25 November 2010

24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

When dealing with foreigners, Americans have a particular problem to overcome that we share only with the British:  from watching tv and the movies, people who have never been here think they know all about the place. They think that underemployed 20 year olds in New York City have two-bedroom, two bath apartments on Central Park; they think that gunfights break out two or three times during our morning commute; and they think we're always eating.  (That's apparently the take-away for Indians watching Seinfeld, which, fair enough.)

Of course, anyone who has ever watched a tv show or movie supposedly about something the watcher actually knows about, like working in an office or practicing law or parking a car in Manhattan, knows that tv has no connection to what really goes on because (a) if it did, it would be just as boring and frustrating as those things actually are; (b) tv writers are hired directly out of Harvard and don't actually have any real life experience.

Thanksgiving is the one great exception to this rule.  Thanksgiving has been presented on large and small screens 10,000 times, and each time has been exactly accurate. We travel great distances to eat together, around a large table heaping with food, and argue and laugh and love.  And even those who aren't blessed with family and feasts know exactly what they'd be doing if they were.

Every year when late November rolls around, Peter and Brit make cracks about how Thanksgiving is just second Christmas.  This shows that they understand American Thanksgiving, but misunderstand American Christmas.  Christmas in the states is nothing like what is shown on tv or in the movies, even in snowy New England villages.  In practice, Christmas is a minor secular holiday that happens to fall during school vacation.  Thanksgiving is the high holiday of our national religion.

To your and yours, a happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving.

The Whiniest Whiners Who Whine

This morning, while brushing my teeth, I was rank-ordering political arguments based on my contempt for them, as one does.  The top three were surprisingly easy to identify.  Of all the whiny whiners who whine, the one's for whom I have the most contempt (in alphabetical order) are:
  • 9/11 Truthers;
  • Anti-vaccinationists
  • Fathers' rights activists (this is probably the least known of the three; for a primer, go here).
But when it came to determine which of the three I most despise, I was a little caught out.  These idiocies are a veritable feast of contempt.  The 9/11 Truthers are loud, obnoxious, and try to exercise political power.  The anti-vaccinationists tend to present as reasonable middle-class parents but are for that reason the most dangerous.  The fathers' rights people are just gross and are basically pissed off that they have to pay to support their children and try to present themselves as civil rights victims, which I don't even like from (non-black) people who probably are actual civil rights victims.

On the other hand, it's impossible not to feel some empathy for the anti-vaccinationists, even while realizing that they must be mercilessly crushed.  Their desire to find someone to blame and extract large cash settlements from that someone is fundamentally human (hmm, evolutionary psychology?  Contemptible, but not top three material).

The 9/11 Truthers can't actually effect the world until they put down the bong; and once they quit smoking dope they discover that the towers really did fall because Muslim fanatics flew planes into them.  Plus, they do provide hours of laughter, like the woman truther who, finally convinced that the government couldn't have wired explosives in the towers in the weeks leading up to 9/11, surmised that every skyscraper in the country must be wired with explosives during construction.

As a result, for having no redeeming value whatsover, fathers' rights activists are, of all the whiniest whiners who whine, the whiniest whiners of all.

21 November 2010

Signs Of The Apocalypse -- First In A Continuing Series

I've never watched an episode of Dancing With The Stars, and had never seen any part of it until I went looking for this clip.  Bristol Palin seems like a nice if somewhat vague and unformed young woman and certainly dances better than I ever have, would or could.  On the other hand, I'm perfectly willing to accept the view of those who actually know something about dancing, or Dancing, that she isn't nearly good enough to have made the finals on her own.  I could not care less is she wins or gets voted off.

But apparently lots of people do care and that strikes me as a sign of the apocalypse.

We seem to be treating politics now like just another team sport.  In Boston sports talk, you'll sometimes hear the phrase "they wear our laundry."  The point is that how a fan feels about some supposed scandal in sports (tape-gate, or Rodney Harrison taking HGH, or David Ortiz possibly having taken steroids, or Barry Bonds supposedly having taken steroids, or Manny being a lazy undisciplined player) depends entirely on whether they play for "your" team.  Caring whether Bristol Palin wins or loses a tv dance contest because her mother is Sarah Palin isn't politics, it isn't rational, it's just down to who's laundry she wears.  (Yeah, I know, but I didn't realize where this was going until it was too late to turn around.)

There's no rational basis on which to prefer the Red Sox to the Yankees, the Raiders to the 'Niners, or Manchester to ... some other soccer team.  I strongly believe that there is a rational basis to prefer conservative government to liberal government, and probably for preferring Republican government to Democratic government -- and I'll freely concede that if you start with another set of axioms, there are reasons to prefer Democrats to Republicans.  (Generally, the reason for the latter is "they'll give me stuff," but that's perfectly rational.)  But that doesn't mean that we are rational about these decisions and caring about Bristol Palin, one way or another (I mean, we're three weeks from an election in which we swept the Democrats from the House and people care whether Sarah Palin's daughter wins a dancing contest?) means that we've moved beyond rational argument.

For the people who would win a rational argument, that's bad news.

15 November 2010

Now This Is Genius Marketing

Of all the misconceptions people have about big business (<Heston>CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE</Heston>), one of the funniest is the idea that marketers control hidden persuaders that turn us into consuming automatons.  Just go read some of the marketing literature to see just how much of marketing "science" is old-fashioned guessing.

Marketing is an art, not a science, and this is its Mona Lisa:

14 November 2010

I'm Not Sure What It Says About The World...

Or about me, but I've now got two different songs on my iPhone titled "Fuck You."  I had completely forgotten the first when I downloaded the second.

06 November 2010

03 November 2010

So Obvious

So, That Happened

Congratulations to the Republican Party, which won big last night.  This election was very much a correction, not a realignment.  Right now, it looks like the Republicans will end up with between 235-239 members in the House.  This is a return to the number of Representatives (232) the Republicans had in the 109th Congress, 2004-2006.  I still remain convinced that this movement rightward is the underlying long-term trend as the population moves south and west.

In other good news, attacking immigrants once again doesn't lead to victory.

Finally, the 2010 census will lead to redistricting before the next Congress and the Republicans have made extraordinary gains at the state level, giving them a chair at the table in most states.  Unfortunately, this will lead to the two parties divvying up highly gerrymandered seats for short-term gain.  Leaving aside the obvious democratic arguments against gerrymandering, I'm convinced that Republicans would benefit from districts drawn without regard to party strategy.  (The Democrats seem to think so, too.)

02 November 2010

I Resemble That Remark

This is apparently somewhat controversial in England.  In the US, we have Old Jews Telling Jokes.