Thursday, April 28, 2011

Deleted Scenes

For reasons indirectly related to this blog's consistent failure to provide me with a decent income, new articles might be few and far between for a while. Fortunately, I've been planning for just such an occasion, to the extent that keeping a list of my favorite lines from articles I started but never finished can be considered a plan.

So here you go. No attempt has been made to clear up whatever ambiguity results from the lack of context,[1] as if that isn't obvious. Enjoy!


A few months ago, House Republicans bestowed upon grateful Americans "a new platform to share their priorities and ideas for a national policy agenda." The site is open to all ideas—as it should be, considering the American people are paying for it—but the mission statement on the front page makes it clear that certain ideas are more welcome than others. Specifically, the following, to which the House Republicans boldly declare their commitment:
  • Limited, more accountable government
  • Economic freedom
  • Lower taxes
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Protecting life, American values, and the Constitution
  • Providing for strong national security
That's right, if your solutions involve amending the Constitution to outlaw government accountability, hand-delivering our nuclear launch codes to North Korea, or earmarking federal funds for wanton and indiscriminate killing sprees, you can just take your ideas somewhere else!


I can't say that I'm financially responsible for much of anything, but that's because I'm financially responsible enough to know I can't afford anything, so it's kind of a wash.


These definitions reflect my view of how these terms are used by conservative pundits. I made every effort to be objective, except where I chose instead to be sarcastically hyperbolic.


The hyphen is a sign of the impending downfall of traditional values in favor of political correctness (e.g. African-American) and gender equality (e.g. U.S. Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee, Ginny Brown-Waite, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz).[2]


I'm probably about as liberal as I am Floridian—31%, in terms of how much of my life has been spent with a Florida address—but I like calling myself liberal, for roughly the same reason I like calling myself Floridian.


This isn't entirely an exercise in over-analyzing nonsense for my own amusement (but it's not entirely not that, either).


I know, I know. As soon as all this happens Fox News' ratings will plummet, talk radio will cease to be relevant, and politics will be at least 80% less interesting. But we don't have to totally give up our beloved inane bickering. We'll always have sports.


Christine O'Donnell exemplifies a problem to which conservatives are especially susceptible. On most non-Bible-related issues, the conservative position boils down to "let's sit around and do nothing and see if things take care of themselves." And from this simple idea a truly compelling philosophy has emerged, and a lot of very smart people have said and written some very smart things about the wisdom of sitting around and doing nothing and seeing if things take care of themselves. Hell, they convinced me, and I think I'm kind of smart. But the downside is, even a dumb person can learn to say "let's sit around and do nothing and see if things take care of themselves," and it's hard to tell that she's dumb because she's saying the same thing as the smart people.


Statistics show that most Americans don't understand statistics.[3]


Great as Paul McCartney is, he's also responsible for the line, "in this ever-changing world in which we live in", and that's something for which I can never forgive him for.


I'm not in the business of pointing out hypocrisy, for the same reason I don't go around discharging firearms into small containers stuffed to capacity with halibut.


The subheading at the top of, "Exposing & Combating Liberal Media Bias",[4] is technically accurate, but would be no less so with the word "bias" removed.


There's a lot of nonsense out there, but at least this is enumerated.


No hay nada que me enoja más de los tipos que les gustan gritar "¡This is America! ¡Speak English!" Esa actitud es igualmente irrespetuoso y ignorante. ¿Piensen que aprender otra lengua es fácil? ¿Piensen que inmigrantes no quieren aprender inglés? Claro que sí lo quieren, y—por lo general—sí lo aprenden.


I don't care if it's my girlfriend running for office—if I go to her campaign website and a video starts playing automatically, I'm voting for her opponent.

