October 31, 2010
Democratic Blame Calculus
By: John Caruso
It's come to my attention that on this 10th anniversary of the 2000 election, there are some people out there who feel confusion and uncertainty regarding who exactly was responsible for Al Gore's loss. So as a public service I thought it would be helpful to write up the set of heuristics used by Democrats and other fault-laying liberals to assign blame—the Democratic Blame Calculus (DBC), as I call it. I've organized the DBC into the hierarchical classes below, ranked based on the relative frequency and severity with which the designated groups or individuals are targeted by right-thinking Democrats for searing castigation for their transgressions against Al Gore's presidential prospects. Let's take a look, shall we?
CLASS 1: MANDATORY BLAME—MUST BLAME AT ALL TIMES
1) Ralph Nader
2) The 2.9 million people who voted for Ralph Nader
CLASS 2: BLAMEWORTHY PRIMARILY WHEN NO CLASS 1 GROUPS ARE BEING DISCUSSED
1) The Supreme Court
2) George Bush
3) Katherine Harris (may be removed from this class in the future due to increasing obscurity)
CLASS 3: ARGUABLY RESPONSIBLE, THOUGH MAINLY IN NARROW PROCEDURAL WAYS
1) Al Gore
CLASS 4: MAY HAVE SOME DETECTABLE LEVEL OF RESPONSIBILITY BUT NONE WORTH MENTIONING
1) Bill Clinton
2) Joe Lieberman
3) The Democratic Party
CLASS 5: ENTIRELY BLAMELESS
1) ~200,000 Democrats in Florida who voted for George Bush
2) Millions of Democrats throughout the nation who voted for George Bush
3) ~1 million Democrats who didn't vote at all in Florida
4) Republican voters in general
5) People who voted for any of the seven other political parties in Florida whose totals exceeded the 543-vote difference between Gore and Bush
6) The entire non-voting American public
(I know this may seem complex, but I've actually left out a few of the more subtle variations to make it simpler; for instance, advanced Democrats can split their blame vortex long enough to co-blame Nader and the Supreme Court. They'll almost invariably send the primary blame stream Naderward, though, and Democratic acolytes will always opt to blame Nader over any other target, so the DBC class hierarchy reflects this shared tendency.)
This handy reference will help resolve many of the vexing conundrums that might otherwise bamboozle anyone who hasn't fully absorbed the intricate blame algorithm of Democrats. For instance, which of the following groups was most responsible for Al Gore's loss: 1) 97,488 Florida Nader voters, including Greens, Democrats, Republicans, and independents; 2) ~200,000 Florida Democrats who voted for George Bush; or 3) ~1 million Florida Democrats who didn't vote at all? The untrained observer would naturally pick 2 or 3, but a quick glance at the DBC makes it crystal clear that the correct answer is number 1. Surprising!
Or let's say a former non-voter who'd never had any affiliation with the Democrats was inspired by Nader and the Green Party to enter politics in 2000, register as a Green, and vote for Nader; were they actually more responsible for electing Al Gore than a lifelong Democrat who sat home on election day eating day-old pizza and watching Simpsons reruns? Again, this question will likely mislead the unitiated into a wrong and Democrat-displeasing answer, but it's not even a close call once you've fully absorbed the blame calculus.
And finally: who was more responsible for making sure Al Gore received enough votes in 2000—Al Gore, or Ralph Nader? Now, this may seem tricky on the surface given our natural human tendency to assume that each candidate in an election is ultimately responsible for convincing people to vote for them, but it's actually the simplest question of all. Even the most cursory glance at the DBC will tell you that nobody in the entire country was more responsible for Al Gore's electoral fortunes than Ralph Nader. See? It's easy and fun.
So if you've ever found yourself perplexed by the arcane internal logic of Democratic blaming, I think you'll find the DBC an invaluable guide to the crucial issue of who exactly should be held responsible for Al Gore's loss in the 2000 election, and therefore every bad thing that's happened since then in the United States (and indeed the entire world, and possibly other planets in the solar system as well). According to Democrats, that is.
