Movie idea

Since Hollywood is so enamored with redoing old movies and tv shows, might I suggest a hybrid? "Homey the Clown Goes to Washington." I can't be the only one who would love to see Damon Wayans smack some stupid Congressperson upside the head with a sock full of quarters and yell "Homey don't play that!" I could watch that for hours, I think.

Just in case you don't remember Homey the Clown, here's a clip. (Honestly, I just wanted an excuse to post the video.)

Zogby Interactive, if you've never heard of it, is a glorified internet poll. It's not quite as inaccurate as the kind that pop up on pretty much any website and which people of all stripes troll gleefully, but neither is it recognized as a quality information gathering process either. I'm no pollster, but it seems to me that any system that requires people to opt in to answer questions is going to be decidedly less random of a sample than say, a random sample.

But people and companies pay for this sort of polling, apparently. I used to answer the polls religiously, but have been slacking off recently, so when Amy asked me yesterday if I'd seen the latest, which included the question below (screen grab), I had to check it out to see for myself. Yep, that's one of the questions, second page, if I remember correctly.

I'm really most curious about who would want an answer to that question. Ashamed is a really loaded word to use in a poll, after all, and you don't include a word like that in a poll question without trying to elicit a pretty powerful reaction. That's the kind of question you'd see on a Facebook poll. Well, okay, it's not as bad as this Facebook poll, but then again, I doubt even Zogby Interactive would ask "Should Obama Be Killed?" no matter what they were being paid.

Belief vs. Understanding

I suppose I ought to be happy that Newsweek gave over some space to excerpt Richard Dawkins's new book on evolution, especially since the excerpt is basically a solid, basic explanation of how creationists misinterpret the fossil record and a discussion of common ancestry among species, and it's not the kind of thing one often sees in a major US news magazine.

But who wrote this awful headline and subhead?:

The Angry Evolutionist
More Americans believe in angels than in evolution—and Richard Dawkins isn't going to take it anymore.
That's a really misleading title for an excerpt from a book about evolution. Now, it was effective--I clicked on the link because the title pissed me off--so if I'm being Sunday-morning-sunshine-out-my-ass about it, I guess that's a good thing, assuming others click through and read it. But there's no anger in this piece, although rational people certainly have reason to be angered by what the subhead posits.

I've written before about how I dislike the use of the word "believe" when it comes to evolution. It seems like a small thing--just a change from "believe" to "understand"--but the denotational differences are huge. To believe in something requires faith, requires a hint of credulity--it's the imaginative leap one takes in the absence of complete evidence. It's trusting that a person who makes a promise to you will keep that promise, for example. It's a function of human interaction, a metaphor.

But when we're talking about systems that can be understood, that don't require a leap of faith (even a small one), belief isn't a proper term to use anymore. We might say that we believe our car will start if we put our key in the ignition and turn it, but if it doesn't, we won't (or shouldn't, anyway) blame a lack of faith. We'll check under the hood to see if the battery connections are corroded or call AAA; we'll try to figure out what's wrong with the system, and if we have limited understanding as to how the system works, we'll find someone who understands it better than we do.

Evolution is that sort of system. One shouldn't believe in it--one should understand it, to a greater or lesser degree. I understand evolution to about the same extent I understand the workings of an internal combustion engine, which is just enough to get me into trouble, but it's an understanding of a process, not a belief in a mystical force.

One last thing: the anger bit. The title suggests that Dawkins is angry because more Americans believe in angels than in evolution, and maybe it's right. Maybe Dawkins is incredibly pissed about that. I don't think so, but I'm far from objective, because you know something? I'm pissed about it. You know why? Because our understanding of evolution underpins all the advances we've made in the biological sciences for more than a century now, and the more our understanding of evolution increases, the more advances we make. If you take medicine for an illness, if you're treated by a doctor, you're benefiting from the study and understanding of evolution. Hell, if you're eating regularly, you're benefiting from it, because agricultural science depends on evolution.

These are not things that require leaps of faith--these are processes that can be understood to a greater or lesser degree, and they affect our lives more immediately and more often than angels ever would, assuming they exist in the first place. But here's the thing--I'm not upset that people believe in angels. Believe is the perfect word to use there, as a matter of fact. I don't believe in them because I'm not willing to make the leap of faith required to do so, and there's no way for me to study them empirically. But I don't believe in evolution either. I understand it. And I'm upset that more people in the US don't.

Saturday Morning Links

I don't know if regular readers (do I still have those?) have noticed, but I've been lax in my blogging of late. On Saturdays, at least, this is due in part to the blogging I do over at The Rumpus. So I've decided I'm going to double-dip a little. Here are the Saturday Morning Links I've put together for your viewing pleasure (and I use the term pleasure loosely).

Here's the latest on the Google Books deal. Short version: it's being renegotiated.

I don't know what's worse about this story: that Tennessee Vols basketball coach Bruce Pearl made a Klan joke about Grainger County, or that the people of Grainger County weren't offended by it.

ACORN has a champion--an able one--in Rachel Maddow.

Kiana at PostBourgie provides an interesting rundown on the Sundance Channel's "Brick City," about Newark and Mayor Booker.

And finally, whatever you do, do not click this link. You will regret it, I promise you.

Pick'em Friday

Two weeks in a row I've gone 11-5. No way that holds up over the rest of the season, and this is the week it probably goes really bad, since I've got more gut picks than usual. Winners in all caps.