1. Also, footnotes are left as they appeared in the original drafts.
2. It should be noted, however, that most conservatives do not oppose traditional uses of hyphenation (compound adjectives, certain prefixes, line-wrapping, etc.).
3. I don't have a source for that, but it's probably true.
4. That subheading, by the way, is phrased in the present progressive tense. That's right, progressive. It seems even grammar has a liberal bias.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: Part I (Part II)

In Part I of my now II-part series about Atlas Shrugged: Part I,[I] I made a few predictions, just for the hell of it. It's been out for VI days now, so let's see how I did. Oh, and out of appreciation for the filmmakers' decision to use Roman numerals for no good reason, so will I.

Libertarians will love it. Conservatives will like it, but some will complain that the film implicitly promotes atheism.

No surprise here, though most of the positive reviews are too distracted by Ayn Rand's apparent prescience regarding today's political climate to offer an objective (so to speak) evaluation of the movie itself. From Big Hollywood:
Though taken from a book written a half-century ago and set in the year MMXVI, the movie is eerily similar to the world today, bearing a particular resemblance to the United States and the societal and economic depreciation of states like California, where manufacturing industries have collapsed, economic liberty and entrepreneurialism are eroding, and productive members of society seem to be rapidly disappearing, or rather, run out of business by bureaucratic red tape and unreasonable regulations.

Not only is the film a winner for holding firm to Randian philosophy, it also brazenly and refreshingly brings a political perspective that is almost universally absent from the big screen…
But it's not all positive. According to Kurt Loder—yes, that Kurt Loder—of the reliably libertarian
Sitting through this picture is like watching early rehearsals of a stage play that's clearly doomed.

The movie is especially disappointing because Rand's MCMLVII book, while centrally concerned with ethical philosophy (and inevitably quite talky), has a juicy plot that, in more capable hands, might have made a sensational film.
As for the film's handling of religion, there's apparently not much to talk about. Even Movieguide, "the family guide to movies and entertainment", commends Atlas Shrugged for its lack of "Christian bashing". Still, Movieguide identifies XV or so examples of potentially objectionable content, ranging from "a foggy moral and philosophical confusion about eleemosynary or philanthropic individual charity" to "a low-cut dress".

Everyone else will find it dull and a little preachy, but not terrible.

From my favorite site for movie reviews, the A.V. Club:
This is the major problem with Atlas Shrugged: Part I, the first of a proposed III-part adaptation of Ayn Rand's MCMLVII novel: Its ideas are squandered by aesthetics. Given the novel's centrality to the Tea Party movement, which has made "going Galt" its call to arms, the film is curiously sterile and lifeless, hardly the stuff of revolution.
Roger Ebert was similarly unimpressed, calling it "the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone's vault." And Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote a II-word review that simply read "Shit Sandwich."[II]

So I was mostly right. Everyone else found it dull, a little preachy, and terrible.

I predict a Metacritic score of LX.

Not even close. As of April XX, it has a Metacritic score of XXVII.

I also predict Sean Hannity will blame every perceived slight—up to and including Atlas Shrugged's inevitable failure to win the Academy Award for Best Picture—on liberals. And maybe immigrants.

Not yet, but I'm not worried. We've still got IX months until the nominees are announced.

I. Honestly, like LXXXVII% of the reason I wrote this article was as an excuse to use the "Part I (Part II)" title. And the other XIII% was to mess around with Roman numerals, which are delightfully pretentious.
II. Not really, but wouldn't that have been great? Here's what he actually said:
Ayn Rand's monumental MCLXVIII-page, MCMLVII novel gets the low-budget, no-talent treatment and sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal. It's the first in a planned trilogy of films. Let's hope the other II parts are quickly aborted.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who Watches the Watchdog?

Note: This article is also my first post at Critical Thinking Applied, a group blog to which I'll be contributing from time to time. Its mission is "to show how critical thinking can be applied in a manner that enables polite, civil, and reasoned discourse on [social and political] issues," which, I promise, is a lot more exciting than it sounds—especially considering the ideological diversity of the contributors. In the future, I'll (usually) post only at one site or the other, but in this case a little cross-promotion seems appropriate to mark the occasion.