— John Caruso
October 28, 2010
Upside-Down Eric Cantor is in My Head
By: Aaron Datesman
I have been toying for some time with the idea of making friends with a programmer and designing a FaceBook application allowing users to design the federal budget. Every person who used the app would get $1000 (of cyber-money), which they could choose to deposit in categories like “Defense”, “Environment”, “Help to the Poor”, “Foreign Aid”, and so on. Maybe it would even work at a more granular scale: for instance, with categories for “Navy”, “National Parks”, “Aid to Families with Dependent Children”, and “Aid to Israel”.
The application would post a summary of your choices on your FaceBook Wall, along with an invitation to your friends to also try out the application. It would be viral in this way and, through that one annoying conservative uncle or friend you know you have, hopefully break across the partisan divide. This would allow data about budget priorities to be collected across a broad (albeit only computer-using) swath of America. After reaching a certain number of responses, I would then tabulate the aggregate results and publish them alongside a summary of the actual budget numbers.
Perhaps I would have called this application “YouChoose”, except that the House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor, has been living inside my head, looked at my test paper upside-down, and stole my idea. His program is called "YouCut".
Among the programs YOU can vote to cut this week are NPR, the whales (more or less), and the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. (I especially like the swipe at the National Science Foundation at the bottom of the page, since NSF is widely regarded as the best-run of all the federal agencies. Based on my interactions with colleagues at NSF, we should wish that any sector of corporate America were managed as effectively.)
But, OH! There is also a “Submit Your Idea” section. This is what I just submitted:
We are buffered by two gigantic oceans, enjoy safe borders and peaceful neighbors, and have a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. We face no conceivable threat to our safety as a nation. The Founders believed that standing armies are a threat to republican values. Cut the Department of Defense by $500,000 million per year.
I encourage you to copy this text, click on over, and maybe explode a head or two. It’ll only take a second.
— Aaron Datesman
October 27, 2010
I Was Totally Right To Be Skeptical!
By: Aaron Datesman
I wrote here that I was skeptical about a claim an NREL scientist made in my presence at an industry conference that the offshore wind resource in the US is sufficient to meet the country’s electricity demand. It turns out that I was totally right to be skeptical!
The gross resource has been quantified by state, water depth, distance from shore, and wind class throughout a band extending out to 50 nautical miles from the U.S. coastline.
This total gross wind resource is estimated at more than 4,000 GW, or roughly four times the generating capacity currently carried on the U.S. electric grid. (underlining mine)
The excerpt comes from a report recently released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL. Although I’ve been watching for more than a month, I haven’t seen this remarkable finding published anywhere in the press except for a brief mention in Salon.
The Salon article does include the very important additional point that only a portion of the available resource could possibly be harvested - perhaps only 60%. That’s still more electrical energy, totally renewable and zero-carbon, than we currently use, although numerous fundamental issues regarding grid integration and intermittency represent serious technical hurdles. Nevertheless, the scale of the opportunity is absolutely staggering.
What’s interesting to me is this: while you probably didn’t see any news about this fascinating engineering study, you probably did see some related news about the business-doings of Google. But this news doesn’t make very much sense without the context I just provided above.
Google and a New York financial firm have each agreed to invest heavily in a proposed $5 billion transmission backbone for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard that could ultimately transform the region’s electrical map. The 350-mile underwater spine, which could remove some critical obstacles to wind power development, has stirred excitement among investors, government officials and environmentalists who have been briefed on it.
The press in this country lets us down in so many ways, absolutely every day, that it continuously stretches my ability to believe their uselessness. I think there would be more demand for ambitious goals in renewable energy deployment if the public knew more about the scale of the opportunity which our leaders currently are resolutely not exploiting. But I’m grateful to the Times for including this gem, buried so deep in the article I doubt very many people noticed it:
Mr. Kempton of the University of Delaware and Mr. Wellinghoff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the backbone would offer another plus: reducing one of wind power’s big problems, variability of output.
“Along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard, we tend to have storm tracks that move along the coast and somewhat offshore,” Mr. Kempton said.