TENNESSEE at the NY Jets This is the first of the gut picks I'm making, and it'll probably go really wrong. The Jets are hot, their defense is stifling, and I'm a firm believer that if your answer at quarterback is starting Kerry Collins, you're probably asking a stupid question. And yet I get the feeling that the Jets are reading their own press clippings a bit too much. Maybe they're looking forward to New Orleans the next week. Or maybe this is all wishful thinking and the Jets will clobber Tennessee.

SAN FRANCISCO at Minnesota This will be a closer game than I think most people are predicting. Minnesota is the sexy pick, with Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre, but the Niners are built similarly, and might be a hair tougher.

Kansas City at PHILADELPHIA Are you kidding me? The Eagles defense is going to redeem itself at home, and the offense will be just fine, unless Reid makes Michael Vick the starter, which I doubt will happen.

NY GIANTS at Tampa Bay The Giants are at the top of most of the power rankings this week, based on wins over some over-rated opponents, but Tampa Bay is wretched on defense, and if you can shut down their running game, can't do much to respond.

Jacksonville at HOUSTON Week 1 I picked Houston and they lost. Week 2 I picked against them and they won. Sense a pattern here? Me either.

Atlanta at NEW ENGLAND This ought to be a good game between two pretty evenly matched teams. The Patriots get the nod because they're at home and because they'll be looking for some redemption for last week's loss to the Jets.

GREEN BAY at St. Louis The Rams might have blown their only chance to win a game this year last week against Washington.

Cleveland at BALTIMORE If I'd been smarter, I'd have saved that joke about Chris and Snoop in the vacants for this week's game instead of blowing it on the Chiefs game two weeks ago. Oh well.

Washington at DETROIT This is the week the Lions break their losing streak. At least that's what my gut tells me.

NEW ORLEANS at Buffalo This will probably be a close game. The Saints secondary is improved, but that's like saying the economy is better now than it was six months ago--it's a low bar to clear. This will be the first time they've gone up against two elite recievers at the same time, which could get ugly. That means, of course, that the final score will be 6-3.

CHICAGO at Seattle Had Hasselbeck not gone down, this would be an easy pick the other way, but Seneca Wallace isn't a great backup. I think this will be closer than it ought to be, but the Bears will pull it out.

PITTSBURGH at Cincinnati This pick worries me, because it ought to be a lead-pipe cinch, and it isn't. The Steelers have not been impressive, but they get the pick because the Bengals are, well, the Bengals.

Miami at SAN DIEGO I'm taking the Chargers because they're at home, but remember that joke I made above about Kerry Collins? Change QB to head coach and Collins to Norv Turner here.

DENVER at Oakland I'm going to pick Kyle Orton until there's a reason not to. Which will probably be next week against Dallas. But this is the Raiders, so I'm rolling with Orton.

Indianapolis at ARIZONA If these two offenses get rolling, the score could be 63-56.

Carolina at DALLAS PTI yesterday played over/under with 5 interceptions total in this game, and both Kornheiser and LeBatard went under. It would be great if Carolina stuffed it in Jerry Jones's face for a second week in a row on national television, but I don't see it happening.

Making Excuses

I got really upset a couple of weeks ago when I saw a Facebook quiz that asked something like "do you support Barack Obama's attempt to take away our guns?" (I have a number of very conservative Facebook friends from my high school and college days.) After all, whatever liberal moves President Obama has made, stricter gun control has not been one of them. In fact, the Democratic Party as a whole seems to have ceded that debate toward the side of personal ownership--there are still fierce gun control advocates in the party, but they couldn't get a bill passed if they tried.

I've moved on from upset to bemused on this topic since then, but I was reminded of just how silly/scary the right can be this morning when I read this piece on how there's an ammunition shortage because demand is higher than ever before. What amuses me is the cognitive dissonance on display in the article.

Bullets, especially for handguns, have been scarce for months because gun enthusiasts are stocking up on ammo, in part because they fear President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress will pass antigun legislation — even though nothing specific has been proposed and the president last month signed a law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks....

“I call it the Obama effect,” said [Jason] Gregory, 37, of Terrytown, La. “It always happens when the Democrats get in office. It happened with Clinton and Obama is even stronger for gun control. Ammunition will be the first step, so I’m stocking up while I can.”
No legislation, not even any rhetoric on gun control, and yet there's fear of having guns and ammo taken away. I heard about this concern before the election from a couple of former fraternity brothers (one of whom got so obnoxious on Facebook that I recently cut ties with him), and no matter how much I tried to convince them that there was no plot to take their guns away, they wouldn't hear it.

The silly side of this is that these people are manufacturing fear out of nothing, spinning it out of the air. They're making themselves paranoid and spending lots of money on something based on this irrational notion that there's a secret plot to disarm them and take their freedoms away. The scary side of it is that these people don't seem to get that they're being irrational, and any move to convince them otherwise only reinforces their paranoia.

It would really be amusing if the potential consequences weren't so high. I mean, one of the primary arguments put forward in favor of personal gun ownership is that an unarmed populace is easily dominated by an armed government, and that the populace should stand as a bulwark against a totalitarian government in defense of personal liberty. The reality is that even if armed populace were united against this government, any attempted revolution could be put down by your average big city police force these days, or the state National Guard at worse. There's not as much overlap between the two groups as right-wingers like to claim. It would still be needlessly bloody, however, and over what? A fear of something there's no evidence will ever take place.

Pick 'em Friday

I'm late getting to this today because I've been weeping about student papers and distracting myself in other ways for most of the day, but it's time. Last week, I went 11-5, while Mary, whose picks were decidedly funnier than mine, went 5-7 with 4 abstensions, near as I can figure. But like I said, way funnier.

