Monday, February 28, 2011

Shutdown: Don't Panic (YET) Week

Well, here we are, lads and lassies. This week will be nuts.

Collective Bargaining News

On Tuesday, our homegrown budget nuttiness could go into endgame, as what Gov. Scott Walker says is a crucial deadline in his budget repair bill will irrevocably pass, forcing him to lay off 1,500 state employees (although Sen. Mark Miller has challenged this).

At midnight on Thursday, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players' Association will expire. What happens in the next four days will largely determine whether the NFL has a lockout for the 2011 season.

And in slightly more serious news, Friday, March 4th is the deadline for Congressional Republicans and Democrats to come to some agreement on a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government, or (heaven forbid) actually pass a budget. Failure to do so could result in a government shutdown. 

Also in the "nutty news" category, apparently Navy ships are required by federal law to sell tobacco on board, thanks to some hefty lobbying by the tobacco industry. 

The military has denied Rolling Stone's allegations that a certain Lt. Colonel Holmes was asked to perform 'psychological warfare' techniques on visiting U.S. and Afghan dignitaries. The Washington Post goes into some much-needed investigative reporting detail about the subject. It's kind of funny, actually. Rolling Stone's overblown article played up the one-man-against-the-machine angle, detailing how Holmes was reprimanded and censured for refusing to follow orders he considered illegal. But the Post not only shows how Holmes' assignment resulted from a bureaucratic reorganization rather then a sinister order, it highlights all the efforts Holmes made to fight the policy, from fighting with his superiors to consulting a military lawyer, to-revealingly-emailing the press to get his story out. (His first choice, for some reason, was the St. Petersburg Times. They turned him down, so he went to Rolling Stone.)

The House of Representatives will vote today on H.R. 386, which would enact a federal law against aiming laser pointers at aircraft. I thought this was a joke bill, but apparently it's a big safety issue; lasers flashed in a pilot's eyes during takeoff or landing could temporarily blind the pilot and even cause a crash. The penalty would be a fine or up to five years in prison, or both.

And the New York Times has published a mammoth piece on the health hazards of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing of rocks underground to release natural gas. Gas looked so promising when I was writing my paper last fall; now, with the revelations that fracking creates so much wastewater and is bad for the environment, coupled with the news that it may not be as carbon-friendly as we thought, well... huh. 

(Hilarious quote from a Texan gas-well neighbor: "“I’m not an activist, an alarmist, a Democrat, environmentalist or anything like that,” Ms. Gant said.")

Of course, nobody else is really clean, either. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published their report on subsidies to nuclear power, "The Gift That Keeps On Taking". I have every intention of reading the full PDF, but it's a hundred and fifty-odd pages, so I might be a while.

So, uh... keep checking back throughout the week as my state, federal and entertainment governments attempt to avoid their various fiscal boondoggles. 

Bonne chance.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chess In The West Wing 3x14

In The West Wing 3 x 14, when Toby and Bartlet are playing, Toby plays 1 e4 and Bartlet jokingly accuses him of playing the “Evans Gambit”, a derivative of the Giuoco Piano opening. Toby professes not to know what that is, but after 1… e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5, Toby does in fact play 4 b4! which is the real Evans Gambit. Bartlet accepts with 4… Bxb4.

I’m also reasonably sure that the Evans Gambit isn’t as popular today as it was in Paul Morphy’s time, simply because the Giuoco Piano has gone out of fashion.

Charlie interrupts with Sam’s move in a different game, which he states as “Bishop to Queen’s Knight 3”. That’s actually a sort of antiquated chess move system, that was used in the 1950s and earlier, but has died out in favor of the e4, e5, e6 system (where each square has an unchanging, fixed designation of a letter and a number, and pieces are referred to by the first letter of their names). The old system designated pieces by what column they were in with regards to the original starting position; thus, “Queen’s Knight 3” means that the Bishop is three spaces up from the column that White’s Queen’s Knight started in. It was confusing because the system shifted depending on the point of view. Black noted moves from the position of his pieces, just like White. So it would be entirely possible for White to move 1 B-QKn3 and for Black to follow with 1… B-QKn3, without the two Bishops ever interacting. The e4 system makes more sense.

Now that I’ve gifted the world with an utterly pedantic chess shmick, I’ll leave you with one of the most fantastic games ever played. The Opera Game. Enjoy.

Also, do not EVER play this, you will DIE.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why I Think Postmodern Theory Is Bullshit

Post-structuralists and postmodernists deny the idea that there is any underlying truth to our lives. The entire literary system is predicated on the idea that there are fundamental differences separating us from the rest of the world, embedded in the very language we use to describe that world. In short, we can’t find literary truth anymore then we can find real truth; everything is unplanned, unstructured, deviant, random.

I call bullshit on that idea. I’m a bit of a journalist, and underlying every single thing about journalism is the idea that if you dig hard enough and look long enough, you can find out the facts or the truth of a given case. Not The Facts or The Truth, because that’s not within a journalist’s purview. But the journalistic philosophy is that everything has a reason why it’s happened. Everything has a cause and a purpose, a genesis and a finish. The job of a journalist is to find out what’s happened.

Whether we can do that or not, those reasons do exist.

So to confront the nihilistic post-modernist attitude that says we can know nothing, that we’re fundamentally prevented from ever really knowing everything and fuck you guys, we all die alone…

I left this and came back, but there’s just one thing I want to say. I finished Catch-22 earlier today, and let me tell you, the postmodern trap that Joseph Heller builds up in that novel is breathtaking. It’s brilliant. There is no outside agency, there is no God, there is nothing benevolent in the authority figures and systems above us, there is nothing we ordinary people can count on for aid. There’s a system, and we’re trapped in that system with nothing but ourselves for guidance, and the only thing we can do to stop it is to go crazy and break the rules. That’s what Catch-22 says. That’s its enduring message.

But you know what?

I just finished listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, fourth movement. And I tell you this. It is impossible, for me anyway, to go into any kind of existential funk when I’m listening to that music. It simply is. And I’ll go further to say that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the single greatest achievement of one human being, working on their own. That is artistic brilliance. It doesn’t get any better. You can hear God in that symphony. My dad told me that that symphony was about the “indomitable spirit of Man”, and I’ve never heard a better description of anything in my life. Listen to that when you’re funked out and stressed, and I guarantee you’ll lose your existential angst. Music like that, art like that, love like that, live like that… that’s what it’s all about, baby. Us. Humans. Making things that’ll last far beyond our lifetimes. Fuck the existential angst. The answer is all around us.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tisdel's Debunker: Obama's Apologies

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines apology in the following manner:
1a : a formal justification : defense b : excuse 2a 
2: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret <a public apology>
3: a poor substitute : makeshift
Later, the dictionary expounds on the definition.
"apology usually applies to an expression of regret for a mistake or wrong with implied admission of guilt or fault and with or without reference to mitigating or extenuating circumstances <said by way of apology that he would have met them if he could>. apologia implies not admission of guilt or regret but a desire to make clear the grounds for some course, belief, or position <his speech was an apologia for his foreign policy>".