If I were asked to illustrate what's wrong with American political discourse in 60 seconds or less,[1] I'd probably talk about Media Matters and NewsBusters. They're the two best-known media watchdog groups in the country (in my estimation, by which I mean I did a Google search for "media watchdog" and they were the first two non-Wikipedia results), and both are founded on the absurd proposition that media bias is a one-sided problem. From their respective "about" pages (emphasis mine):
Launched in May 2004, Media Matters for America put in place, for the first time, the means to systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation — news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda — every day, in real time.
In August of 2005, with the assistance of Matthew Sheffield of Dialog New Media, the [Media Research Center] launched the NewsBusters blog to provide immediate exposure of liberal media bias, insightful analysis, constructive criticism and timely corrections to news media reporting.
Both organizations are capable of—and frequently produce—meaningful, insightful analysis, but I'm increasingly convinced that whatever legitimate media watch-doggery they accomplish has more to do with basic probability than anything else. When your strategy for rooting out bias and misinformation is essentially to "expose" everything that appears to favor a particular side, you'll probably get one right every so often. It'd be hard not to.

But there's also going to be stuff like this, from a recent NewsBusters article (emphasis theirs):
In an argument which would make his ex-NPR colleagues proud, Juan Williams took to Fox News Sunday to push for tax hikes to reduce the deficit. Scolding Brit Hume, an exasperated Williams contended: "You're going on as if, 'you know what, we don't know in America how to help our own deficit problems.' We do. We just have to tax people."

Moments before, in assessing Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's expected plan on how to slow budget growth, Williams insisted "tax increases should not be off the table," chastising Ryan for, during an interview with Chris Wallace earlier on the show, rejecting a tax increase: "I don't know why it is that he somehow suggests the rich in the country have no obligation to support the country."
To recap, Juan Williams, a commentator known for having liberal views, appeared on a Fox News program and expressed a liberal view (which, by the way, he does on a regular basis, because he works for Fox News), and that view was immediately shot down. This might be the least convincing evidence of liberal media bias I've ever seen. In fact, given how Williams barely had a chance to defend his idea against its detractors, I'm a little surprised the same clip didn't show up on Media Matters as a sign of conservative bias.

While NewsBusters posts a ton of medium-length articles that assert conclusions based on flimsy (but rarely indefensible) logic and insufficient (but rarely nonexistent) evidence, Media Matters' content is something of a mix of lengthy, well-researched (albeit one-sided) analysis, and shorter pieces highlighting the various screwy things airing on talk radio and Fox News throughout the day. One recent post celebrating the end of Glenn Beck's TV show was simply a three-minute compilation of out-of-context clips of Beck saying and doing crazy things.[2] Another alerted readers to Beck's cryptic warnings about the upcoming "summer of rage." How is that bias? Or misinformation? Is it even information to begin with?[3]

I don't know, maybe I'm being too harsh—in principle, I'm all in favor of private organizations working to keep the news media honest—but I'm not convinced NewsBusters and Media Matters don't contribute more to the problem than the solution. Both claim to be committed to honesty and accuracy, but only on their terms, which is inherently unworkable. Even worse, they relentlessly promote the "you can trust us, but you can't trust them" mentality. They treat opposing media outlets—including each other—as if their default settings are dishonesty and misinformation, and in the process create an unsettling paradox, because they can't both be wrong.

Any thoughts?