Here are my picks for this week, winners in caps, and I'll try to raise the level of my joke game as well.

Houston at TENNESSEE Did you know the Tennessee team used to be the Houston team? They got better when they left, like most things from Houston.

Carolina at ATLANTA You have no idea how much I hate picking the Falcons to win. No idea.

Cincinnati at GREEN BAY What happened to that Bengals team? They looked so promising a couple of years ago.

OAKLAND at Kansas City The Raiders still aren't a good team, but their defense does seem to have a little swagger back. KC wasn't as bad as I thought they would be last week against Baltimore, so they could kick Oakland around for all I know. In other words, I really don't have a clue who will win this game.

NEW ORLEANS at Philadelphia This isn't just a homer pick--I like the Saints in this game, what with Donovan McNabb out. The defense looked better last week, but that was against the Lions with a rookie QB making his first start. They'll get another inexperienced QB this week in Kevin Kolb, so if the Saints can shore up their special teams, they should be able to hang with the Eagles at the very least.

St. Louis at WASHINGTON The Rams were really bad last week, and I'd be thrilled if they took out Washington this week--to be honest, I'd love it if Washington loses every game it plays until they change their mascot and team name to something that's not the equivalent of the n-word. That's probably not going to happen.

MINNESOTA at Detroit Brett Favre will probably hand the ball to Adrian Petersen 35 times, throw a dozen passes, and be lauded as the Jesus of football by the people at ESPN. And Detroit will continue to suck.

Arizona at JACKSONVILLE The Jags will win and no one in Jacksonville will know it because the game will be blacked out again.

New England at NEW YORK JETS I don't really know why I'm picking the Jets. Someone has to?

Seattle at SAN FRANCISCO Seattle should win this game, frankly. I'm going with my gut, which in the past has had shit for brains.

Tampa Bay at BUFFALO The Bills have a stouter defense than Dallas, so I don't think Cadillac Williams will roll like he did last week. Buffalo is the better team here, no question.

Cleveland at DENVER Roll on Kyle Orton! Seriously though, this game sucks out loud. No one will want to watch it.

PITTSBURGH at Chicago Maybe Urlacher's replacement will be even better than Urlacher. Probably not.

BALTIMORE at San Diego So maybe the Ravens defense isn't as bad ass as it used to be--it still ought to be enough.

NY GIANTS at Dallas This is my official "rooting for injuries" game of the week. I think the Giants are marginally better, but I'd rather the gates of hell opened up and sucked down both teams and Jerry Jones's new stadium.

INDIANAPOLIS at Miami Hate to go against the home team, but I suspect this one will be over pretty early.

That's the week. Hopefully I'll be able to watch some of it instead of grading papers. Leave your picks in comments if you wish, or you can just mock mine.

The AP has decided to step in and straighten this whole racism mess out for us. Aren't you glad to hear that? I mean, the article gets off to such a stellar start.

Everybody's racist, it seems.
Hmm. That's an interesting claim, I suppose. Of course it all depends on how you define racism and what context you're going to discuss it in but...
Republican Rep. Joe Wilson? Racist, because he shouted "You lie!" at the first black president.
Hmmm. No. Joe Wilson's connections to racist organizations make it pretty clear he's a racist. If I want to be flip--and when do I not?--I could say that his membership in the South Carolina Republican party is a pretty good indicator of racism. His shouting of "You lie" didn't make him a racist. One could argue that Wilson's racism fueled the outburst, or was one of many causes for the shout, but not the other way around. You've got the causation mixed up. What's next?
Health care protesters, affirmative action supporters? Racist.
Again with the causation problem. Opposing healthcare reform doesn't make one a racist. Doing so with a sign with racist slogans on it makes you a racist. And I really like how the AP writer connects images like the Confederate battle flag with the demonstrably false notion that affirmative action is reverse-racism. Nice work, bucko. How are you going to top that one?
And Barack Obama? He's the "Racist in Chief," wrote a leader of the recent conservative protest in Washington.
Oh, like that. Let me see if I've got the math straight here. Confederate-loving Congressman = Confederate battle flag waving protester = affirmative action supporter = conservative claim that Obama is racist. No wonder the budget is in such a shithole.

But the AP writer isn't done yet, much as I wish he/she were. Oh no.
But if everybody's racist, is anyone?
Point one--there's no proof yet that everyone is racist, but even if there were...point two is still stupid, because it means that everyone is a racist. Hatred based on skin color or ethnicity doesn't cancel out even if everyone on all sides has it. We're not reducing fractions here. We're talking about the way human beings interact with each other in society. Or rather, I'm talking about it in this post. The AP writer who put together this piece is talking about something completely different.

I could go on, but what's the point? When you start an article this way, you've poisoned the discourse that follows. It's beyond retrieval. Stop trying to make everything seem equal, and for crying out loud, learn the difference between cause and freaking effect.

One of us. One of us.

Forget the groundbreaking part about Barack Obama being the first black President of the US--he's the first nerd President of the US, yo!

Topless Robot

Man, I do not need this

Forget global warming or the continuing descent of the Republican party into gibbering madness, we Floridians have bigger problems to deal with: giant, hybrid, man-eating pythons. FML.

The capture of five African rock pythons recently near an Everglades already teeming with the gentler Burmese pythons has scientists worried about so-called "hybrid vigor" – a phenomenon that occurs when interbreeding uncorks volatile recessive genes, passing traits such as aggression onto the offspring. Think Africanized bees.