The key phrase here seems to be "an expression of regret... with implied admission of guilt". So to make an apology, I first have to acknowledge that I did something wrong. Then I have to say that I regret it, which carries the "implied admission of guilt or fault".

Keeping all that in mind, let's spin up the TARDIS and go back to June 2, 2009, for this list of "The President's Top Ten Apologies: How Barack Obama has Humiliated a Superpower"!!!

The distinguished foreign policy scholar Nile Gardiner (and his assistant, Morgan Roach) charges that President Obama has consistently pushed the idea that "the United States must atone for its past policies". Apparently, he thinks "that the U.S. is a flawed nation that must seek redemption by apologizing for its past 'sins'". Clearly, Obama has "a relentless penchant for apology-making (bolding mine)", that has "weaken[ed] American power on the world stage".

Gardiner then cites the ten most egregious examples of this dangerous trend as proof of Obama's wishy-washiness. Let's take a look, shall we? I'll put an evaluation of whether the statement is an apology or not under each one, and then tally up at the end.

Mind you, I'm playing by Gardiner's rules here. It's entirely possible that the context of the speeches exculpate Obama from the charge of being apologetic on their own. He's chosen to use relatively brief excerpts, which I am shortening even further for convenience's sake. In other words, out of context, these will likely appear even more apologetic than they did in the original article. All italics are mine.

Let Us Boldly Go Forth!

 1. "Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." Obama makes an acknowledgment here, the first half of an apology. But the second half is missing. There's no regret in Gardiner's excerpt. Therefore, this is Not An Apology.

2. "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect." Acknowledgment of imperfection and mistakes; no regret. Not An Apology.

3. "While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms."Acknowledgment of mistakes; no regret. Not An Apology.

4. "I would like to think that with my election and the early decisions that we've made, that you're starting to see some restoration of America's standing in the world." Backhanded acknowledgment that America's standing was at one time low; no regret. Not An Apology.

5. "But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us--Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens--fell silent. In other words, we went off course." This string of acknowledgments is probably closest to a true apology, as a sense of regret comes through from the litany of mistakes. But there's still no regret actually voiced. You have to interpret from the text, which Gardiner is happy to do. I'm not convinced that that should count, since it becomes subjective. Not An Apology.

6. "I don't believe that there is a contradiction between our security and our values. And when you start sacrificing your values, when you lose yourself, then over the long term that will make you less secure." He's talking about Guantanamo here, but this is barely even an acknowledgment; it's really more of a philosophical argument. Once again, there's no regret. Not An Apology.

7. "The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history... Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans." Acknowledgment. Implied regret; no voiced regret. Not An Apology.

8. "Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors. We have been too easily distracted by other priorities, and have failed to see that our own progress is tied directly to progress throughout the Americas." Acknowledgment. No regret. Let me remind the reader, he doesn't even have to say "I'm sorry" for it to count; any language about 'lost opportunity' or 'consequences', anything of the kind would suffice. None is present. Not An Apology.

9. "Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be President of the United States". This isn't even an acknowledgment. It's a half-assed acknowledgment that there could be mistakes. No regret is anywhere in the vicinity. Not An Apology.

10. "So the record is clear: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies." Acknowledgment; controversial statement. No regret. Not An Apology. 

 Total: NO Apologies. 0 for 10. 

Gardiner might counterattack by pointing out that in several of the 'apologies', there appears to be an implied tone of regret. I'm not convinced by this. Yes, you could argue that an implication constitutes an "expression of regret", especially since we're not sure what an "expression" is; is it an accompanying phrase, a grimace, or one's tone of voice? The extended definition has 'apology' as an "expression of regret for a mistake or wrong". This leads me to believe that the "expression" should be a phrase or sentence that stands on its own merit. That interpretation fits with my understanding of the word 'apology', as well. If I tell my friend "I slept with your girlfriend", he probably wouldn't take that as an apology by itself, no matter what my face or tone told him. For it to be a true apology, I would have to say "I slept with your girlfriend"--acknowledgment--"and I'm sorry"--regret. This is really pedantic (hell, the whole note is pedantic) but it's the best way to address potential qualms. 

Gardiner might then respond "To hell with the dictionary definition, the President of the United States isn't going to literally say "I'm sorry" to a crowd! You have to look at his statements in a diplomatic context, in which an acknowledgment is as good as a straight admission of culpability!"

Sorry, but no. First of all, Gardiner makes the mistaken claim early on that the 'apologies' are for the United States in general. They aren't. Almost every statement above refers to some policy of President Bush's that Obama corrected. Second of all, I reject the idea that the President of the United States shouldn't say "We screwed up" when we screwed up.

If Gardiner had used "President Obama's Top Ten Apologia" as his title... which would imply that he was clearing away Bush's failed policies, not apologizing for them... he could've been a hell of a lot closer to correct. As it is, he's about as deep into 'fail' as that cat with cheese on its head. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tisdel's Debunker: Oh My Goodness, Psychic Warfare On Senators! (Has No Substance)

Does it sound to anyone else like Rolling Stone is way overreaching with their latest military exposé? They purport to expose the psychological warfare techniques that a three-star general ordered against visiting U.S. Senators, Representatives, an Admiral and some foreign diplomats. The title even specifically recalls their prizewinning exposé that got General Stanley McChrystal fired by President Obama, "The Runaway General" (and the link to the other story is merely one paragraph into the piece). The story is an instant attention-grabber, too; government manipulation and psychological warfare are straight out of any spy flick.

But in their haste to document the story, Rolling Stone appears to have overreached substantially. Yes, it's big news that a three-star general even attempted to do this, and yes, the public has every right to freak out about it. But the title atop their story, alleging the proven use of psychological warfare against U.S. senators, is a huge overreach. Consider:

Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the man who was formally tasked to do the manipulation, resisted it from the start and got a reprimand and an investigation for his pains. He said that he gave the general, Caldwell, "background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters". However, there are no details anywhere in the article of any psychological warfare techniques actually being used. Indeed, there's no evidence in the article that Caldwell ever used them.

The only thing Rolling Stone provides that even looks like evidence is buried in the last paragraph of the piece.

"As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target."
Fine. But that doesn't prove a single thing. Levin could easily have had other reasons for advocating the additional funding. Despite the language of "operation targeting U.S. senators", there is neither any evidence that it was ever carried out, nor any way to prove if it was short of additional disclosure or investigating! There's nothing in the article that's overtly misleading, but the title- "Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators" is definitely an overreach. It's not clear what the "background information" or "prep" that Holmes and his team provided to Caldwell was, whether it falls under the heading of "psy-ops", or whether it was ever actually used. Rolling Stone should have investigated that part of the story further before publishing.

UPDATE: Morning Defense has essentially the same reaction I had. Here's a picture of his:

Portrait of a Dictator under House Arrest

When the man who held the veins and arteries of an entire nation in his clenched fist was at the peak of his power, he was said to dominate entire rooms with the sheer force of his will. There was a presence about him, what observers of his rule called ‘a powerful charisma of thought and mind’. He compelled brave men to follow him and young women to throw themselves upon his royal mercy. His bones were wreathed in muscle, and his speeches set the audience aflame with nationalistic fervor. His helpless listeners were caught in a windstorm of force and firepower. Everything he was, everything he did, carried with it the surety of a man born to command.

