Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rasmussen says:

Generic Republican Candidate 46%, Obama 42%.

Ann Althouse replies:

Fortunately for Obama, the Republicans will have to settle on a specific Republican.

Quite. President Obama has screwed up to the point that he can't possibly hope to win re-election. But that doesn't mean the Republicans won't have an opportunity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Given the look of the field at the moment, and the Republicans' long history of offering theocrats and conservative tyrants while talking up their small-government past, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Obama Round Two.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Last week, Wisconsin ended its long-standing prohibition of concealed firearms, and New York ended its long-standing ban on same-sex marriage. It was a good week for freedom.

Now let's get to work on the TSA Administrators' Tarring and Feathering and Deportation Act of 2012, and we'll really be getting somewhere.

Friday, June 24, 2011

No more questions, ma'am.

Two by two they enter the jungle...

You know that failed class-action suit against Walmart for sex discrimination that's been in the news lately?

Nelson Lichtenstein at the New York Times thinks we're missing an even more egregious example of corporate sex discrimination at the Big Blue Box:

There are tens of thousands of experienced Wal-Mart women who would like to be promoted to the first managerial rung, salaried assistant store manager. But Wal-Mart makes it impossible for many of them to take that post, because its ruthless management style structures the job itself as one that most women, and especially those with young children or a relative to care for, would find difficult to accept.

Why? Because, for all the change that has swept over the company, at the store level there is still a fair amount of the old communal sociability. Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, Wal-Mart insists that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store, often hundreds of miles away.

For young men in a hurry, that’s an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination. True, Wal-Mart is hardly alone in demanding that rising managers sacrifice family life, but few companies make relocation such a fixed policy, and few have employment rolls even a third the size.

You know what? Fine. Let's ignore the fact that Mr. Lichtenstein is comparing middle-aged mothers to young, presumably childless men. Let's grant him his premise that a non-sex based policy motivated by a legitimate, non-sex based company interest is still sex discrimination if it ends up affecting more members of one sex than another.

Given that more men than women have concealed carry permits, do you think Mr. Lichtenstein will support my sex discrimination suit against my company for its no-guns policy?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In cars.

A Massachusetts gun rights group (which is kind of like being an anti-water activist in the Mariana Trench) channeled anti-douchebag rage into a fundraiser.

They parked a Porsche 911 in a faux no parking space, and invited supporters to put 10,000 rounds into it.

As you can see in the photos, the weapons used varied from hand guns to rifles to a twin M2 Browning machine gun with basically everything in between.

Look me in the eye and tell me you've never wanted to fire a fifty caliber machine gun into a Porsche.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not their strongest suit.

Many of you are already aware that DC Comics is rebooting its universe in September.

Honestly, my give-a-fuck has been out of order on this. I read almost no superhero comics any more, those I do are typically reprints of old material anyway, and since I started reading comics the DCU has been rebooted about half a dozen times. So it's been hard to get too worked up by DC editorial's attempt at "modernization".

Until today.

Behold, the "updated" Harley Quinn:

From General interwebs

It's hard to imagine any reinterpretation missing the point worse than this.

See the relevant Comics Alliance roundtable for a "better" image of Ms. Quinn's new duds, images of many more upcoming tragic miscalculations, and discussion of same.
When dealing with people whose support for forcible redistribution of property is, ah, under examined, it's very common to hear some variation of "but isn't it right for us to help the poor?" The standard pithy libertarian response is "if you want to, nobody's going to stop you", hopefully segueing into a discussion about the difference between helping the poor and subverting government to force everybody to do things your way, yadda-yadda.

It turns out, though, that when you have powerful governments accustomed to micromanaging people's behavior, the pithy libertarian response isn't true. Orlando anti-hunger activists are learning this the hard way, as the police embark on a campaign of arresting people who feed the homeless.