The two species have interbred in captivity. While Burmese pythons aren't known to eat people in their native habitat, the African rock python, unfortunately, has been known to do just that.
Anybody know who's in charge of greenlighting SyFy's original movies? I think I have a story for them.


Stanley Fish has a more typical column this week--he's doing his famous I'm just presenting arguments, not making one" two-step, this time about curiosity. But he does the dance pretty ably this week, so I'm not going to come down on him so much as I am the people he quotes and paraphrases.

The two sides in Fish's debate today are, it seems to me, the secular and the spiritual, and the subject matter is curiosity, or the striving after knowledge. On the pro-curiosity side, we have the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities James A. Leach:

Taking his cue from Thomas Jefferson’s “trinity of inalienable rights: ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Leach reasoned that even though Jefferson never wrote about curiosity, “a right to be curious would have been a natural reflection of his own personality.” He was, after all, the “living embodiment of an inquisitive mind” and was reputed to have known “all the science that was known at the time.” Surely he would have prized curiosity, especially since it is the quality “oppressive states fear.” Given that “the cornerstone of democracy is access to knowledge,” it is not too much to say, Leach concluded, that “the curious pursuing their curiosity may be mankind’s greatest if not only hope.”
On the other side, we have a bunch of religious people, from Aquinas and Augustine to contemporary theologians like Paul Griffiths and John Henry Newman. The problem, as I see it, isn't with Aquinas and Augustine--they were making the best arguments they could with the facts as they saw them, and often acknowledged that they were working with incomplete information. But I do have a problem with some of the stuff that Griffiths and Newman are saying, at least as they're quoted by Fish. (I'm being real careful here because the last time I relied on Fish's take on someone else's theology, I got my ass handed to me, and rightfully so.)
Griffiths builds on the religious tradition in which curiosity is condemned because it distracts men from the study and worship of God, shackling them, says Augustine, “to an inferior love.” But curiosity can also distract men from secular obligations by so occupying their minds that there is no room left for other considerations. These men (and women) fail to register the pain of animals subjected to experiments in the name of knowledge, pay no heed to the social consequences of their investigations, and take no heed of the warnings issued in Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (not to mention the myth of Pandora and the Incredible Hulk).
It's primarily the second half of the paragraph that disturbs me--as I am an atheist, I'm not all that concerned with being shackled to an inferior love. But the notion that scientists as a whole aren't concerned with the pain that animals being used for testing experience is simply untrue. Yes, there are some who don't seem to be bothered by it, but for the most part, scientists do their best to make sure animals don't suffer needlessly. Furthermore, the notion that scientists as a whole don't pay attention to the social consequences of their investigations is beyond ludicrous. The entire field of bioethics has arisen out of this desire to look carefully at where research is going and what possible ramifications might come out of it. Yes, there are individual scientists who push the boundaries, and who even exceed them, but Griffiths is tarring an entire community by making such ridiculous claims.

John Henry Newman is no better.
They are obsessive and obsessed and exhibit, says John Henry Newman, something akin to a mental disorder. “In such persons reason acts almost as feebly and as impotently as in the madman: once fairly started on a any subject, they have no power of self-control” (“The Idea of a University”). They have no power of self-control because they have no allegiance — to a deity, to human flourishing, to community — that might serve as a check on their insatiable curiosity. (Curiosity is inherently insatiable; its satisfactions are only momentary; there is always another horizon.)
Bolding mine. What do you do with a claim like that other than mock it? Curious people have no self-control? Curious people have no allegiance to a god or human flourishing or community? That's news to my religious friends (and I have more than a few). Given the kinds of benefits that curiosity and the search for knowledge have given the human race, from medicines that extend and enhance life to farming practices that increase yields so more people can eat to enhanced communication devices that make it possible for people to see themselves as part of one global community instead of as part of an isolated tribe, I think curiosity has more than proven its usefulness to human flourishing and community. It hasn't done so much for God, admittedly, and I suspect that's why Newman is so antsy about it (again, assuming this is an accurate summation of his feelings on the matter).

One other take on curiosity before I go, this time from the poet Alastair Reid. This isn't a great poem, and some might go so far as to say that it's not very good. I'll say it's very teachable and leave it at that. Here's a bit from the middle of the poem:
Face it. Curiosity
will not cause us to die--
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probably hell)
would kill us all.
Only the curious
have if they live a tale
worth telling at all.
And I think that's where I come down on the subject. It's not a surprise to me that the people Fish marshals in opposition to curiosity are all theologians, since faith is such an integral part of religious belief, and faith doesn't generally hold up too well to curious investigation. Which is not to say that religious people are not curious, or even that most religious people feel the same way those quoted here apparently do. Nor is this to say that unbridled curiosity can't lead to some really bad outcomes--of course it can--but that's not what James Leach was arguing for either.

As is generally the case, if you go to either extreme, you'll run into difficulties, but if I get to choose a direction I'd like to head in, it's toward that improbable country. I'd like to have a tale worth telling, if I live through it.

I suspect this is an elaborate hoax--the news stories at the "official website" are the thing that's tipping me off--but it's still funny enough that I'm going to post it.

Does the fact that when I saw this I immediately thought of the tea bag protesters make me a bad person?

Update: I've been told by two friends on Facebook that this is indeed a real game and not a hoax as I suspected. That's even more mind-boggling.

I'd bet that if you asked most people who claim to favor restrictions on abortion whether or not they'd support banning birth control pills, a majority would say no. Some would, like the people making a push in Florida to do just that, but most, I'd be willing to bet, would say no, because birth control is so ubiquitous that the notion of banning it seems ridiculous on its face.