If storm winds were blowing on Friday off Virginia, they might be off Delaware by Saturday and off New Jersey by Sunday, he noted. Yet the long spine would ensure that the amount of energy coming ashore held roughly constant.
Now THAT’s fascinating: if we built a large enough generation and distribution network for renewable energy, a system which starts off as variable, unpredictable, unmanageable, and unusable at small scales could become consistent, predictable, and manageable. Once again, it’s not that we don’t have the resources, the knowledge, or the wealth to make the energy transition we need to make to meet the global warming challenge. Our failure is simply a failure to think at a scale appropriate to the opportunities we have and to the challenges we face. We have no talent for thinking big, no audacity.
On a personal note, I was gone for several months because I have moved my home to Washington, DC, where I am now working for the Office of Science within the Department of Energy. My expertise does not lie in the energy field, however, and all of the views I express in this blearff are strictly both my own and normal.
— Aaron Datesman
Can't Argue With That
Chris Hedges says:
The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, which looks set to make sweeping gains in the midterm elections, is the direct result of a collapse of liberalism. It is the product of bankrupt liberal institutions, including the press, the church, universities, labor unions, the arts and the Democratic Party. The legitimate rage being expressed by disenfranchised workers toward the college-educated liberal elite, who abetted or did nothing to halt the corporate assault on the poor and the working class of the last 30 years, is not misplaced. The liberal class is guilty. The liberal class, which continues to speak in the prim and obsolete language of policies and issues, refused to act. It failed to defend traditional liberal values during the long night of corporate assault in exchange for its position of privilege and comfort in the corporate state. The virulent right-wing backlash we now experience is an expression of the liberal class’ flagrant betrayal of the citizenry.
In defense of liberals, though, we...uh. Yeah, I got nothing.
October 26, 2010
I realize this site has been extremely quiet lately. The reason is that a bunch of new stuff is being prepared here that will be appearing in the next few days. And even that's just going to be the beginning over there. I'll explain more soon.
October 22, 2010
Five Dollar Friday
As on every Friday this month, $5 goes today to Emily Henochowicz. I feel exactly the same way as this giant fleshy teardrop she's drawn:
October 19, 2010
New Video from Allie Brosh
It's called "How to Put Yourself Inside of a Coat." I'd say it's Robert Benchley-esque, except I've never actually seen the short movies he made, so I don't know.
She also has a new post:
I spent the rest of the evening in a hyperglycemic fit, alternately running around like a maniac and regurgitating the multi-colored remains of my conquest all over my grandparents' carpet. I was so miserable, but my suffering was small compared to the satisfaction I felt every time my horrible, conniving mother had to watch me retch up another rainbow of sweet, semi-digested success: this is for you, mom. This is what happens when you try to get between me and cake.
This reminds me of a similarly-triumphant moment of my childhood that involved copious vomiting, except with me it was mayonnaise sandwiches and a mother who didn't believe me when I told her at the National Geographic lecture that I was sick and wanted to go home.
October 18, 2010
The Funny Part About Massive Worldwide Financial Corruption
"I went to see that movie Inside Job in Washington, D.C. It was pretty good, but there was this guy with a beard behind us who spent the whole movie crying and saying 'yes, yes!'"
October 17, 2010
10,000 Ways for Banks to Say Fuck You
This is buried in a New York Times story about the government's legal settlement with Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide (now owned by Bank of America):
Bank of America is paying Mr. Mozilo’s legal bills. Countrywide is paying $5 million toward Mr. Sambol’s repayment to investors and $20 million of Mr. Mozilo’s reparations.
So for all of 2009 before Bank of America repaid their TARP money, we owned them and were paying for Mozilo's defense. And of course we essentially still own Bank of America in less formal ways, and so continue to get to pay his legal team and part of his settlement. Sweet.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the exact amount Mozilo took home from 2003-8 while he was destroying the world economy was $470,686,861. His legal settlement with the government required him to pay $67.5 million in penalties and reparations to investors. But since Countrywide covered that $20 million, he's only coming up with $47.5 million personally—or just over 10%. Like a bad tip.
