attack their character instead of addressing their argument. The "instead of" is key. Insulting your opponent in addition to tearing their bad logic apart is simply a breach of decorum, not fallacious. Of course, sometimes ad hominem is good, clean fun, especially on your own blog.

And my favorite, post hoc ergo propter hoc, "afterwards, therefore, caused by." A fallacy of correlation vs. causation. Two temporally related events may, in fact, have different causes, so you need additional evidence to establish causality.

If you have favorites of your own, let me know.

Happy New Year (late though I am).

My friends, I have not abandoned you. But I am doing some private journaling right now to get my thoughts together. I promise there will be much more. Hang in there. ;)