December 28, 2012

when NPR gets unlistenably stupid:

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 6:06 pm

During elections, arguably during pledge drive season and, apparently, after school shootings.

I consider myself a pretty liberal left-leaning NPR-friendly sortof guy (describing what I actually am involves a lot more -isms), but I find myself turning off NPR in disgust a lot more since sandy hook. This story, for example, was so mindblowingly dumb I had to turn off the radio, because I was afraid I might plow my car into a telephone pole:

Yang is from China. She says that in college there, she studied math, and then suddenly — totally without prompting — I find myself in another conversation about possibilities and probabilities. Yang, it turns out, specialized in statistics, and since the shooting has been thinking a lot about possibilities and probabilities, reconsidering her original feelings about them.

Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of a shooting happening to her specifically was very small. But since the shooting she's been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the "large number certainty theorem."

"If the base is big enough," she explains, "even though the probability is small, things will happen with certainty."

By Yang's reckoning, this is how the large number certainty theorem applies.


"So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty," she says.

And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that school shootings were so rare they would probably happen to someone else, the shooting has taught her that "we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action."

Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for gun control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.

I .. I just .. What do you say to this? First, I love the hilariously awkward and blatant appeal to authority in the way that they present her as some sort of statistics expert because of a "rule of statistics she learned in college". See? It's a theorem! That sounds very sciencey! You can't argue with FACTS like that!

A fun mental exercise is to substitute literally anything into this line of thought:

Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of slipping on a banana peel and splitting her skull open specifically was very small. But since some other guy slipped on a banana peel and split his skull open she's been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the "large number certainty theorem."


"So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty," she says.

And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that slipping on banana peels open was so rare it would probably happen to someone else, the dude that slipped on a banana peel has taught her that "we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action."

Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for banana control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.


December 15, 2012


Filed under:, , — cwage @ 8:13 pm

Just kidding, I don't want to argue. Gun control is not a passionate issue for me, and I've written just about all I have to say about gun control here. (Note that I focus on inner-city violence, which is really the largest and most tragic location of firearm violence in this country, even if it's not as headline-grabbing as school massacres.)

Mostly I just want to recommend that everyone read this article. Especially this part:

The general decline in gun-related violence and the inability even of mental health professionals to identify future mass killers should be the essential starting points of any serious policy discussion generated by the absolutely horrific slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We should also add a third starting point: Few good policies come from rapid responses to deeply felt injuries. Many of the same people who are now calling for immediate action with regard to gun control recognize that The Patriot Act, rushed through Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was a terrible piece of legislation that ultimately did nothing to protect Americans even as it vastly expanded the state's ability to surveil law-abiding citizens. There's no reason to think that federal, state, or local gun control laws promulgated now would result in anything different.

If hard cases make bad laws, it's even more true that rare crimes make terrible public policy. In a piece for Quartz, journalist Lenore Skenazy recalls that the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history took place in Michigan in 1927, when a disgruntled school-board official blew up 38 people, including himself. She writes that the real difference between now and then is the immediacy of the media, which shrinks the distance between victims and the rest of us. Even as that allows us to have more empathy for the grieving, it creates the conditions for an overreaction that will ultimately be little more than symbolic.

May 11, 2012

a story about boobs

Filed under:, — cwage @ 3:51 am

I know how to write an attention-grabbing lede, right? So, on the topic of Time's breastfeeding cover: a few, hasty observations made without any knowledge of what the publisher, photographer or model were truly going for:

  1. This woman is a very thin, probably healthy, woman. She's magazine-model-ready. This is flaunted by her thin, nearly sexualized combination of transparent tanktop and no-bra.
  2. Here we have her three year old kid suckling her tit, staring also into the camera.

Number of times this ever happens in real life? 0. Okay, 1.
Number of people who were previously perhaps ... confused or hostile to the cause of public breastfeeding that are going to be swayed away from that opinion? 0.
Number of grown adolescents having their suspicions confirmed that breastfeeding is something to sexualized, spotlighted, or otherwise mocked/feared/poked/prodded? a lot.

I don't want to get too worked up about whether this woman is or is not the ideal representation of your "average" woman. She's clearly not, but I know plenty of women who look just like her that have had babies and probably breastfed. Women come in all shapes and sizes. The choice here is curious and probably damaging.

I haven't read about attachment parenting, so I don't really know what it is. (I guess I can read the piece in Time and find out!) Maybe this super weird hypersurreal representation of breastfeeding is appropriate somehow in the context of attachment parenting?