Friday, June 17, 2011 not tell me, as a good man did today, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; though I confess with shame I sometimes give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar that by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

The selfish, heartless barbarian, thinking his own conscience should be the guide of his charitable contributions. Thank God we live in a more enlightened time, when threatening a fellow citizen with violence to extort contributions for all your favorite causes is such an entrenched tradition that most people roll their eyes at the very suggestion that the method is violent!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

And in more serious news, Salman Rushdie plays Angry Birds.
Remember a couple months ago when we were discussing the upcoming children's book "Go the Fuck to Sleep"?

Well, the audiobook is going to be huge, partly because it speaks to universal yadda-yadda, and partly because it's read by Samuel L. Jackson.

I don't even have kids, and I'm considering buying a copy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


[Some minor L.A. Noire spoilers ahead. No major specifics.]

Danielle and I finished L.A. Noire last night. It was beautiful and engaging, with a few glaring flaws in the plotline* and gameplay, and several smaller problems. The reviews that give it 80-90% are spot on. When Bondi and Rockstar sit down to make the inevitable sequel, a few changes would go a long way:

- First, this setting needs more sandbox elements and a mission structure better suited to them. I understand this isn't a GTA-style open world game, but a simulated mid-century LA this glorious shouldn't feel like it's utterly devoid of anything to do. And since each case begins as soon as you finish the previous one, the few sandbox elements there are must be done during cases, when you should be trying to keep your mind on the evidence. It's bad for gameplay and for immersion when you're sent from dispatch to check out a crime scene, and instead spend a couple hours wandering the city looking for hidden cars and film reels. In the most glaring, frustrating design decision, the game ends without an option to continue exploring the city and completing tasks after finishing the storyline. You can't even go back a step, as the last auto-save point before the end is in the middle of the final action sequence.

- The game's centerpiece, the interview system, needs some work. Too often, the line between "doubt" and "lie" is inscrutable and nonsensical. There are cases where the game ignores a relevant piece of evidence, or expects you to make a perplexing leap of logic ("You can't prove I knew about that!" "You lie! Here's some proof that it happened!"). Sometimes multiple pieces of evidence contradict the testimony, but the game considers only one correct. This is less of a big deal because the game is so forgiving of incorrect answers, but that's another problem all its own: the system is so forgiving of mistakes that it starts feeling like it doesn't matter what you do. The only reward for good work is more stars on your case report.

- On a fiddlier note, the order of operations in the interviews needs to be changed. The current "lie" system runs like this: [accuse of lying] [suspect demands proof] [select evidence from list] [suspect breaks down]. This means that, in story terms, the suspect only ever challenges you when you have the evidence to show he's lying. If you don't have that evidence (meaning you'll select "doubt" instead of "lie", the same suspect will just break down without defying you. It also means generally cooperative suspects who are just being a bit evasive will suddenly get uncharacteristically defiant and demanding, but only when their lies can be objectively contradicted. It's a small issue but a distracting one, and the fix is as easy as having the player select the evidence right after selecting "lie", without intervening dialogue. The scripted dialogue can then play out the interaction however the writer thinks is best.

- Again, I know this is a narrative game, not a sandbox. But cutting back a bit on all the cutscenes and warping to destinations would go a long way to making the game feel more interactive, even if the story structure is identical. Can I walk my own character through the interaction or drive him to the destination myself? Then let me.

- The police-procedural story was great as a departure from the norm, and really helped to set L.A. Noire apart, but it's also very limiting. Switching to a private detective story (a possibility set up very naturally by this game's storyline) would give a lot more freedom for open-world elements, and relieve a few minor frustrations, like picking up better weapons only to revert automatically to the service pistol at the end of a mission.**

- Include dead eye. All games should have dead eye, from Tetris to Professor Layton.

[* - A fall from grace is a great dramatic device, as long as it has the context to make it seem appropriate to the character, and ideally it should either lead to redemption or make a statement about the character's character. If the fall involves the character's family, it would be nice if we could at least see them before it plays out. Up until the twist in the story, I suspected Phelps was lying about being married.]

[** - Or in the middle. It was very frustrating to be fighting multiple enemies, finally get my hands on a Thompson or BAR, go into a cutscene, and come out of it with the new gun gone.]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mike Nelson: Do you think you can keep down some 7-Up and crackers?