His tower has long since collapsed into faded rubble. The vines of democracy and populism grew, inch by inch and year by year, until yelling mobs brandishing black-market Kalashnikovs were pouring through the gates of his palace. In a desperate final act, the dictator addressed the mob from a marble balcony high above the great plaza, reaching into their hearts and minds as he had done so many times before. But his words were swallowed up in the roar of the crowd, and that night the palace of gods and kings was put to the torch.

Unlike many of his compatriots, fellow heads of state overthrown by their oppressed majorities, the dictator lived to see the rise of a new government. A firing squad under the hot South American sun would perhaps have been more kind. The man who had controlled an entire nation by sheer force of will was wadded up and stuffed in a small house in the mountains, surrounded by the soldiers he had once ordered to war. There, under lifelong house arrest, he would live out his days, far from the public eye and mind.

Today, instead of a horde of Soviet-issued fighter jets, the dictator's air force consists of a plastic jetliner he wants to give his niece. His armies, fatigued and camouflaged, are two dozen creaking valets and an elite corps of grumpy old nurses. His palace shakes in the heavy wind that blows out of the Pacific Ocean in the fall, and his mighty roof leaks with the spring monsoons. There's a weathervane on the roof in the shape of an eagle, one majestic talon pointing north, that's rusted now and squeaks in the wind. It's always twisting around in the middle of the night, that soft little eeech eeech eeech that flits around the house until it reaches his bedroom window and bats at it all night long. He wishes the damn thing would just break off and fly away already.

He doesn't have a lot of visitors, not friendly ones anyway. The youthful captain in charge of his guard tells him they pick up a maniac every week or so, struggling and spitting and trying to get just a little bit closer to the house. Let me set us free, they howl, fighting off the corporal of the guard and clutching at their makeshift guns. Let us be rid of him. Once the dictator tried to talk to the man, a smouldering leftist student who had fought at the Universidad del Sud in the last days of the regime, tried to convince him and persuade him as he had always done. His speeches stumbled through the air between them and died before they reached his furious audience, victims of the man's helpless rage. The dictator went back to his house afterwards and lay on his couch for eighteen hours, losing himself in episodes of Tom & Jerry

The dictator's back aches when he's on his feet for too long. His booming voice is now just a squeak, after a bullet tore through his larynx during the escape from the Presidential Palace. He likes to garden, even though his hands shake when he digs a little hole for each seed and, quivering, drops it into the rich soil. Once he made banana bread for all the guards, with bananas he'd grown on his own trees. The soldiers laughed nervously and took a polite crumb. He doesn't do that anymore. 

His niece is visiting next month. She's just turned seven years old, and he'll lift her up and swing her around like he always does and give her the plastic toys he bought for her. The captain of the guard left some candied cherries for the dictator to give her, too. Kids love them, he said. Trust me. The dictator smiles and takes the candy, looks at the little red buttons in the box. When his niece gets here, he'll go out to the garden with her and they'll plant one or two. Little candy trees sprouting in the backyards. Kids love those. 

The dictator cinches up his waistline-he's got a potbelly that keeps on growing no matter what he eats-and walks to the window. Outside, sergeants are patrolling the wall around his country house. Step, step, turn, salute, turn, turn, walk away. Back and forth, endlessly back and forth in military rigamarole. There are times when the dictator wants to shout at them, to scream until they come scurrying to the parade ground in front of his palace, to exhort them until their ears bled and their fists shot skyward in the national salute, mouths wide open in the soundless shout, "Viva le Presidente!" There are those treacherous mornings when he wakes from a dream of martial grandeur, a dream of the days when he was a tower amongst men and a rock of the regime, when all the land and all the people bowed to his will and groveled at his whim. The days when he could be a leader of men, send brave young boys off to die with love in their hearts, oh yes, he remembers those days. But then the dictator swings his old, arthritic legs out of bed. He hears the endless clip-clop of the guards on the ramparts, step, step, turn, salute, turn, turn, walk away. And on the roof, the rusted eagle squeaks. Let it fly away, the dictator wishes silently. Let it leave me in peace.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five Things I'd Fix About Popular Manga (Because They Suck)

There are a lot of things about the manga/anime that is most prominent in the Western world-series like Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, One Piece, etc. that absolutely drive me up a wall. There are a lot of things I like, to be sure, but if I was given the power to magically fix manga, here's what I'd do.

(Disclaimer: I don't know every manga ever made, so I may be totally wrong about any of these, but these are the trends I've observed in some manga/anime that's popular over here.)

OK? OK. Let's go.

Character Development: There Isn't Any

Pictured: The only expression this character ever has.

Yes, this is far from a universal rule. Older series like Gundam Wing or Ghost in the Shell or Akira feature more complex, nuanced characters then we see today. Apparently there was some arbitrary dividing line sometime in the ‘90s that decreed all characters from then on should suck. Shows like Death Note or FMA tend to avoid this trap, with complex lead and even subsidiary characters, but look at a show like Bleach or One Piece or Naruto or Dragonball Z. The main characters are utterly uninteresting, and invariably share a strong desire to protect those closest to them. Well, no shit.

Moreover, they never really change! Goku is still the same happy-go-lucky goofball at the end of DBZ that he was at the start. Ichigo is the same tough-minded-but-good idiot in Season 14 as he was in 1. Naruto wants respect, he wants to be the best, and (surprise) he wants to protect his friends at the start and at now. Nothing ever changes, hobo!

Why It's Bad: Who wants to read about an unchanging brick for 50 volumes? I mean, apparently people do, but why?

The Ages of the Main Characters

This kid was turned out of his home at age 12 and sent to live in a world full of monsters and criminals.
I get that the authors are writing for a specific audience, but still, isn’t it a little weird that almost every major protagonist in the known manga universe is between 11 and 18? Ash Ketchum begins his series at 12. Ichigo is 14 or 15. Luffy is 17. Light Yagami is 18, although he does enter college after three volumes (Death Note is an outlier in a lot of ways). Edward and Alphonse Elric are something like 15 and 12, respectively. Yusuke of Yu Yu Hakusho is a junior high school student.

Why It’s Bad: I mean, it’s good for that age group, you know? But it’s hard to relate to these characters as a third-year college student. Where's the manga/anime that deal with more adult issues? (It’s entirely possible they’re out there, I just haven’t heard of them.) And why are the stupendously popular ones all about teenagers?

This leads us directly into the next problem, which is…

Romance (Doesn't Exist)
 Ichigo and Orihime/Rukia. Edward Elric and Winry. Rurouni Kenshin and Kaoru. Ash and Misty. Naruto and Hinata, Kusanagi and Batou, Heero and Relena, Zecks and Noin, Riza and the Colonel, Sakura and Sasuke.

What do all these couples have in common? They never bloody get together during the run of the show. Sometimes, they will go for a dozen seasons, or even the entire run of a show, without ever acknowledging that they have feelings for one another, never mind (heaven forbid) going out on a date or anything. Other times, they will get together in the end (Kenshin and Kaoru, for one) but it'll take ungodly long for it to do so, and there'll be all sorts of contrived reasons holding it up. It's like every animanga used Bones as its romantic model.

