August 29, 2005

A Plot

I've occasionally thought that this would be a good plot for a political mystery: Aide commits sordid murder. Aide does something illegal and embarassing to governor/president that embroils executive and his administration in such a mess that executive issues blanket pardons for those involved in the scandal. Aide then fesses up to the murder, being legally safe from prosecution.

This can be today's hook for it (of course I don't think there was any murder involved). Perhaps I should point out that a Democratic governor previously did something similar; we'll see if any Republicans criticize Fletcher the way Chandler criticized Patton.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:21 PM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2005

More Yglesias and Science

Having dinged Yglesias on his evaluation of the character of those who promote The Bell Curve, I should say that I think he gets it pretty much right on intelligent design and Kuhn. In fact I'd go farther than him--as I understand Kuhn's theory, it's not just revolutionary science that leaves anomalies; all science leaves anomalies. (Or, anomalies are discovered in all theories eventually.) But a successful theory is still fruitful at generating new science. Preferably new science that isn't sustained entirely by a foundation with an axe to grind, like the Discovery Institute or The Pioneer Fund.

(The claim isn't that no legitimate science is ever done by someone funded by a foundation with a view on an issue--but if no one else picks it up, there's reason to be suspicious.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2005

Intellectual Vices, and Other Kinds

Yglesias observes that the parts of The Bell Curve that deal with race don't hold up well. Which is to say they're incompetent or malicious nonsense, as is the rest of the book; more from DeLong, Thomas Sowell, Stephen Jay Gould, Nicholas Lemann. Yglesias then goes on to make what I find a disturbing argument:

To answer Atrios's question, I'm reasonably confident that this is a "fools" problem rather than a "bigots" one. The errors in TBC's discussion of this problem are exactly the sort of subtle -- but utterly devasting -- technical problems that have rendered most contemporary conservatives... incapable of grappling with complicated policy questions.
[huge snip]
's tempting to conclude that, given the shoddiness of the analysis and the inflammatory nature of the subject matter, that all this can only be evidence of bigotry. I disagree, however. This is research coming from the same movement that sought to revamp Social Security without having done any of the math, that advocating invading Iraq in part on the basis of the claim that there was no history of ethnic strife in that country, and which appears to believe that the theory of evolution is a massive conspiracy. The human capacity for foolishness is large, and that of the contemporary American right is enormous.

But what's going on here can't be anything as innocuous as pure foolishness. It's an intellectual shortcoming to believe things on shoddy or no evidence--it's stupidity. But it's something more--an intellectual vice and a moral one as well--to believe things on shoddy or no evidence when they support your other views, and only then. And it's really a moral vice to believe things on shoddy or no evidence when they support views that are in themselves vicious, or would be vicious without the factual claims that you've conned yourself into believing.

It's no coincidence that Charles Murray, who argued that AFDC was a major contributor to the problems of African-Americans, went on to argue that African-Americans are genetically inferior. Because the crushingly obvious reason that African-Americans tended to be poor before AFDC--racism and its effects--continues to hold after AFDC. Better come up with an alternate explanation! (See Scott Lemieux on Herrnstein and Murray's idea of America's meritocratic past.)

You just couldn't do work that shoddy on race and IQ if you weren't predisposed to those conclusions. If Murray and Herrnstein hadn't wanted to discover that African-Americans were genetically inferior, they would have checked their numbers and sources. And if they'd done that, they wouldn't have reached those conclusions. Or, as Lemann says, "Unsurprisingly, all the mistakes are in the direction of supporting the authors' thesis."

(Similarly, the people who haven't done the math on Social Security are people who want to get rid of it anyway; the people who believed that there wasn't any ethnic strife in Iraq tended not to be peaceniks; and the people who think science doesn't support evolution tend to be committed to some religious creation stories, or politically allied with those who are.)

And honestly, I think this point goes past Herrnstein and Murray to the people who are still pushing The Bell Curve. When the book first came out, it was possible to think that it was telling disturbing truths, because--as Lemann points out--its release was handled so as to delay informed criticism. But by now it oughtn't to be too hard to find out about the debate surrounding The Bell Curve, if you look. But if you're inclined to accept the books's thesis, you may not be inclined to look for the criticism. And that doesn't speak well of you.

So on the bigots or fools questions, fools; or maybe foolish like a fox. But foolish in a way that takes a certain predisposition to bigotry.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:39 PM | Comments (2)

August 18, 2005

Dove Season in Texas

When a Crawford resident fired a shotgun near Cindy Sheehan's demonstration in Texas, and then said "I'm getting ready for dove season," I (like others) figured that the reference to doves was a veiled threat to anti-war protestors.