Crow T. Robot: No!

Mike Nelson: How 'bout some lukewarm pork?

Please place your hands in the yellow circles...

[h/t to Drang]

Somewhere in the Northeast US, our Glorious Leaders have just completed a test of a pre-crime detection system:

Like a lie detector, [Future Attribute Screening Technology] measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person's gaze, to judge a subject's state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject.

Maybe it's this aggravating stomach bug talking, but every once in a while it seems like a catastrophic collapse into a new technological dark age may be the best possibility left for humanity.


Nevertheless, in these days of ours, you are preparing for a covenant, a marriage-contract and a betrothal; you are by now getting your hair combed by a master barber; you have also perhaps given a pledge to her finger. What! Postumus, are you, you who once had your wits, taking to yourself a wife? Tell me what Tisiphone, what snakes are driving you mad? Can you submit to a she-tyrant when there is so much rope to be had, so many dizzy heights of windows standing open, and when the Aemilian bridge offers itself to your hand? Or if none of all these modes of exit hit your fancy, how much better to take some boy-bedfellow, who would never wrangle with you o' nights, never ask presents of you when in bed, and never complain that you took your ease and were indifferent to his solicitations!
-- Juvenal, Satire 6

It's probably for the best that nobody asks me to deliver a wedding speech.


For a long time, Illinois and Wisconsin have been the only two states in the Union so backward that they overtly ban carrying firearms for self defense. States like Jersey and Maryland at least make a show of offering "discretionary" carry permits that almost nobody's approved for, but only the Prairie and Badger States were willing to stand astride an unfashionable civil right and say "No!"

Which is why it's so intensely gratifying to see that the current debate in Wisconsin is not over whether they'll overturn the prohibition on concealed carry, but whether they'll go with a shall-issue permit system or drop the ridiculous pearl-clutching pretext and just let people carry their guns.

If I was a betting man, my money would be on Wisconsinites getting a permit-with-training law, because no matter how pointless they are, they sound prudent to people without an intimate knowledge of gun policy, which is of course the great majority of normal people. Constitutional carry may well be the future of gun rights in the US, but I expect it'll take a while to spread, just as carry permits did.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

That clinking-clanking sound...

William Dewald speculates on the unpopularity of coins in the US:

The reason is that the denominations of U.S. coins have not changed in a very long time, despite inflation in U.S. prices. Compared with 1950, the price level today is 10 times as high. That means that today's dollar has the purchasing power of a 1950 dime, today's dime of a 1950 penny and today's penny is worth almost nothing, and neither is the nickel. It is not surprising that the "dime store" of 1950 is today's "dollar store."

Our coinage lacks higher value coins to match the purchasing power of the quarters, half dollars and dollar coins of 60 years ago.

Nerds like me love coins. When you talk to normal people, most consider them an inconvenience, and a few act like the weight of a few coins will bend their spines in half. This is most prominent when dollar coins come up, but is an issue with all metal money, which is rarely spent--most people just save it up in a jar until there's enough to redeem for folding money.

Part of this comes from the fact that people are getting more and more accustomed to making most or all of their purchases through computer handshakes, a habit that makes all money less convenient*. But certainly another large part of the problem is that most of our coins are essentially worthless. There truly is no point to carrying around pennies; their value is so trivial that you need rolls of them to buy a cup of coffee, and the three or four you get in change (all old aphorisms aside) are so worthless that saving them is essentially pointless. My father saved every penny he got in change for most of his life. Almost half a century's collecting got him about 350 bucks, in two big jars that we had to bail out into bank bags to move. Even nickels and dimes are on the high end of useless, leaving only the quarter, which gets a good amount of circulation, the half dollar, which is struck mostly for collectors and almost never seen in the wild, and the legendarily unpopular dollar coin.