And it is ridiculous. But that's not stopping "Personhood Florida" from giving it a shot. They're the local version of the national anti-choice movement that's proving that while their slogan might be "save the babieez!" their motive is to stop people, particularly women, from having sex outside of any bounds they deem acceptable.

How do we know this? Well, for starters, they lie about the science.

The religion-infused movement, called "Personhood Florida," would define conception in Florida's constitution at the "biological beginnings," supporters said -- when the sperm meets the egg....

Also criminalized: the morning-after pill and oral contraceptives taken by women, known as the pill. "There are some (birth control) methods that kill a child," said Pat McEwan, who is leading the Personhood Florida group.
Okay, you could get a legislature to define pi as 4, but it wouldn't make it so, and the same goes for this. When sperm meets egg, there's the potential for a human life, but most such fertilized eggs don't make it. Most don't even implant--they get washed away when the woman has her period. Of those that do manage to implant, many don't stick, and the woman miscarries without even knowing she was carrying a fertilized egg. And even those that stick have a whole host of dangers to navigate before they become a fetus, and then a baby. Defining the beginning of life at the point where sperm meets egg is like declaring the Chicago Cubs the World Series winners before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. It's more than a little premature.

The second lie is the one that the birth control pill and the morning after pill are abortifacients. They aren't--they keep the ovaries from releasing an egg. No egg, no possibility for fertilization. The morning after pill is basically a giant dose of the birth control pill, meant to interrupt the cycle a bit more forcefully. But neither terminates a pregnancy. At most, in some very rare circumstances, the pill could possibly, maybe keep a fertilized egg from implanting, but given that most eggs don't implant, that's hardly justification for calling the pill an abortifacient. But you know, Jesus says it's okay to lie if it's for a good cause. That's what their pastor says anyway.

Even if you grant that these people aren't being deliberately dishonest--and there's no reason to grant it other than for the sake of argument--their actions prove that their motivation has nothing to do with lowering abortion rates and everything to do with punishing women for having sex outside of what they deem acceptable areas. Easy access to contraception lowers abortion rates--criminalization of abortion raises them. It's that simple. The lowest abortion rates in the world are in western Europe, where abortion is completely legal and easily accessible, as is contraception. It's also the place with the most comprehensive sex education--that's not a coincidence.

So if reducing abortion numbers isn't the goal here, then what's left? Punishing women who want to be sexually active but don't want to get pregnant is about all that's left. If there's another option I'd love to hear it.

Great piece by Anthony Gottlieb over at The Economist on one potentially big upside for e-readers over books--the ability to correct errors in real time, without the expense of pushing out a new set of copies. From a purely fiscal perspective, that's a huge deal. Did an error slip past the editors? Not a problem--just update the file and push it onto your subscribers' e-reader.

Side note: I can already sense the move toward making the word Kindle synonymous with e-reader, the way Xerox defines photocopying. I plan to resist as long as I can.

Gottlieb makes a compelling case. Much of the time, corrections are overlooked or ignored, and the original, faulty information continues its life in the public consciousness. And when we're talking about books, which have a greater, ahem, shelf life than journals or newspapers, very often the owners never receive the corrections, since they're made in subsequent editions. If we're talking about errors of fact as opposed to syntax or style, that can be a problem, especially in school textbooks and the like.

Not What I Expected

Scanning headlines this morning and I came across this one: Miami Approves No Text School Zone. For some reason, my brain translated that into "Miami schools have banned texting," and I thought, "that's a good thing, though completely impossible to enforce." But no, it's something else completely.

Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez suggested making it illegal for texting on cellphones or Blackberrys while driving in school zones and his colleagues unanimously approved the measure.
Does it show my naivéte that I have difficulty imagining that this is so big a problem that it warrants this level of response? I'm still stunned by the idea that people would text while driving in the first place--I don't even like talking on the phone when I'm behind the wheel.

But it gets better.
State officials have yet to approve the "no text while driving" law, which has been shot down several times by legislators.
Who the hell belongs to the "pro-text while driving" lobby? Seriously?

Pick 'Em Friday Wednesday

I've been thinking of a new themed post for Friday ever since I gave up the Friday Random Ten, and with football season starting this week, I figured I'd steal a page from King Kaufman's old Salon column and pick football games, straight up, and see how I do against the pros over the course of a season, and against anyone who wants to leave theirs in comments or do some sort of cross-blog challenge thingy. You can tell I've really thought this out.

It's on Wednesday this week because for some stupid reason, the NFL has decided to open its season on Thursdays. That'll happen later in the season as well, and I'll deal with it then.

I'm going to handicap myself a little--barring some insane injury to Drew Brees, I'll pick the New Orleans Saints to win every week. Insane, I know, but I think they're talented enough to beat anyone in the NFL this season, and I'm rooting for my childhood favorites. I'm doing this on Facebook too.

So here are the games, with perhaps some commentary. My pick in caps.

Tennessee at PITTSBURGH
I know Tennessee won a lot of games last year, but Kerry Collins is still their QB, no? Plus, Pittsburgh's at home.

Kyle Orton isn't a bad quarterback, but he's testing out an injured finger and he doesn't have much in the way of support. Cincinnati is an enigma, but they're at home, and Palmer is way better under center.

Living in south Florida makes it real easy to hate the Jets, but that's not the only reason I'm picking Houston. It's just the biggest one.

Detroit at NEW ORLEANS
Even if I weren't a fan, I'd pick the Saints here. Know what these two teams have in common? Both finished last in their divisions. Of course, the Saints were a .500 team while doing that.