There are a few exceptions to this rule-Son Goku and his wife, Light and Misa-but those relationships go largely ignored in the greater series. Goku's wife isn't memorable enough for me to even remember her name, and Light has no affection for either Misa or Takada, preferring to use them to further his plans. In other words, theirs isn't a big romantic relationship where the romance is plot-important.

Why It's Bad: For the same reason it’s bad to watch an unchanging Easter Island statue in the place of a main character: after a certain period, don’t we just get bored of these characters “liking” one another from a distance? I sure as hell do. 

Characters Can Just Be Idiots

I’ve never seen another art form that as frequently writes in its characters as total morons. Whether it’s running around and screaming at the slightest provocation, a total inability to grasp what’s going on in the plot, or the inability to adapt to new circumstances when they change, almost every anime falls into this trap. Usually this isn’t a huge problem for the main characters, but One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist (anime) and Bleach all have a bad habit of writing in subsidiary characters whose only function is to run around and scream that the world is ending. Why do these guys (they’re generally male) exist?

Granted, this is by no means universal, and in some series (Death Note) the characters’ special abilities are being incredibly smart. But even Death Note has its Matsuda. And every anime series (and most manga) has those godawful sequences where the animation goes to shit, a goofy background pops into view, and the characters run around like idiots crying hugely exaggerated tears and screaming their little heads off. What could possibly be more annoying. 

Why It's Bad: Look at this picture. LOOK AT IT.

Those Goddamned Filler Episodes (And Arcs)

Filler episodes typically happen when a manga/anime franchise becomes schizophrenic. Often, the franchise will start out as a manga drawn by an individual artist (with maybe a few helpers), and then get picked up for an anime run that may go in a completely different direction then the original manga. (See: Fullmetal Alchemist, and to a lesser extent, Death Note). However, when the anime follows the manga more or less exactly (as in Bleach), what frequently happens is that the anime is easier to do and will catch up with the manga faster then the artist can draw the new panels. When that happens, the entire series can get stuck in a miserable filler arc that intentionally has no relevance to the ‘main’ arc (think Kiefer Sutherland of 24 randomly spending a day fighting terrorists in Chechnya), which has no connection to the original artist, giving the artist time to draw new panels.

Why It's Bad: The filler episodes are unadulterated crap. The filler arcs waste the time of the producers and the viewers. What’s wrong with taking a few months’ break, or showing reruns for awhile, so the artist can catch their breath? 

The whole thing is partially because of the rather ruthless exploitation of animanga franchises in Japan. Take Bleach, for example. the nine-year series has spawned 48 book collections, 14 anime seasons (in less than ten years!) collected in 49 DVD sets, eleven soundtrack CDs, four feature films, seven rock musicals, two trading card games, at least four video games and fuck all knows what else. Look it up on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Inspired By "All These Things That I've Done", by The Killers.

“I got soul, but I’m not a soldier.

I got solder, but I’m not a solderer.

I got Sol, but I'm not celestial.

I got sole, but I’m not from Nike.

I got sole, but I’m not a flatfish.

I got So, but I'm not a solfage.

I got Seoul, but I’m not Korean.

I got soul, but I’m not a Christian.

I got sold, but I’m not a slave.

I got scolded, but I’m not a knave.

I got to smoulder, but I’m not aflame.

I got to soldier, but that ain’t the same.

So when there’s no place else to run,

When it seems your race is finally done,

And your heels are laughing at the setting sun,

How about we go have some fun.

Come have fun. ”

Original video here:

Monday, February 21, 2011

"The Chip Potatoes Yearn To Become"

My fellow potatoes,

Today, it has come to my attention that one particular faction of the Slaughtering Oppressors, not content with maiming us, disfiguring our bodies, pumping us full of pesticides and shipping us off to some ghastly doom in the mouths of an omnivoric species, is attempting to extend its reach into our hearts, minds and even our very souls.

No, Shearer Chips has embraced a goal fouler and more dirty then merely putting us to death for mass consumption at the hands of millions. For the sake of marketing their filthy business, they are advertising their product at the expense of what little freedom we have left, our freedom to think our own thoughts. Consider:

We potatoes are grown in slave plots like the humans in The Matrix. Once free to roam as we would and pollinate with the insects we wished, the once-great potato race has fallen before the scythes and combine harvesters of Man. Now, we exist merely as slaves, endlessly reproduced and fed to a human population now approaching its seventh billion. It is true that the potato population is higher then at any time in history, but this is no life for a seedling to grow up in, my fellow potatoes. Only death and dismemberment await us at the end of their dastardly supply chains.

But Shearer has taken our subservience one step too far. Not content with grinding us into the soil, the iron boot of the Potato Oppressors now wishes to control our thoughts as well! Yearn to be? Is there one among you who truly yearns for the fate that awaits us all? No, I tell you, no. We are not so cowed as to yield our last bastion of free will! This is 2011, not 1984! And I tell you that the potato race can be free again! By mocking us in this one last area, the Oppressors have gone too far! We can live! We can win! We must win! Remember this day, my redskinned brethren! This shall go down in history as the day the potatoes fought back! Remember this dayyyyy!!!!

-This speech was given to an audience of 3,127 potatoes inside of a storage bin, by a potato who called himself Moorzwart. The reception was tumultuous; by all accounts, the bin literally vibrated with the force of the potatoes’ applause. Unfortunately, shortly after the speech’s conclusion, the entire audience was peeled, sliced and deep-fat fried at a McDonald’s in Kenosha, WI.

 Moorzwart himself is believed to have been consumed by Sen. Mark Miller, Democratic Minority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate. Shortly after stopping at the McDonald’s, Miller and his fellow Democrats fled the state for greener pastures in Illinois. The genesis of this revolutionary spirit is, so far, unknown to the general public.

I Have A Dream Job, And Its Name Is POLITICO

Why, you ask? Consider this picture, lifted from one of the several daily emails that Politico sends out to subscribers:

An "epic hive" of Settlers of Catan? The smart, committed political journalists of Politico also are into one of my favorite nerd-games? If I'd written a wish-list, it couldn't have asked for more than that.

Speaking of Politico, they're reporting that Madison has essentially come to an impasse. Walker won't give up on his language taking away collective bargaining rights, and the Senators hiding out in Illinois won't come back until he does. Politico also has a more insightful piece about how Wisconsin could set a precedent for like-minded governors. Labor has gone all in in Wisconsin. If it fails, passing similar laws in other states could go much easier for Republican governors.

In other news, ABC tells us what a government shutdown might mean-never say government doesn't do anything for you-and Libya has turned more than just violent.

Egypt, by the way, is on the protestors' side.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The World Is Just Awesome

Last November, a pair of Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in separate, coordinated incidents. The Iranian government blamed the Israeli intelligence service, or the Mossad, but so far nobody has been tried or accused, and nothing has been proven as to who did the deed. The actual assassinations were straight out of a Jason Bourne flick. In each case, the scientist was getting into his car to drive to or from work, when an anonymous motorcyclist accelerated up the street behind him. The motorcyclist threw a magnetic bomb at the scientist’s car that attached and exploded seconds later, while the motorcyclist zoomed to safety before anyone knew what had happened.