Value-to-weight ratios matter. Back when our coins were made of precious metals and their weights were proportional to their values, silver dollars were big, heavy coins that--much as I hate to admit it--were rarely used because of their inconvenience. Small coins from a hundred years ago are usually heavily worn from circulation, to the point that silver investors discount bags of dimes and quarters from their nominal metal value to account for loss due to wear. But hundred year old Morgan dollars are routinely found in very good condition with sharp details, because they spent their whole lives in safes and bank bags, sitting around as a store of value but rarely exchanged for a meal or a shirt. The situation today is more extreme, when even dimes and nickels have too low a value-to-weight ratio to be worth carrying. When was the last time you saw a heavily worn dime?

If the Mint wants its coins to circulate (and I'm not entirely certain it does), it has to offer coins that meet our needs under the current dollar, not legacy coins that made sense for the dollar of generations ago. The way I see it, we have three options--in order of likelihood of adoption:

First, we can redenominate the dollar. That is, the "value" of each new bill and coin would be significantly (say, ten times) higher and more practical for commerce because there would be significantly fewer dollars, but the amount of wealth in circulation obviously wouldn't change. In effect, we'd be issuing currency with higher face values, but the redenomination would keep the system familiar and ease the physical transition (since, for example, vending machines and banks' rolling and counting machines wouldn't need to be replaced). The one-time psychological and calculation difficulties of the actual transition would probably sink this plan.

Second, we can completely redesign our currency system. A new line of currency with a 25 cent coin the size of a dime, a 50 cent coin the size of a nickel, a dollar coin the size of a quarter, and (as long as we're dreaming) a five dollar coin the size of a current half dollar, with bills starting at ten dollars, would much better serve the current market. Any change in currency is wildly unpopular when proposed, and I expect there'd be much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the crushing weight of a few coins--despite the fact that this system would be closer to the historical norm--and over the injustice of being unable to buy anything for less than 25 cents. Together with the aforementioned physical issues of creating a new coinage system from scratch, these problems will, again, probably rule out such a change.

The third option, and by far the most likely to actually happen, is to continue ignoring the issue, perpetually striking hundreds of millions of worthless coins that nobody has a compelling use for, until ubiquitous electronic payment and inflation make all coins completely irrelevant and we can start arguing over whether we should still be printing the dollar bill. Eventually, merchants will decide on their own not to use worthless coins, Mint policies be damned.

[* - The smart phone is also making some people generally averse to carrying anything as it relentlessly consolidates tools. It won't be long before people are replacing their keychains with electronic locks, and bitching about the hassle of being issued a plastic card to open their hotel rooms with. It's not really unreasonable; the technology can probably be made more secure than cash and keys, so why would the average person need anything on a regular basis beyond his personal computer and a few purely physical tools like a pocket knife and a handgun? I wouldn't want to ditch my fountain pen and notebook, but a current-generation Droid would certainly do the same job better. For the urbanite who doesn't recognize the utility of a knife and a gun, and doesn't value anonymity, what incentive is there to have a toolkit beyond his iPhone?]

Friday, June 3, 2011

Und Alles Sein ist flammend Leid

It's interesting, being a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, to look at early 20th century expressionist art and realize that's what he was talking about.

Egon Schiele, for example; that's a dude who's looked into the face of Hastur and lost a few sanity points. And if James Ensor never took a dream-journey to the shifting streets of Carcosa, there is no reason in the world. Franz Marc clearly spend more time in the Dreamlands than among us. has a page up now of Lovecraft's comments on specific artists that inspired him, and Tor has its own synopsis of those artists. Interesting, if very brief, reading.

And though it's no longer emblematic of the times, it isn't as if the Old Ones stopped fucking with humanity after the rough beast stopped slouching toward Bethlehem. I dunno what Francis Bacon saw when he closed his eyes, but what he let out scares the crap out of me.

The trouble with copyright laws

It's hard to think positively about any system that makes me look at the first line of an author's or artist's Wikipedia article and say "Dammit, why couldn't you have died thirty years younger?"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself!

When libertarians talk to non-libertarians, many times it turns out that we actually have most of the same values, but radically different IFF criteria. Unlike the liberal-conservative spectrum, this is a spectrum of who you consider to be the greatest enemy of freedom: privileged citizens, or government. I fall way the hell down in the government-as-enemy range, but far enough from the end to think we need a small government to enforce laws against theft, assault, and breach of contract. Other people identifying as libertarians can be further from the end, or full-on anarcho-capitalists.