MIAMI at Atlanta
Not real certain on this one. The real question is which team regresses most from last year. Tie goes to the team that's not an arch-enemy of the Saints.

I think this is the year Carolina falls apart for some reason, and Philadelphia is going to be good.

Minnesota at CLEVELAND
Okay, I admit it. I actually think Minnesota will win this game, but I want so badly for the Favre era to start miserably that I'm picking Cleveland. This will probably cost me down the road.

Jacksonville at INDIANAPOLIS
I'll actually be surprised if the Colts make the playoffs, but it won't be the Jags who keep them out.

DALLAS at Tampa
I'm picking Dallas because I have to pick someone, but I'm rooting for injuries.

Kansas City at BALTIMORE
Remember what Chris and Snoop did in the vacants? That's where they'll find the Kansas City offense when this one is over.

San Francisco at ARIZONA
I think the Cardinals will regress this year, but the Niners haven't been good in so long that they don't get the benefit of the doubt until they earn it.

St. Louis at SEATTLE
Remember when the Rams were good? It's been a while.

Washington at NY GIANTS
Rooting for injuries here too. I just don't like the NFC East.

Chicago at GREEN BAY
Count me among the people who think Chicago got took in the Cutler deal. Aaron Rodgers proved he was the real deal last year.

Buffalo at NEW ENGLAND
I looked at this game hard after the Seymour deal, but the Pats are at home and they'll be jacked for the return of Brady.

SAN DIEGO at Oakland
Another one I don't think will be close.

So there they are. Feel free to mock them in the comments, or even better, make your own picks and we'll keep a running tally all season long. Winner will get something I have laying around gathering dust.

Hark! I come bearing tidings of idiocy!

I’m at a loss as to why the Wall Street Journal, or any publication not composed of five year olds writing in sidewalk chalk, would want an op-ed from quitter extraordinaire Sarah Palin. And yet, there she is, talking about common sense like it’s something that she’s ever actually experienced:

"Is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by-dare I say it-death panels?" she writes. "Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans."

I guess the Facebook status went over so well, she thought she’d give it another shot. She’s right though, the phrase did ring true for many Americans. Luckily, it really only rang true for her fellow disgruntled, Fox news worshipping, “we help those with the means to help themselves,” whiney wingnuts, and not for level-headed Americans.

Palin claims that the death-panels have been removed from the bill because America’s voice was heard. This is a nice little bit of reasoning that’s been popping up a lot from the right recently. Just like Obama had to remove all that crazy communism stuff from his school address because he was caught, dare I say, red handed.

There's Gay In Your Soda

Terry Kemple of Bell Shoals Baptist Church is boycotting Pepsi products because they've got the gay all over them:

"We would like to send them a message," said Terry Kemple, President of the Community Issues Council that is organizing a boycott of Pepsi products because he says it "advocates the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle."

Kemple just got his mega-church, the Bell Shoals Baptist Church, to remove its 10 Pepsi machines and replace them with Coke machines, reports Tampa Bay's 10Connects.

He said that Pepsi donated more than a million dollars to organizations that fought California's gay marriage-banning Proposition 8. He also says the company has sponsored gay pride parades and commercials that accept cross-dressing and homosexuality.

"They (have) begun to utilize the money we've helped them build up to trample on what we consider family values," Kemple says.
In order to protect his parishioners from the possibility that they'll catch a case of the gay sucking down a bottle of G (née Gatorade), Kemple has replaced the Pepsi machines at his church with Coke machines. We'd tell him how Coke feels about the gay, but it's part of the gay community's long term strategy, carried out with help from their straight allies, to turn everyone gay, through the power of soda and snack foods. Or something. I missed the last couple of meetings and the email updates get caught in the spam folder sometimes.

h/t Sedmikrasky

Holy Crap

That's damned impressive. I could probably name all fifty states if there was money at stake, but draw them? Not a chance.

Kevin Carey at the Washington Monthly has a provocative piece about the future of higher education. It's a bit of digital triumphalism, I think. Carey makes some valid points about the place the digital classroom will have in higher ed, but I think he's glossing over the biggest stumbling block to the discount model that online universities like Straighter Line represent.

That problem is accreditation, i.e. institutional approval for the classes you're teaching. Straighter Line tried to get around their accreditation problem by partnering up with a public university, Fort Hays State, and the push back was swift, not only against Straighter Line, but against Fort Hays, both from inside and outside. Folks inside the university system decried Fort Hays's willingness to cede some of their institutional control to a private company, which is a legitimate complaint. But I think the real reason there was pushback is a bit simpler. It's about money.

Carey points out that introductory level classes subsidize the upper divisions in practically every department, which should be no surprise to anyone who's even glanced at the university system. Introductory classes (though not in composition, thankfully) are often huge lecture classes where the professor has a minimum of contact with the students. Most of the testing, grading and lab work is run by graduate students or poorly-paid adjuncts. Because universities are getting so much bang for their buck at the freshman level, they can run upper division classes at a loss, and given that roughly half of all freshmen who start college won't get a degree in 6 years, there's a fair amount of "extra" money floating around in the system in the sense that there are a lot of first and second year students subsidizing upper division classes they'll never take. (There's no extra money in any real sense, since student tuition doesn't come close to actually paying for how much a public university spends per student.)