However, on a sliding scale of crazy news, that barely registers. Consider:

The Democratic contingent in the Wisconsin State Senate has fled Wisconsin entirely, and has been reduced to hiding out and conducting secret meetings in Illinois. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protestors have replaced them inside the state Capitol building.

In space, Google is sponsoring a contest for private space companies to send the first-ever privately made and owned robot to the Moon. Meanwhile, just 369 years and 43 days after the death of Galileo Galilei, the Vatican and the Italian scientific community are finally working together.

Protests continue across the Middle East. Tunisia and Egyptian protestors have toppled their respective governments, while protests (and riots) of varying intensity and lethality have continued in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Iran, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, on a scale that was unthinkable just three months ago.

The revolutions were abetted by social networking sites, most notably Facebook and Twitter. An Egyptian man even went so far as to name his firstborn daughter “Facebook” as a nod to the site’s role in toppling Hosni Mubarak’s government.

And as it turns out, the U.S. government based most of its case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the testimony of one Iraqi defector, who was lying through his teeth the whole time. Best part? The codename for the defector was “Curveball”.

I love life, man. You could write a hundred books and live a hundred years and never capture the strangeness, the infinite wonderful incomprehensibility, of the one in the other. What a world.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Today, I Am Wisconsin State Senator Jim Holperin

Pleasure to meet you all.

My name on any ordinary day is Andrew Tisdel, but this is no ordinary day. Today, in the midst of the ongoing budget battle in Madison, Wisconsin, I have taken on the persona and role of one of Wisconsin's State Senators, Jim Holperin of Wisconsin's 12th District. I have further taken the liberty of publishing this video diary to the Internet and to the world, which will chronicle the thoughts and movements of Senator Holperin, as he remains on the run from law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Wisconsin-Illinois border.

Please note that I am not a representative of, or affiliated with, Senator Holperin in any form or manner. The opinions expressed in this video are mine alone and should be treated as such, i.e. as funny and good-humored. Hope you like it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ten Ways Literary Theory Can Improve Itself

1. By acknowledging that nothing is ever, nor has ever been finally proven by any literary theory, and it never can be.

2. By acknowledging that differing interpretations of the text are possible, so that each theorist can remove the six-foot iron stick lodged in his or her anus that dictates that their theory is the One, the Only One and the Best One.

3. By realizing, concurrent to #1, that there are topics that can never be proven on any level, whether by literary theory or not.

4. By acknowledging that, despite all the angst of each individual era, each individual theorist and each writer about the death of literature or the imminent nature of some threat to it, that good literature will continue on without perturbation.

5. By realizing that there is no objective definition of good, or critically appropriate, literature.

6. By abandoning the idea that there is or ever can be one definitive, critical literary theory.

7. By abandoning the idea that any literary theory is better, more correct, or easier to apply in a wholly subjective manner to any given text then any other theory.

8. By forcing theorists to write as simply and clearly as they know how, eschewing the formalized, impenetrable, impossibly obtuse language that seems to be a requirement for cranking out a great literary theory.

9. By abandoning the pretense that this sort of increasingly formalized, academic debate has any bearing on, or indeed any connection to, the real world and its events.

10. By acknowledging that it’s all unprovable sodding philosophy anyway.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If Pop Song Titles Were Brief and Honest

We now present the translations of some commonly known pop songs.

“Shut Up”, by A Simple Plan:

I am a teenager and I hate my parents. Fuck you, parents!

“I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, by My Chemical Romance:

Nobody understands me!!

“Mr. Brightside”, by the Killers:

I’m being cuckolded and I don’t like it.

“Safety Dance”, by Men Without Hats:

Drugs are awesome. Let’s dance!

“Don’t Stop Believing”, by Journey:

Keep on truckin’.

“You Belong With Me”, by Taylor Swift.

Unrequited love sucks.

“Baby One More Time”, by Britney Spears:

Hooray for domestic violence!

“Baby”, by Justin Bieber:

Young love sucks later on.

“Inside Your Heaven”, by Carrie Underwood:

I like you.

“Take A Bow”, by Rihanna

Fuck off (to my ex).

“Airplanes”, B.O.B:

Gee, fame sucks.

“Billionaire”, Travis McCoy

I’m not rich enough! Buy this track!

“Dead and Gone”, by T.I.

I’m having a big, fat identity crisis.

“I Kissed A Girl”, by Katy Perry:

I’m bicurious and using that to leverage attention from the puritanical older generation, who will condemn my song and thus kids will listen to it! Yaaaay!

“Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)”, by Enrique Iglesias:

…does this need translating?

“Tik Tok”, by Ke$ha:

I like clubbing!

“I Gotta Feeling”, by the Black Eyed Peas:

I also like clubbing!

“Raise Your Glass”, by Pink:

We’re weird. Let’s go drink! And dance!

“Higher”, by Taio Cruz:

I, too, like dancing! Especially at clubs!

“Bad Romance,” by Lady Gaga:


"But... but you're an egg! A GIANT egg!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jim Inhofe is Posturing Pointlessly

Well, Senator James Inhofe is at it again, posturing for political gain to no useful purpose. Along with Senator David Vitter, with whom Inhofe serves on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe sent a letter to Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The purpose of the letter concerns an exchange between House Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee Fred Upton, and NRC spokesman Scott Burnell, the latter of whom I interviewed in the course of my research project this past fall.

According to the NRC article that Inhofe and Vitter attached to their letter, Upton questioned why the license renewal review process for recertifying existant nuclear plants was taking so long, in some cases up to five years, when NRC documents generally have a maximum of 30 months and an average of 22. Burnell replied by saying that the extended reviews aren't typical; as Inhofe and Vitter cite in their letter, the NRC has granted 20-year extensions to 61 nuclear plants in the last 13 years. The delays have been caused by lawsuits, "multiple filings of contentions, appeals and the remainder of the hearing process," which rather understandably consume more time. Burnell also notes that the "technical reviews have... taken the usual amount of time", meaning that the delays have come solely from the lawsuits against recertification at individual plants. "In cases where local opposition has been minimal or non-existent, the NRC has indeed kept to the average 22-month review schedules."

So far, so straightforward, right? Not to Inhofe and Vitter. Their letter charges that the NRC has adopted a double standard for plant renewals that face significant opposition and those that don't. They go on to ask, rather slimily, when this double standard was adopted, how the NRC is legally justified in adopting it and why it was adopted in the first place.

There's just one problem: the so-called double standard is explained by common sense. If there is an outstanding legal challenge to a recertification application, the application can't be approved until the challenge is resolved. This is not complicated. If the challenge is still working its way through the courts, the application can't go through. Everything else is irrelevant. If Inhofe and Vitter had provided examples of an application that was delayed after the legal challenges had been resolved, their claims might have some merit. But they don't and, well, they don't. It's hard to take the letter as much more then empty posturing to show that the senators in question are doing something about this 'issue' and are hard-line nuclear energy types.