Go see Inside Job. It's not a perfect movie; for instance, a better title for it would be "7,000 Jabbering White People." The director, Charles Ferguson, is an elite technocrat, and 98% of it is an elite, technocratic view of what happened. But it's still well worth watching—even someone like Ferguson is so shocked that he clearly ends up wanting to see Wall Street crushed. And certainly everyone else will want to jump up on the screen and gouge out the eyes of all the investment bankers with their thumbs.
The best parts are when Ferguson humiliates several corrupt Ivy League economists. I was particularly happy to see him deal with Harvard's Martin Feldstein, for exactly the reasons mentioned here last year. Of course, this is most satisfying only to a certain type of person (*raises hand*) but embarrassing them is the only satisfaction we're going to get, so we might as well enjoy it. I just wish I'd been interviewed for the movie, so I could have said: "A lot of top economists are basically mob lawyers...except better paid."
October 16, 2010
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
By: John Caruso
Given that even someone as hip to Democratic chicanery as Jon was bamboozled by Obama's charms, I thought I should re-post this advice from February of 2008. Please, I beg you: read it, share it, live it.
If a Democrat wins the presidency, no matter who it is, I'll consider them guilty until proven innocent. I'll give them zero benefit of the doubt. I won't feel one shred of hope or optimism about their impending time in power, and in fact I'll expect the worst. I'll take every positive thing they say as a lie and every negative thing they say as an understatement.
After they assume office, there's only one thing that will make me consider changing my mind on this: concrete actions on major issues that indisputably contradict it. And even then I'll assume that each good action is sui generis—improbable to have happened in the first place and unlikely to be repeated.
This isn't a prediction (though in light of American history, especially over the past few decades, it may as well be). It's also neither pessimism nor hopelessness. It's a recognition that lofty rhetoric not only has the power to blind us to what really matters, but that practically without exception in mainstream politics, that's exactly what it's intended to do. It's an acknowledgment that those who seek power almost universally do so at the expense of their integrity and to the detriment of their humanity, and that to allow ourselves to lose sight of that is to participate in our own deception.
True hope comes from below—not from above.
— John Caruso
October 15, 2010
Five Dollar Friday
My film, my film! My beautiful baby film! Intimate thoughts.
Echo my life:
Loose sight of levers.
See divided landscapes.
Looking for ultimate freedom.
No Good Idea Ever Dies
Justin Elliot of Salon is reading a new book by General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during parts of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. And apparently Shelton describes how in 1997, someone in the Clinton cabinet—from the way it's written, probably Madeleine Albright—suggested that the U.S. let a plane get shot down in order to provide a pretext to invade Iraq:
...one of the Cabinet members present leaned over to me and said, “Hugh, I know I shouldn’t even be asking you this, but what we really need in order to go in and take out Saddam is a precipitous event — something that would make us look good in the eyes of the world. Could you have one of our U-2s fly low enough — and slow enough — so as to guarantee that Saddam could shoot it down?”
The hair on the back of my neck bristled, my teeth clenched, and my fists tightened. I was so mad I was about to explode. I looked across the table, thinking about the pilot in the U-2 and responded, “Of course we can ...” which prompted a big smile on the official’s face.
“You can?” was the excited reply.
“Why, of course we can,” I countered. “Just as soon as we get your ass qualified to fly it, I will have it flown just as low and slow as you want to go.”
This sounds completely plausible, since coming up with some bullshit excuse to attack Iraq was in the air for several years. Kenneth Pollack suggested it in his book The Threatening Storm, although no one celebrating what a brilliant and wise book it was ever mentioned it:
Assembling a  coalition would be infinitely easier if the United States could point to a smoking gun with Iraqi fingerprints on it—some new Iraqi outrage that would serve to galvanize international opinion and create the pretext for an invasion...
There are probably  courses the United States could take that might prompt Saddam to make a foolish, aggressive move, that would then become the "smoking gun" justifying an invasion. An aggressive U.S. covert action campaign might provoke Saddam to retaliate overtly, providing a casus belli...Other means might also be devised.
Then of course there's this:
During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, [Bush] made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser...
"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."