If not, maybe they could have chosen a representation of a more normal photo of a woman breastfeeding her child. They're not hard to come by, really.

The chosen photo does nothing but stoke the fires of the debate between prudes and pervs, and the mothers are yet again left out in the cold (or more accurately, in the stink of a shit-stinking bathroom, clandestinely feeding their baby).

December 14, 2011

why I don’t support the salvation army (and neither should you)

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 7:58 pm

Every holiday season, multitudes of charities come out of the woodwork soliciting for donations. The Salvation Army is no exception, armed with their ubiquitous red shield, ringing bell and red bucket of shame, turning every visit to the grocery store into an epic dilemma: do I toss in a few coins or just try to avoid eye contact as long as possible? I'm here to offer you a third way: ignore them with impunity. They don't deserve your money.

I know what you're thinking: great, another anti-religious self-righteous rant about the perils of religious-sponsored charity. Another time, maybe. While I cannot deny that I find an organization of evangelicals organized around a military structure to be extremely creepy, that isn't the biggest problem here. The problem is something that any honest charitable donor should be troubled by:

In may of 2004, the Salvation Army objected to New York City's proposed anti-discrimination ordinance, which would mandate fair-hiring practices and offering of benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages. To combat this, they threatened to forego the ~$70 million/year in city funding, close their soup kitchens and pull out of NYC entirely.

This is a transgression that goes far beyond the superficial issue of whether or not you're terrified of Teh Gays. Even if you're comfortable with the agenda they pushed in this case, are you comfortable with the recipient of your charity dollars using them to promote a political agenda? Further, are you comfortable with a charitable organization withholding those services -- literally using them as leverage -- in pursuit of that agenda?

Think long and hard before you answer. Charity is not a game, and it's not a tool for political exploitation. We have a social safety net comprised of many organizations from many sources: secular, governmental, and religious. For many, they are the thin line between survival and destitution. When a charity threatens to withhold those services, it demonstrates a blatant and irresponsible disregard for its core mission.

There are tons of charities that offer similar services on a local and national level with integrity and transparency (and not all of them are secular!), which I urge you to donate to instead.

August 30, 2011


OMG. Did you hear about this? There's little point in speculation on what actually happened in this "story" until all the facts are in, but the speculation, lies, and rhetoric in the post and comments are already ridiculously hilarious.

My take/guesses:

  • The child is in 5th grade, so around, what, 9 years old? Have you ever seen a 9 year old biking on a road? They are like fearless psychotic demons with an inner-ear infection. It's a frightening thing.
  • The cop probably took the kid home because he was genuinely afraid that the kid was gonna become a stain on the road (and he was probably right).
  • No one was arrested.
  • The police representative claiming that DCS should get involved is an idiot (if they did, as the mother claims).
  • Anyone letting their 5th grader bike on roads in Tennessee is probably an idiot, too, but sadly, idiocy is not a dealbreaker for parenthood. (usually it's a prerequisite.)
  • Bill Hobbs' phone interview (in the comments) reads like a spectacularly executed attempt to cherrypick the statements to reinforce the aforementioned idiotic DCS comment, even though they probably didn't, at all.
  • Now that this has hit instapundit, we can expect the comment thread to reach epic levels of stupidity.

Yes, folks: because this poor cop tried to keep a kid from getting killed, he's "drunk with power" and needs to be fired. This is the next great battle against the police state. Not, you know, the countless daily deadly drug raids, creepy collusion between the state and media, and an ever-expanding military industrial complex. My suggestion: ignore that blog post, and this one, and move on.

August 21, 2011


Filed under:, , , , , , — cwage @ 8:04 pm

Every once in a while, a political story truly bewilders me. Take this one, for example:

Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tong to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different "temporary" tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.


"It's always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn," says Rep. Jeb Hensarling, "but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again." The Texas lawmaker is on the House GOP leadership team.


"We don't need short-term gestures. We need long-term fundamental changes in our tax structure and our regulatory structure that people who create jobs can rely on," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., when asked about the payroll tax matter.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., "has never believed that this type of temporary tax relief is the best way to grow the economy," said spokesman Brad Dayspring.

First, let me just point out that while the Democrats may be a bunch of hypocritical, blowhard, incompetent fools, every once in a while the Republicans remind me of why I vote for them anyway. They're not fucking evil.