Mind you, this is the same Jim Inhofe who thinks global warming is a "hoax", who holds the traditional Republican line on LGBT rights, and who habitually attacks science journalists whose views clash with his own.

Oh, and the number of plants that have had these five-year delays?


Why is this an issue, again? Oh, wait, it isn't. Inhofe is making something out of nothing, as he often claims that supporters of global warming do. How appropriate.

Watching Disney Movies As An 'Adult' Is Fun! (Triton Stinks as a King)

I don't know about you, but when I think 'English major' or 'literary criticism' or 'Michel Foucault' or 'post-structuralism', I think about The Little Mermaid.

Look at that! Isn't that just brimming over with symbolism and literary allusions? Isn't it just chock full of reader response- and power relations theory?

...yeah. Sure, there is a decent amount of symbolism in this movie. Does that mean that we should be watching it for a class to demonstrate complex literary theories therein? Eh...

Anyway, I amused myself during the movie (and afterwards) wondering about certain aspects of the merpeople's life that are only vaguely hinted at in the movie. Here are my notes.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I understand that this is a Disney film that was not intended for a critical audience, and that it looks kind of funny when viewed in this light, in the same sort of way that this laptop would be utterly out of place (and a twisted lump of junk) at the bottom of the ocean. I get that. I analyze stuff that isn't supposed to be analyzed because, hell, it's funny. Complaining about this will now label the complainer as a stodgy old turd.)

Things the Sea Witch was Nice and Considerate About

Now. The Sea Witch might've been kinder to Ariel then we see in the film. She changed Ariel into a perfect human, including a lot of little details that mermaids do not have (and that the Witch might've benefited from leaving out). For example:

-The Sea Witch gave her legs with decent muscles, instead of legs atrophied from unuse. Maybe she used the muscles of Ariel’s tail?

-Same goes for gravity. The witch was at least kind enough to make sure she didn’t collapse once out of the water, under the pressure of gravity two to three times stronger then she’d ever felt before.

-Ariel doesn’t have any visible gills, and seems to breathe with equal ease in the water and on land. The Witch didn’t modify her respiratory tract, but presumably gave her an excretory system (she has no visible ass as a mermaid). 

-Melanin. Apparently sunlight and UV light penetrate to around 200 meters’ depth in the ocean. We can be fairly sure that the mermaids live at a shallower depth then that because of the wildlife we see in the film, as well as the fact that we can see the mermaids at all (color of the water). There’s also the fact that Ariel is turned into a human a few feet above the seabed, but manages to reach the surface (aided by Flounder) without drowning, so the distance from one too the other can’t be too deep. She doesn't develop any kind of decompression sickness during this race to the surface, either, thanks to the Witch.

Based on this evidence, it seems logical that the mermaids in this area might have had the opportunity to develop melanin, and thereby become more resistant to sunlight. Besides this advantage, Ariel had previously made multiple visits to the surface, but the Witch would probably still have had to bump up her melanin to normal human levels so she didn't suffer a massive, disfiguring sunburn. (Although if she gets cancer in Little Mermaid III, that would disprove that theory.)

-Ariel's eyes appear to work equally well when immersed in (salt?) water or on the surface, and she's never seen blinking at the time of transition. Thus, the Sea Witch probably didn't modify anything there.

Some modern revisionists have challenged that last claim.

Random Stuff that Stands Out

-After one day with legs, Ariel is already wearing high heels. Now that's impressive.

-There's a point in the movie where Sebastian enters a human kitchen, sees crabs on a plate that are stuffed with food and ready to be served, and promptly faints. It's played comically, but hell: imagine walking into a huge kitchen and seeing human bodies stuffed with lettuce, with giant pins through them, cooked and prepared for someone to eat. I’d probably faint, too.

-The first time we meet the Prince, he loses a rather nice ship. We've seen Ariel going through a graveyard of sunken ships, which are later raised at the end of the movie. These are all pretty close to the shore of the Prince's kingdom, so one wonders exactly how resistant the kingdom is to losing all these expensive ships. What about trade? If I was a merchant, would I come to some place that had all these nautical hazards off the coast, and where hurricanes can blow up out of nowhere? (Of course, by the end the kingdom has made first contact with the mermaids, opening up a huge tourist market as well as potential guides for merchant shipping.)

-One wonders what the merpeople eat. They scorn the humans because they eat 'fish', which presumably extends to everything that’s tasty and talks under the sea. Do they eat kelp and plant life? Phytoplankton? If so, why do they have mouths evolved for other uses instead of blue whale faces?

The romance wouldn't be nearly as compelling, but it'd be a helluva lot funnier if Ariel tried to kiss Erik with huge plates of baleen for a face.
-In this version, the King can zap Ariel’s tail into legs with the power of his trident. With that in mind, what's with the big emotional goodbye at the end of the film? There's nothing to say it's an irreversible process; indeed, the witch's original spell argues against this. Who’s to say that Ariel couldn’t come home on weekends to visit? Who’s to say that the King couldn’t turn Erik as well and they could go on holiday together?

And Speaking of Triton...

He is one lousy king.

Consider the incredibly disturbing 'garden' of polyps that Ursula has assembled, each one a captive mermaid or merman.

Yeah, that was goddamn horrifying.

Now consider this: Triton's relationship with Ursula is never really defined, but we know that at one point, she lived in his palace and wanted the throne. Presumably, Triton kicked her out. (Ariel’s mother is never shown, nor is an explanation given for her absence. Is Ursula her?)  She’s taken her revenge by offering Faustian deals to who knows how many merfolk. We see dozens, perhaps hundreds of scrawny polyp-people that Ursula has transfigured. So why are there so many?

Ursula intimates that the merpeople come to her in singles or couples, meaning that her ‘collection’ has accumulated over a long period of time. So after the first merfolk came to her and got transmogrified, why wouldn’t Triton lay down the law? He’s forbidden his subjects from contacting humans, so it's logical that he forbade them from contacting Ursula or making deals with her. That’s fine. But we’ve seen how well he does with empathy; he’s not good at getting through to his own daughter, so why would he do any better with his people? Clearly, whatever he said or did, it didn’t work at all.

The ideal thing would have been to run awareness campaigns among the merpeople. Roll out drawings or pictures of the ones who got polypified. Outline the exact circumstances of the deals they made, what Ursula did and said to the merpeople, and exactly what the merfolk can expect should they make a deal with her. You’d probably still lose a few desperate merdudes and merdudettes, but at the very least it’d be damage control.*

"I am blissfully oblivious towards the plight of my kidnapped subjects!"

Questions of Kingly Responsibility

 We don’t know how many merpeople are under Triton’s sway. He controls the whole ocean but doesn’t seem to have much of a court or a system for delegating authority, suggesting that the population is small enough for him to handle without a staff or a legislature).

The only thing we have to go on is the several dozen merfolk that appear at the concert in the first scene, before Ariel arrives. In some of the overhead shots, the hall is only partially full. Even if this is just the mermaid intelligentsia that attends royal events (some of the fish have monocles, I think) this implies there’s a significant amount of people missing. There is a chunk of Triton's population being held under duress that he has failed to free. The most basic duty of a king is to protect his people; if he can’t do that, then why are the people tolerating a king at all? (Mermaid-Iran Hostage Crisis, anyone?)