And they absolutely did try something along these lines:
THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.
But in any case, it's always interesting to find out how the Democratic foreign policy establishment are not just scumbags, but scumbags in exactly the same way the Republican foreign policy establishment are.
BONUS: Recall that Madeleine Albright played the Colin Powell role in our previous dramatic-presentation-of-airtight-evidence-at-the-UN-Security-Council-for-why-we-had-to-attack-Iraq that also turned out to be complete bullshit.
October 13, 2010
Thank You, Larry Summers
I remember how, after Obama was elected, I foolishly felt optimistic for 24 hours. In retrospect that was pathetic, especially the part where I thought they'd try to keep involved all the people drawn into politics by the election, rather than telling them to shut up and go home. In any case my optimism ended when he announced Rahm Emmanuel would be his chief of staff, and then turned to pessimism one day later when it became clear he wanted to make Larry Summers his Treasury Secretary. Summers ended up being head of Obama's National Economic Council because they didn't want him in a more public role, but it turns out he was able to do his thing there too. This is from an interview with Steve Rattner, who was Obama's "auto czar":
RATTNER: I don't believe the president has any obligation in any policy area to create a team of rivals spanning the policy spectrum. He was elected based on a set of views he articulated quite clearly, and he's entitled to have people who reflect his views. You might say they're all centrists, but that's what he's comfortable with. He had no obligation to create the Oxford Union in the West Wing. All these people who say his economic team was terrible, what did they want him to do? We had a stimulus bill. Some say it was too small, some say it was too large. Tim Geithner saved the financial system. Larry Summers did a great job in making sure the administration didn't cave in to the flavor of the moment, nationalizing banks and shooting CEOs. I'd love somebody sensible to tell me, given the constraints of Congress and the environments, what we should have done differently.
Few people have the opportunity to help to wreck America just once in their lives. Larry Summers has done it twice, and if it's up to the Democratic Party, he'll eventually be back for a third time, at which point I assume he'll be in charge of boiling oil deployment for when the few surviving serfs storm the castle.
I also appreciate Steve Rattner's cookie-cutter whininess. These people have worldviews that are just as fascinating and diverse as McDonald's hamburgers.
Finally, the interviewer, Ezra Klein, deserves extra credit for responding to what Rattner said above with this: "The normal criticism isn't that they were centrists. The impression of a lot of folks is that they were radical."
Some say the people who criticize Obama from the left aren't sensible, and some say they aren't normal. People, can't we find common ground and agree they're irrational freaks?
October 11, 2010
Michael Gerber Is "Overexurberant"
October 08, 2010
Five Dollar Friday: Still Here
I'm still here, just very busy. Every Friday this month $5 is going to Emily Henochowicz, in gratitude for her striking art and overall being-ness. I very much hope you can send some money her way yourself: it goes to thirstypixels [at sign] gmail [dot] com via paypal.
October 04, 2010
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting Ignores Orders
A few years ago I made it clear that from that point forward, whenever anyone mentioned Cheney biographer Stephen Hayes, they should call him Stephen "W.W. Beauchamp" Hayes. The reasons for this are so obvious there's no need for me to explain it.
But just today, FAIR mentioned Hayes like this:
...the discussion [on C-SPAN] turned to misleading political advertising, and the efforts to factcheck such political lying--an effort that Hayes cheered:HAYES: I think one of the upsides to the proliferation of information sources is that you can go to places and find out whether an ad is truthful or not. I mean, you certainly--whether it's Politifact or whether it's local reporters who have teamed up with national media outlets that are fact checking these things almost on a real-time basis.
Ultimately as a believer in free markets, I think if you put out good information that follows bad, if you can identify blatantly misleading political ads, and call them on it, I think that people will learn that it doesn't pay to run those kinds of ads....I do believe that if you provide people with good information, provide them with places to get that good information, they will ultimately use it.
People, can't we raise the level of our game? That's a fine blug post, but we really can't have a proper revolution unless you all bow to my iron will.
BEFORE: The subject of Stephen "W.W. Beauchamp" Hayes' hagiography also lacks all self-awareness.