But here's what's confusing me. Obama's payroll tax cut seems like a fine idea and something we should support, because it's a very progressive tax cut: it's money directly in the pockets of people that actually need and will spend it. The problem is that a payroll tax cut means a direct decrease to the funding of social security. Bleeding one to feed the other. So, this proposed payroll tax cut basically guts social security -- something Republicans have been trying to do for decades. Why aren't they going along with it? Is it really as simple as opposing anything that Obama proposes? Is this really the sad state of affairs our political situation has reached, or am I missing something? And if Obama knows it's a proposal any Republican will shoot down, why not at least make it an attractive one instead of this nonsense? If Obama was serious about a progressive change to our tax structure, he'd propose lifting the salary cap on payroll taxes along with this, or something.


March 17, 2011

the radio/CPB/NPR thing

Filed under:, , , , , , , , — cwage @ 8:59 pm

In which I comment on a news story about a pointless bill that passed the house but will never pass the senate:

The bill (HR 1076) as stated, would "prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio and the use of Federal funds to acquire radio content". What does that actually mean? Lots of people claim that NPR doesn't actually get any money from the federal government -- so what's the point? Well, that's not exactly true. A quick rundown of the situation, as I understand it (which may be wrong. okay, it's probably wrong):

  • NPR produces content. It's not a radio station.
  • NPR is funded by a bunch of different sources, including some federal competitive grants amounting to around 2% of its budget. However:
  • It also receives a large amount of revenue from member stations (around 34%), which buy its content. Those member stations are funded by lots of things, including the CBP (around 10%), and various governments (including federal -- about 6%).
  • The CBP is funded almost entirely by the federal government (as of 2010, around $422 million)

What does this mean if the legislation would pass? (which it won't)

  • Member stations could no longer use the ~16% of their budget from the federal government to purchase NPR content (all things considered, morning edition, etc etc).
  • So, NPR would lose some portion of the 34% of their revenue which comes from member station purchases. The exact amount, I guess, boils down to how many member stations wish to continue buying the content versus finding alternative sources (local content, PRI, etc).

In conclusion, it doesn't sound like that big of a deal, really. I half-wish it would pass just so we could stop arguing about it -- the whole situation has been politicized into oblivion, and it doesn't seem like anyone would fare too badly if the bill passed. My question is: if the Republicans are supposedly so opposed to the use of government funds for this, why are they attacking NPR (a non-profit provider of content) instead of just floating legislation to take apart the CPB? The CPB is the actual source of federal funding. My guess: attacking CPB doesn't win them as many points with their base as attacking NPR.

So, there's that. Now we can move on to arguing about things that actually matter. Isn't there some war or something?

February 18, 2011

are you scared yet?

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 3:11 pm

Baptist minister (pastor? priest? whatever.) uses scare tactics in an attempt to combat the movement to get wine in grocery stores:

Those behind this push in Tennessee have no concern whatsoever for the well being of Tennesseans. They have no sense of compassion for those fighting the addiction of alcohol who will be forced to shop for the staples of life, while being confronted by their personal demon with every turn they make in the store. They feel no responsibility for the broken homes, shattered lives and stolen futures of those who will become trapped by addiction as a result of easy accessibility of high proof alcohol.

Personally, I think the idea of confronting demons at the store sounds pretty awesome -- World of Warcraft meets grocery-shopping. I guess I shouldn't be shocked -- I'm surprised he didn't just say we'll all go to hell.

A good rebuttal here.

November 24, 2010


Filed under:, , — cwage @ 6:27 am

A funny quote from Tom Tomorrow's review of a Doonesbury retrospective:

I have been reading Doonesbury for most of my life. At the age of 12, my understanding of the immediate post-Watergate era was largely shaped by the Doonesbury compilations

I can relate. Hell, that's nothing. My political understanding of the entire decade of the 1980s was shaped by Bloom County. Ack, thbbbt!

April 5, 2010

a message to garcia

My friend Marcus asked if anyone had read A Message to Garcia. I have, and since twitter is just not built for this sort of discourse, here are my thoughts on it, briefly:

Politically speaking, this essay was beloved by the top-rung promoters-of-the-status-quo because of its sharp "sit down and shut up" message. "Do what you're told, don't think about it, and don't ask questions." I'd make a Nazi metaphor here, but then the argument would be over already. This sort of mentality is pervasive in western capitalist culture, starting in our school system and on up through the corporate ladder. There are more specific barbs in it, though, in my opinion, regarding more than mere work ethic.. There were strong political undertones:

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him.