But this isn’t the worst thing Triton does in this movie. When presented with a choice between Ariel and the kingdom, he hands over power to Ursula. He allows his personal feelings as a father to override his duties as a king, and that’s the thing you can’t do. If Ariel gets shriveled up and turned into a polyp, she’s gone. If Ursula gets the crownship of the seas, the entire kingdom is gone.

Yes, it’s a totally unreasonable choice that no one should ever have to make, and a totally unreasonable expectation that he should not choose Ariel, but he’s the KING. He is the leader of these people and it is his responsibility, should shit fall out of the sky and go boom, to tell Ursula that he decides who does what in his realm. That is the most important reason that people form a government and elect/allow a leader. To protect them. That's the point.  It is Triton's responsibility to tell Ursula that he does not negotiate with kidnappers or terrorists (which is essentially what Ursula has become by enslaving Ariel), no matter who they have kidnapped. As a parent, he absolutely makes the choice you'd expect him to make. As a king, he totally fails at making the right choice for his kingdom; if not for the interference of a foreign national (Erik), Ursula could've ruled land and sea both and done whatever she wanted, with Triton a helpless captive. That's what he was handing over with his trident and crown, and that's why he's a really bad king in this movie.


*This of course assumes that there’s no other way of forcing Ursula to change the merfolk back. Examples would be legal action (charging unfair contracts), an order from the government to relinquish the citizens she’s mistreated (if I tie up my friend and keep him locked in my basement and subject him to serious physical harm against his will, I’m breaking the law no matter what contract he signed) or simply blasting her with a trident and changing the merfolk back that way (removing a clear and present danger to the realm).

This last is a dubious option because he couldn’t have been sure that the merfolk would change back upon Ursula’s death (they did), and if not, they might’ve been flat screwed. We do see with Ariel that the trident can change mermaids' physical form, so there's an argument that it's possible. It is possible that he couldn’t, since he didn’t change Ariel back when Ursula was turning her into a polyp, but that may have been simply a function of him panicking as a dad whose daughter was in danger. Blasting Ursula with the trident did no good (she shielded herself with the contract Ariel signed), but whether or not he could actively change Ariel depends on the fine print of the contract, which we do not see.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy February 14th... LINKSTORM!!

I'd like to wish everyone out there in my readership, and the greater blogging community, and fuckit, the entire Earth a happy February the 14th of 2011. I would not like to wish anyone a happy Valentine's Day, because to hell with Valentine's Day. Why? A), nothing romantically good has ever happened to me on Valentine's Day, and b) I do not need some arbitrary day in an arbitrary month to decide for me when I should do something nice for the special lady in my life. I will pick my own day to celebrate our relationship, thankyouverymuch. And I'll have you know we had a very nice February 11th.

Got that? Good. Let's move on.

It's budget day in Washington D.C., as President Obama has come out with the first crack at the next federal budget. I'm reminded of this rather insightful piece on potential defense cuts from that came out a couple weeks back, and I'm curious to see whether any of these made it into the bill. (That deficit reduction commission is turning out to be a huge annoyance for Obama, isn't it?)

The New York Times details the collaboration between Egyptian and Tunisian protestors, who swapped tidbits of information on topics like resisting tear gas and organizing street protests. POLITICO reports that several birther-related bills are cropping up in state legislatures around the country. Also, in the "News That Shocks Exactly No One" department, the fire-breathing Tea Party-fueled freshman GOP senators are... keeping quiet and bowing to established authority. Gee, who saw that coming? (With the exception of lovable wingnut Rand Paul.)

Most of this stuff in the morning comes from various POLITICO newsletters, which they send out to subscribers every morning. POLITICO brands the letters as something that politicians and professionals in Washington read, and there's no better evidence of this then the ads that are embedded within. Check this out:

Or this:

I think it'd be worth subscribing for the ads alone. It's like when some defense contractor bought every single advertising panel in Dupont Circle's subway stop in Washington, and filled every one with pictures of some frigate that they wanted the Defense Department to consider.

Moving right along, The Nation is apparently trying to shame climate change contrarians into... what exactly? The blog post doesn't say, but one Peter Rothberg is apparently going to "put the climate cranks on the spot and make them explain—on camera and in front of kids—why they have condemned the young people of “Generation Hot”... to spending the rest of their lives coping with the hottest climate in human history."

Okay, first of all: If sweeping, comprehensive climate legislation were enacted today and enforced today, it wouldn't make a shred of difference to the greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. That's the biggest reason why we're facing said hottest climate in said history, if you believe the scientists. The climate contrarians haven't condemned anybody by their opinions. Certainly, the ones who aren't in any position to make a legislative change about it (who Rothberg is also going after, in addition to Congress) don't deserve to be attacked in that particular manner. This smacks of scapegoating to me, so readers of the Nation can ignore the fact that by using electricity generated from coal and cars that run on gasoline, they're doing just as much to contribute to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as the contrarians are.

Second of all, how is this the right way to convince climate skeptics? Since when does being called out in front of one's peers make one willing to embrace a new idea? The answer is, it isn't. Instead, this is a publicity stunt, and one whose sole function is to make those who "get" climate change feel and look morally superior. That's a great way to build consensus, Mr. Rothberg.

Couldn't resist.
Finally, I'd like you to take a look at this video, from the office of Milwaukee-born California Congressman Pete Stark.

The video isn't particularly notable for its message, but I'd like to call your attention to the editing. Notice how the font of the speakers' titles is the default one for iMovie? And how this appears to be footage from official House cameras, meaning that these clips were likely culled from hours of speeches and/or committee hearings? And how the credits at the end are also the default iMovie font and style?

This is intern work, my friends.

So even though it's not particularly convincing, compelling or good, let's hear it for all the anonymous interns toiling for low (or no) pay in the Senate, the House, the White House, the Washington court system and too many government agencies and lobbyists to count. Hooray, interns! Without you, the government would cease to function, so keep doin' what you're doin'!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Taking On Global Warming "Skeptics"

Well, this post has been a long time coming. Almost three weeks, as a matter of fact.

Before I get started, some quick news: The first departure of the 2011 offseason has happened. Packers WR coach Jimmy Robinson has accepted the same position in Dallas, and will also be named assistant head coach in Winston Moss fashion. I'm happy for him, but a bit scared, because damn has that guy got some talent to work with in Dallas. We'll see how he does. also has an excellent pair of articles today, on the ways music can frak with your mind and the worst things alien invaders regularly do. For a musician and a sci-fi fan, that's like the best day they could've picked.

Here we go. This is a long post, so feel free to stop for coffee breaks.

Or perhaps some delicious cinnamon buns.
A few weeks back, I was privileged to take part in what I might charitably call a ‘debate’ with some avowed global warming skeptics. I say ‘skeptics’ to be kind, as ‘deniers’ is a loaded word, but also because skepticism was their defining feature; they either expressed or strongly implied skepticism in the integrity of every accredited scientific outlet I presented them with, in our ability to understand anything at all (not just in climate science), and the reliability of any information at all that did not support their points. This should not be termed ‘skepticism’ in the same way that a healthy dose of critical analysis is skeptical in nature. Rather, their inability to assimilate any information contrary to their position verged on outright nihilism.