No university with any sense is willingly going to cede that kind of money to an outside group. Universities have a fair amount of leeway when it comes to what credits they will accept from another university--some just put a blanket on the total number of credits you can bring with you, no matter where you got them. Straighter Line and other online schools offering only introductory courses are completely at the mercy of public and private universities in this way. They don't have any leverage. And the universities don't have any reason to let companies like Straighter Line dip into one of their more lucrative revenue streams. About the only way I see the future Carey describes coming to fruition is if there's outside (read: governmental) pressure to force universities to accept credits from institutions like Straighter Line.

And let me be clear--I think that would be a horrible idea. I'm certainly not going to say that the current system is all kinds of awesome, even at the introductory level. I have a colleague who's teaching a total of nine classes this semester between two universities, and I hate when I get his students because they haven't gotten anything approaching an education. But Carey, I think, gets the other side of this wrong as well.

Which means the day is coming—sooner than many people think—when a great deal of money is going to abruptly melt out of the higher education system, just as it has in scores of other industries that traffic in information that is now far cheaper and more easily accessible than it has ever been before. Much of that money will end up in the pockets of students in the form of lower prices, a boon and a necessity in a time when higher education is the key to prosperity.
This, and the paragraph which precedes it, smacks of market triumphalism to me--consumers will decide they like online classes and will demand universities accept them, and universities will explode. He presumes that the accreditation wall is one that students are enforcing, when it isn't--it's one that degree-dispensing institutions are enforcing, as a way of protecting their markets. Online classrooms will explode, all right, but they'll explode on campuses. It will become less likely, rather than more, that universities will accept credits from companies like Straighter Line. The reason that the University of Phoenix has been successful to the degree it has is because it dispenses degrees. It's not dependent on another university to accept its credits. That's also why it's more expensive than Straighter Line--upper division studies cost more than introductory classes do.

And in that way, this is a matter of basic economics. Universities control the supply of degrees, and our economy has bought into the idea that degrees are necessary for quality jobs. As long as these two things stay the same, there's no reason for universities to relinquish the monopoly they enjoy on the degree dispensing business, or to cede their most lucrative market to someone else just because it might (and I emphasize the might here) be better for the degree-seeking population.

Bill Posey. WTF?

I suppose an argument over which state has, per capita, the dumbest Congresspeople would be an exercise in futility, like arguing over which Cubs team has sucked the most in the last hundred years. But if we were to have such an argument, I believe Florida would be in the running, if only because Bill Posey is in the delegation.

His latest escapade involves healthcare reform, of course. He's not quite sure what he supports or doesn't support. See, he likes government run healthcare:

I don’t have a problem with Medicare.
but he also hates it, having expressed support for a provision that would theoretically declare Medicare unconstitutional. He's in favor of government-subsidized healthcare, as long as it's his own, but for everyone else, not so much.

These competing positions make him, well, like pretty much every other Republican in both the House and Senate (except for the "tenther" support, named after the 10th Amendment--no idea how many support that thing) as well as a handful of Democrats--government healthcare for Congresspeople and soldiers and old people, but not for thee. Kind of makes you want to slap some sense into him, doesn't it?

Oh, this is precious

This is about one of the links that will be running in my Saturday Morning Links column at The Rumpus in a few hours, but it's too funny to not post here. Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League and world-class jackhole, has a new book out. It condemns all the usual suspects--liberals, secularists, etc. And the blurbs are from the people you'd expect as well--Donald Wildmon, Michael Medved--but there's a surprise as well. Here's the final blurb:

· “Wake up, America! The secular minority has cut the brake cables on America’s In-God-We-Trust-Mobile™! Not even all 43 of our Christian presidents can save us now.” — Stephen Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report”
Oh yeah--Donohue's publisher got a blurb from Stephen Colbert. Now I don't know if someone at the publishing house just screwed up or if they submarined Donohue deliberately, but it's beautiful all the same.

It's early, I got four hours of sleep last night, and I've got a full day of classes to teach. I don't need this kind of stupid, okay?

“I never dreamed I would see an administration try to disavow all the things that have made this country different from all others,” [Senator Jim] Inhofe told more than 300 people at a town hall meeting in the Grove Community Center.
Don't lie to us, Senator. We know you dreamed of it. If anything, you're surprised that President Obama hasn't mandated gay marriage in the military via executive order and declared himself Black Dictator For Life, Biznitches. (Yes, that's the title Inhofe imagines President Obama would take for himself.) Let's see what other restaurant-quality stupid Inhofe brought to the town hall.
He also said he continues to be proven correct in his claim that global climate change is a hoax.

“More and more, with each month that goes by, more scientists agree with me,” he said. “We are winning.”
No you aren't, and no they aren't, and we, along with the rest of the world are likely to suffer because you're a fricking moron.
He is also alarmed, he said, by the proposed closing of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Obama administration wants to shutter the camp because of its association with torture.

Inhofe said: “There has never been a case of torture there. The people there are treated better than in the federal prisons.”

He continued, “I don’t know why President Obama is obsessed with turning terrorists loose in America.”

The administration says it wants to bring 60 to 80 prisoners to the U.S. for trial. Some Republicans have said those acquitted could be released in the U.S., but authorities say they would be deported as foreign nationals.
1. Guantanamo detainees have absolutely been tortured. 2. Saying we treat them better than we do federal prisoners is a very low bar to clear. 3. No Gitmo detainee will be released into the US--we wouldn't even take the Uighurs, and we cleared them of all charges. 4. You're a fricking moron.
Inhofe’s third concern, he said, is that “Barack Obama is disarming America.” He conceded that Obama requested more military spending, but he criticized the elimination of several weapons systems, including the F-22 fighter.
So Black Dictator for Life Obama is disarming America by spending more money on defense? How's that work?
Obama, at the urging of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also scrapped one of Inhofe’s pet projects, a cannon that was to be assembled at Elgin in southwestern Oklahoma.
Oh. He and the Bush-era-holdover Secretary of Defense trimmed some of your bacon. You'll get a pass on this--lying in defense of the military-industrial complex isn't stupid; it's just crappy.