It could be mere coincidence -- a reflection of Hubbard's frustrating day with employees who wouldn't do what they're told -- but this sort of rhetorical description matches perfectly the sort of slights you'd often see against late 19th centuy anarchists, socialists et al (which at the time, prior to the world wars, were quite numerous, strong and growing, despite being mostly forgotten today.)

Lastly, there's the little bit where he actually uses the phrase "It is the survival of the fittest", further reinforcing the same sort of bullshit Hobbesian social darwinist ideas that were (are) popular at the time in western capitalist culture, despite the fact that they are utter bullshit. This memo, deliberate or not, reeks of the sort of pro-capitalist propaganda that set the stage for the early 20th century imperialism and the military/industrial complex. But anyways. So, yeah. Cute.

As far as how it may be applied to the business world, though, I will say that I can sympathize a bit, but I don't agree. Having spent a decent amount of time in businesses, in a lot of different positions, there's no doubt in my mind that the adage is true: the hardest part is managing people. I have worked with people where I admired their ability to doggedly pursue an order to the letter and extent you asked, without question. It can be a relief and a comfort to know that if you ask someone to do something, it'll get done. Those same people, however, can get you into trouble quickly. "Why did you do ___________?" "You told me to do ___________." "Yes, but .. that's obviously not what i meant LITERALLY, did you even think ... *sigh* nevermind."

My mind wanders to the time that I was at a restaurant once (the Cooker in green hills -- this is a true story): the waitress came around our large table asking us for drinks, one by one. She got to me, and I asked for "a diet coke, and a vodka martini, straight up with a twist." She asked me if diet pepsi was okay, and I nodded my assent. So, she goes off, 10 minutes later comes back with a tray of drinks, and she sets one down in front of me. I'm looking at this cocktail glass full of a watery brown liquid. Confused, I sniffed at it, and took a sip. Sure as shit, the waitress had misheard "a diet coke and vodka martini, straight up, with a twist". And the bartender made me one. Well, with Diet Pepsi. (and yes, in case you're wondering, it was repulsive.) But what boggled my mind is that neither the waitress nor the bartender stopped to think about the implausibility of someone actually ordering a "diet pepsi martini" and bothered to doublecheck. A little bit of critical thinking can go a long way.

Conversely, I've worked with people that are dogmatic in their questioning of things they're asked to do. They can be frustrating. They ask questions about everything, and they want everything explained to them. They raise irritating objections when you're trying to lay down "the law" in a meeting. Objections that are doubly irritating when you realize -- oh no! -- they have a good point. And you've now got to rethink your decision. The irritation with this, though, is pure ego, and needs to be discarded. These sorts of people can be tough to work with. You tire of working with them because of the constant explication, and you're wary of meetings because you know there's inevitably going to be an objection. And yet, consistently, these are the people I've worked with that have added the most value to our team because they are constantly actually thinking things through.

But, these are merely two hypothetical extremes to be avoided, and everyone learns to temper their inclinations. The best position is, as usual, somewhere in the middle. "Thinkers" (I consider myself one of these) need to learn that they can't spend forever navel-gazing and making sure they doing the right thing. After all, you reach a certain point where any decision is better than no decision. You also sometimes have to give your teammates a little credit in having thought through the things you're objecting to. Everyone has a job to do and sometimes you just have to trust and let someone do theirs. In turn, the "doers" need to learn to employ a little bit of critical thinking and speak up when they're asked to do something that appears to be inanely stupid. (or, hypothetically, if it involves rounding up and exterminating Jews. Ha. SORRY. I couldn't help it.) This is not a bad thing, and your team will thank you for it.

I find the sentiment as expressed in that essay to be utterly repulsive, though. I suppose it's advantageous and desirable in the business world for strong, type-A personalities who don't want their decisions questioned, I'm sure. And if they surround themselves with such automatons they'll have no trouble quickly running their business straight into the ground, unimpeded. It's also politically expedient for a status quo that doesn't want anyone to bother thinking about why things are the way they are. The compulsion to sit down, shut up, and do what you're told is something straight out of Orwell, and the sentiment that it should be held up as some sort of Platonic ideal is scary, and dangerous.

So, uhm, yeah. In summary, I've read it and I think it sucks.

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