However, it turns out that dove season in Texas starts Sept. 1, and is the next hunting season to start. (Crawford is in the Central Zone, I believe.) So, though the shotgun blasts clearly were some sort of expression against the protestors, I don't think anything special should be read into the 'dove season' remarks.

Sorry for the initial wrong impression--I'm new here.

If--as doesn't seem implausible--the neighbor really was angry only because the protestors were blocking access to his land, hopefully his concerns will be assuaged now that the protestors are moving to his cousins' property.

For an unequivocal example of anti-demonstrator thuggery, look to the guy who ran his truck over the crosses and flags commemmorating American soldiers killed in Iraq. Classy.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

Lego Baseball

via Delicious Pundit in CT comments, Batgirl reenacts random moments from Twins baseball in Lego. Or not. This made me totally lose it.

Batgirl has written some novels under the pseudonym Anne Ursu. They go onto the reading list.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2005

Which Characters Deserved It?

[UPDATE: Hey, thanks for the boost, Ogged!]

Over at Unfogged we were discussing Robertson Davies, and I complained that in World of Wonders Davies really set one character up for humiliation, and this device bugged me. (I had to have my memory refreshed on the details; it's been about ten years since I read it.)

baa responded:

while I am never a fan of the obvious author set up of the hateful character, this one didn't offend me much.
And now that I think of it, the authorial set ups of a horrible character can be really enjoyable. Sack Lodge in "Wedding Crashers" comes to mind as a recent example. I wonder if can think of examples of this from "high literature." (perhaps the argument is: what makes high literature high is that it avoids crowd-pleasing simplifications like the completely hateful character, but that doesn't seem like it can be right...).

I think that's a great idea! Can anyone think of cases where an author really sets up a character for humiliation, and it's great because the character deserves it? Leave your nominees, pref. with spoiler warnings where appropriate. I have a couple below the fold.

Perhaps something like the fate of Lorcan Larkin in Marian Keyes' Last Chance Saloon, though I fear Keyes does not count as 'high literature' for our purposes. Or there's a supberb one in Kingsley Amis's The Green Man--click this link for a spoiler. And I might count the abuse of Oswald in King Lear:

KENT Fellow, I know thee.

What dost thou know me for?

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

Maybe I'll change the name of the blog to "clamorous whining."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:25 PM | Comments (11)

August 16, 2005

The Fundamental Problem of Business Ethics

From the Unfogged comments:

Tripp: [long story of being overcharged on a bill...] but why should a modern company have so much trouble with accurate billing?

Chopper: Because someone, somewhere, weighed the benefits of overcharging and being impenetrable for the bottom line versus actually having good customer service and saw that the company would make more money by being evil?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:01 PM | Comments (4)

August 14, 2005

How to Get More than 20 Comments

Post about contextualism.

Get into a silly argument with Ben Wolfson. (Important: Keep the argument going.)

(Nine days between posts, sheesh.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:00 PM | Comments (1)

Ern Malley's Revenge?

I saw this on the sliding door of a refrigerated drinks cabinet. Line breaks and capitalization in original.

Please leave the
door-related package packed

until the product is
firmly located in the outlet

These are all English words, and they seem to be arranged grammatically. But I can't think what this might possibly mean.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:37 PM | Comments (4)

August 05, 2005

How D'You Like Them Apples?

Like Kevin, I've pretty much given up on Red Delicious Apples--I think when I read that they were in fact bred for looks rather than taste. They look mighty fine, though. Red skin, green flesh, that apply apple shape--it's almost obscene. If there's an apple that tastes the way a good Red Delicious looks, let me know.

Anyway, it's near to all Granny Smiths all the time for me--though I might do well to find out when Granny Smiths are actually in season. (And I'm connected to the internet right now... Washington says year-round, but harvested here in mid-October. Does that mean that in early October I'm eating year-old apples? Probably not, according to this guy. I understand that there is a Southern Hemisphere, which has seasons at different times--maybe that's got something to do with it.)

Which reminds me--why do people sometimes use "apples and oranges" to describe things that cannot be compared at all? The correct use is to describe a pair of numbers that should not be compared because they are in different units or are otherwise inapt for the comparison. But it would be wrong to use "apples and oranges" to describe two things that cannot be compared at all, because apples are clearly better than oranges; at least, the best apple is miles better than the best orange, and the worst apple is better than the worst orange. This is indisputable.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:44 PM | Comments (24)


I am here in Legendary Lubbock, my stuff is in my house though not always out of the boxes it came in, I have been issued a key that does not in fact open the door to my office, and, well, things are still settling down. New posts will be sporadic for a little while.

If you know my old phone number, it is still in effect during the transition period.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:15 PM | Comments (5)