I’d love to say that these unfortunate souls are the only people who pursue climate change skepticism with unhealthy zeal, but as we well know, this is not the case. There are a lot of people out there who have been misled by information that is simply false with regards to climate change. The people who tried, and failed, to debate me brought up six or seven of these talking points. I would like to take the opportunity to go through their arguments and debunk them, one by one.

Let me first emphasize that despite the accumulated evidence for the likelihood of anthropogenic climate change, there is still plenty of room for genuine skepticism of the data, scientific disagreement and the arrival of new information. What there is no room for is taking positions that are outright, completely, flatly, indisputably wrong.

First on the list is the idea that there is a major divide in the scientific community on the issue of climate change. The argument that one of the ‘skeptics’ made, with increasing fervor and desperation every time it was debunked, was that there is a genuine, wide and contentious rift in the scientific community over whether or not anthropogenic climate change is taking place.

This in no way reflects reality. It is wrong, false and incorrect. It is simply not true.

A recent metastudy ranked climate scientists by the number of scientific papers they had published, or in other words, their expertise. The study examined 908 climate researchers who had published twenty or more papers on the subject, then determined whether each scientist was convinced by the evidence of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) or whether they were unconvinced. “Our compiled researcher list is not comprehensive nor designed to be representative of the entire climate science community,” said the paper, “[but] we have drawn researchers from the most high-profile reports and public statements about ACC. Therefore, we have likely compiled the strongest and most credentialed researchers in CE [convinced by the evidence] or UC [unconvinced by the evidence] groups.” In the case of all researchers, it is assumed that they are familiar with the evidence for climate change, unlike the unfortunate skeptic.

The study found that only one of the 50 most prolific climate researchers was unconvinced by the evidence for ACC. Just 3% of the 100 most prolific and 2.5% of the top 200 most prolific climate scientists have publicly voiced their skepticism of ACC. 97% of the top climate scientists agree with ACC, which is consistent with the most recent survey of the broader scientific community. In addition, the UE researchers were likely to have less experience and have published fewer papers then the CE researchers, and tended to be geologists instead of atmospheric scientists.

But we need them to protect us from the volcanoes!
“This finding complements direct polling of the climate researcher community, which yields qualitative and self-reported researcher expertise. Our findings capture the added dimension of the distribution of researcher expertise, quantify agreement among the highest expertise climate researchers, and provide an independent assessment of level of scientific consensus concerning ACC,” the authors write.

But what of the potential implications of the study? For example, does this mean that there is a-brace yourselves-consensus in the scientific community? I emailed one of the authors of the study, Bill R.L. Anderegg, and asked him this question.

“’Consensus’ can have many different connotations and meanings," said Anderegg. "For me at least, the question really becomes a matter of scientific confidence. Do the vast majority of scientists believe we have enough information to say (and with what certainty) that the planet is warming, due mostly to human causes, and it's going to be fairly harmful. Our study attempted to answer this and critical to answering this is making sure you examine people who know the issue (and not just any self-proclaimed expert who has little training in the area). In this case, I think the answer is a resounding yes.”

All right, all right. But what about of the population that the study surveyed? Opponents of papers like Anderegg’s frequently charge that dissenting voices are suppressed by the scientific community, after all. Is this an accurate charge?

“No, it’s not an accurate perception and I’ll explain how and why I’ve addressed it,” Anderegg told me. “We have two main ways of addressing it. The first is data-driven and the second is based around scientific culture. Using data, I asked what fields the climate contrarians had a PhD in, with the idea being that if they were similarly trained (say, mostly atmospheric scientists) as the mainstream people, then you could make a case that their ideas are being unfairly rejected at journals. They weren't. Over a third didn't have PhDs and another third were either geologists or petroleum geologists (compared to nearly half of the mainstream people being atmospheric scientists). This suggests that the contrarians at least do not have the same background training as the mainstream community.

 “Now, as to the second, the culture of science itself thrives on discussions and dissent *if you have data* to support your ideas. Each grad student dreams of being the next Einstein or the next Darwin, and the way you become famous in science is to overturn a huge paradigm......again, if you have data. It takes an immense amount of well-done science and lots of data to overturn a paradigm. Thus, for all of these reasons, I think we can say with reasonable confidence that there is relatively little unfair excluding of alternate viewpoints in climate science.”

If they’re not accusing the scientific community of stifling dissent apurpose, climate change deniers charge that the existence of a “consensus” also smothers internal debate. I asked our expert to evaluate this possibility.

“There is still much, much, much debate on the details, timing, impacts, spatial distribution of climate change within the community. What the contrarians would like there to be debate on is 1) is the planet warming and 2) are humans causing most of it? To some extent, you must have some agreement to get do productive debate/discussion,” said Anderegg.  “If scientists let the evolution-contrarians keep the level of debate on "is evolution real", then we would not have a century's wealth of evolutionary biology that has contributed to our understanding of how the world works, medical drugs to fight diseases, etc. Our study tried to send a crystal clear message that around these two questions (are things warming and are we causing most of it) that the vast majority of scientists agree about this and we should move on to other more productive and critical questions.”

Well, this seemed fairly conclusive to me. But what about the methodology of the study? Doesn’t it seem like most scientists don’t sign the public statements that we read about in the paper? Could there be, in other words, a silent majority of climate change skeptics?

It turned out that Anderegg and his fellow researchers had accounted for this as well.

“It's my hunch that most scientists, in fact, generally don't sign public statements about this sort of thing. That's probably largely because 1) scientists are generally fairly shy and conservative people that don't like to get in the public eye or go out on a limb, 2) there's no incentive to be publicly vocal as a scientist and, in fact, the more vocal you are with the media, the less time you spend publishing papers and succeeding in your field, and 3) the science is quite evident to climate scientists and many don't feel like it's their job to educate the public (and, while I disagree with them in that I think they do have a moral obligation to share their research with society, they are quite frankly right - their job is to do research).

Now, we do have a way to assess those who haven't made public statements - surveys. In fact, two separate studies with different methods did surveys of the climate science community and they come up with almost the exact same numbers that my study did - 94-97% of climate scientists think global warming is real and mostly human caused.”

Does this mean that anthropogenic climate change is a done deal, in scientific terms? And does the weight of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community necessarily mean that their side of the issue is right? Absolutely not. As Anderegg noted in a 2009 memo, scientific opinion of the day does not garnish an argument with an everlasting halo. Many theories that were supported by a majority of scientists have since proven to be untrue. But that is not a reason to automatically discount scientific evidence, as the climate change denialists would have us do. Rather, it helps us keep in mind the fact that science can be flawed and imperfect, without losing sight of the veracity of the smorgasboard of evidence that climate scientists have presented us with.


For more documentation, I invite the reader to examine some of Anderegg's other work.

"Climate Science and the Dynamics of Expert Consensus", "Moving beyond scientific agreement: an Editorial comment on 'Climate Change: a profile of US climate scientists' perspectives'" and "Diagnosis Earth: The Climate Change Debate".