I'd like to set aside discussion of specific policies and the imperfect mechanisms of individual protection that exist in regulationist and libertarian-capitalist systems for a moment, and just explain to non-libertarians why we at the gummint-hating fringe think you're all insane:

When you talk about Gilded-Age robber barons oppressing the influenceless poor immigrant workers and invoke long hours, low pay, unsafe conditions, deaths from lack of medical care, and mind-boggling gaps between rich and poor, understand that very many libertarians agree with you. There are some who think that the market will perpetually fix these problems, but most of us (myself included) do understand that these abuses happen and are terrible.

But you're proposing to fight the worst-case scenarios that enemy threatens to bring by empowering governments, whose track record for the last century alone includes worst-case scenarios (often perpetrated by governments that the people thought they controlled right up to the last moment) of death camps, gulags, Great Leaps Forward, Rapes of Nanking, world-shattering turf wars that slaughtered people by the tens of millions, campaigns of genocide that killed far more, suppression of free speech and association, widespread civilian disarmament, enforced discrimination against racial and sexual minorities, and perpetually increasing universal surveillance, to say nothing of the everyday regulation of shockingly minute aspects of our private and professional lives that occurs outside the worst-case scenarios. Selfish monocled capitalists can create a great deal of suffering and unfairness. Powerful first-world governments have, within living memory, created hell on earth again and again.

In short, it's utterly incomprehensible to most libertarians that you would have more fear of an enemy that often ends up putting economic pressure on you to accept deals that aren't in your best interest than of an enemy with a terrifyingly bloody rap sheet that will literally force its rules on your public and private life through threats of violence.

tl;dr - We share your concerns about the troll who raids the city and carries off some of our children. We just don't think it's wise to suggest we scare him off by giving a dragon the run of the city. Your belief that the new type of dragon-training harness (guaranteed to work this time!) will keep it under control does not give us much comfort.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

68% of statistics are made up on the spot

Since we're talking about Gallup polls today, here's an excerpt from an Ann Althouse post about rates of gaiety in America:

Gallup poll: Democrats estimate that 28% of Americans are gay.
Republicans are much closer to reality, at 20.2%, but still far off. (The actual percentage is more like 3.5.)

What accounts for this discrepancy? Perhaps Democrats are more likely to live in places where there are larger concentrations of openly gay people. Perhaps those with liberal views are more likely to hear the news that people they know are gay. Maybe Dems are dumber.

The numbers are definitely much, much higher than the usual estimates. But I have to cut people some slack on questions like this. Getting a useful count of the number of gay people in anywhere isn't just difficult; it's frankly impossible because of the imprecision of the terms. We can easily point to some gay people and some straight people, but in a complex social species that uses sex for reproduction, cultural expression, and reinforcing social bonds, there can be no clear dividing line between the two. What fraction of a person's partners have to be of his sex to call him gay? How many unfulfilled sexual thoughts about men can a man have and still stay in the straight column? If I'm attracted to transmen or transwomen, can I squeak by on points? If we use a one-drop rule, then I'd guess 28% is probably a low estimate.

Since the survey in question didn't define its terms, I wouldn't be too quick to question the intelligence of the respondents.

Lies, damned lies...

Want to best target your social warfare campaign? Gallup is here to help, with a survey on American morality, arranged by difference:

From General interwebs

So trying to get your party whipped up over physician-assisted suicide is probably a good idea. Flogging the infidelity horse? Not so much, because everybody agrees.

Of special note to me, more than half of Americans now have no problem with gay and lesbian relationships, while 86% are morally opposed to "polygamy". Most likely a significant portion of those responders think all plural relationships are theocratic households of prepubescent child brides tyrannized by an old Mormon man.

Note that this is a survey about whether a person thinks the given behavior is morally wrong, not whether there oughtta be a law against it. Me, I think a couple things on that list are morally wrong, but wouldn't support laws against any of them them, with the possible exception of infidelity, which is arguably a breach of contract.