The Myth of Incentivizing

Amy told me about this video a couple of weeks ago and I only watched it last night. Someone ought to make anyone remotely involved with the financial industry look at it. I'm planning on using the ideas here in the classroom, and I hope I'll get better papers because of it.

I think that part of the problem stems from our tendency to extrapolate. Notice Pink says that when it comes to rote, mechanical actions, incentives do work. But just as correlation doesn't mean causation, incentives that work in one case won't necessarily work in another. What this means for the financial services industry is that business has it exactly backwards--if you want actual profits (as opposed to fraud), you don't pay outrageous bonuses. You give the people working for you autonomy and purpose instead.

Low wage workers are often cheated out of some of their wages, both overtime and regular pay, and are pressured not to file workers compensation claims.

“The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States.”
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that studies like this are done--ecstatic, in fact--but it's another example of how conventional wisdom is generally just crap. When it comes to examining the world, I want data: verifiable and contestable data. Not what some pundit thinks is going on in his gut, because guts have shit for brains.

The worst part of this story is that the study was done before the recession really took hold, so the chances that things have gotten better for low wage workers in the interim isn't very likely. Once again, the people who are at the bottom of the heap see the shit roll down onto them like a cascade.

Must Read

I don't say that very often, especially not about an article that's seventeen pages long--and those are New Yorker pages, not NY Times pages, but this is important. (Speaking of the NY Times, Frank Herbert mentioned this story in his column.) This is the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, almost certainly executed by the state of Texas for a crime he did not commit. Herbert tried to give a synopsis of the story and failed--not his fault, really, since the story really requires the length that The New Yorker and reporter David Grann put into it. You really have to read the whole thing, and then plan to be haunted by it, especially if you still support the death penalty as it is currently imposed.

I'm only going to quote one very small part of the story, and it doesn't actually have anything directly to do with this case, but it is relevant all the same.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared that, in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”
Justice Scalia, here's one case, and as much as you deny it, there have been others. You demand a level of certainty in the claim of innocence that you do not demand from a jury passing the sentence and hide behind convenient excuses--that a person who has had "fair trials" and has been found guilty in courts which have determined that there were no errors in process can still be executed because he is "legally guilty" even if he is not factually guilty--to justify your position. I suspect that you are hearing echoes of the names of those who have been wrongly executed.

About Playing God

I haven't seen too many people talking about this piece in the Sunday Times Magazine about Memorial Hospital in New Orleans and the claims that some medical personnel performed euthanasia on patients who they felt wouldn't survive evacuation after Hurricane Katrina. It's a heartbreaking story, filled with complexities and judgment calls and I'm very glad that I wasn't in the position of making decisions in that situation. Nor will I even begin to sit back and second-guess the people who were there. It's too easy to imagine that in an impossible situation, you will be the hero who stands for moral certainty. I remember that when the narrator from Tadeusz Borowski's "Ladies and Gentlemen, to the Gas Chamber" asks "are we good people?" the character Henri responds with "Why ask stupid questions?" Being able to debate niceties is a luxury that is often set aside in emergency situations when you have incomplete information and the sinking feeling that you have been abandoned by the outside world.

In three separate cases between pages 15 and 18 in the article--it's a long one--someone says the equivalent of "leave it up to God" or "who gave [the doctors] the right to play God," and I think that this is a matter that really deserves a stronger answer than it ever receives. The statement is almost always made by someone close to the deceased, and it's an accusation leveled at someone they believe is responsible for that person's death--God, in their view is the modern stand-in for Atropos, the Fate who cuts the thread of life. To take another's life is to assume God's position (though if God were omnipotent, why He wouldn't interfere unless it was part of his plan is never explained).

But here's the thing. We interfere all the time. The practice of medicine is an interference in the natural order of life and death (and glad I am that we have it). The moment you put yourself or a loved one in the hands of a medical professional, you have, in effect, given them the power to "play God," haven't you? The extreme version of this belief is the one held by some Christian sects who refuse to seek any medical treatment, believing that they can be healed by prayer. They put their faith in God to heal them--they also often die, which would seem to prove my point. (There's also a post lurking in here about how "natural" doesn't always mean "good," but one thing at a time.)

But most people don't think it through this carefully, I suspect. What they're trying to say is "you have overstepped your authority and broken the trust we placed in you," and that may well be a legitimate charge. The Grand Jury who heard the case against these medical professionals felt a charge of second degree murder wasn't warranted, though there are civil cases still pending. Ask OJ Simpson how much an acquittal matters in those. But we don't often say "you're playing God" to politicians who decide that the nation must spill blood for some often unstated and falsely argued cause, and that always results in much greater destruction of human life.

I guess it's because of proximity. We might know the doctors, and the patient may be a friend or lover, a parent, sibling, child, or other relative, while those war dead are people with strange names, speaking a language we don't understand. They are images, caricatures, representations of something we've been told is frightening. They don't have names like ours--their names sound harsh on our ears, dissonant, alien. And yet if we hold an image of God as the one who determines the end of life, Atropos with her shears, then anyone who cries out for war is playing God to a far greater degree than any doctor in a hopeless situation who gives a dying person an overdose of morphine to ease them out of this life ever can.

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