1. Of course, the only scenario I can think of where the "describe something absurdly complicated in a minute or less" hypothetical isn't unrealistic is during a political debate, which, in and of itself, is also a pretty good illustration of what's wrong with American political discourse.
2. Would Beck's antics seem materially less crazy within the proper context? I doubt it, but that almost makes the lack of context worse.
3. Alas, I was unable (through moderate-but-not-extensive effort) to find a better example of what irritates me about Media Matters. I suppose it's to their credit that when they add commentary it's usually pretty good, but the problem is that much of what they "expose" is more in the realm of silliness than misinformation. They may not add commentary when that's the case, but merely posting the clip encourages the inference that it's representative of conservative-leaning media in general, rather than an outlier.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sarah Palin vs. The Lamestream Media

Exciting news from America's favorite two-thirds-term governor:
I've given this a lot of thought, and I'd like to share my thoughts on the never-ending issue of media bias.
Too often the first instinct is to ignore blatant media bias, crudeness, and outright lies, and just hope the media instigator will grow up and provide fairer coverage if you bite your tongue and not challenge the false reporting of an openly hostile press. But I've never bought into that. That's waving the white flag. I just can't do it because I have too much respect for the importance of a free press as a cornerstone of our democracy, and I have great respect for the men and women in uniform who sacrifice so much to defend that First Amendment right. Media, with freedom comes responsibility.
Sounds good so far. A nice message about the importance of standing your ground and speaking your mind and—wait, what was that about the First Amendment?[1]

(Give me a minute…)

Yeah, I can't figure it out. In fact, the whole thing's kind of hard to figure out. She's trying to make two unrelated points at the same time—first, that Bill Maher is an ass (which is hard to argue with), and, second, that the news-oriented elements of the media are biased against conservatives, and I guess women too—and the overall result is a bit of a mess. Not that I'm complaining.
Friends, too often conservatives or Republicans in general come across as having the fighting instinct of sheep.
This is my favorite non-basketball-related line, because what? Which Republicans? These are the same people who used a bill to provide healthcare for 9/11 first responders as a bargaining chip, threatening to let it languish and die (so to speak) unless the Democrats gave them what they wanted.

Anyway, Sarah Palin will have you know that this negative stereotype she just made up most certainly does not apply to her.
I was raised to believe that you don't retreat when you're on solid ground; so even though it often seems like I'm armed with just a few stones and a sling against a media giant, I'll use those small resources to do what I can to set the record straight. The truth is always worth fighting for.
The "stones" she's referring to include Facebook (where she has almost 3 million fans), Twitter (where she has almost 500,000 followers (myself included)), two best-selling books (which have combined to sell over 3 million copies in less than two years), a reality show (which drew an average of 3.2 million viewers per episode), and what I assume is an open invitation to appear on any politically-oriented TV or radio show at any time. The "sling" would be Fox News, America's highest-rated news network, and her current employer.

Governor, I'm moderately familiar with King David. I've read about King David on Wikipedia. I like to think King David would've been a friend of mine. Governor, you're no King David.
The media has always been biased. Conservatives – and especially conservative women – have always been held to a different standard and attacked. This is nothing new. Lincoln was mocked and ridiculed. Reagan was called an amiable dunce, a dangerous warmonger, a rightwing fanatic, and the insult list goes on and on. (But somehow Reagan still managed to win two major electoral landslides…)
To the extent that Palin's missive makes any sense to begin with, this is the second-best illustration of why her reasoning is flawed. She claims conservatives are held to a different standard, then cites two (rather dubious,[2] but that's beside the point) examples of the standard to which conservatives are held, thereby proving exactly nothing. How were their non-conservative opponents treated? (Answer: Similarly.) How did they overcome such overwhelming negative press? (Answer: It probably helped that they also had plenty of positive press.) How is whatever mockery Lincoln endured in any way relevant to contemporary treatment of conservatives? (Answer: It's not. At all.)

The thing is, if she tried hard enough, I'm sure she could make a plausible argument that the media treats conservatives unfairly. But she doesn't do that, I assume because any empirically-observed bias would be, at best, slight, and would therefore undermine her implications that anti-conservative bias is both self-evident and substantial.
Let's just acknowledge that commonsense conservatives must be stronger and work that much harder because of the obvious bias. And let's be encouraged with a sense of poetic justice by knowing that the "mainstream" media isn't mainstream anymore. That's why I call it "lamestream," and the LSM is becoming quite irrelevant, as it is no longer the sole gatekeeper of information.
And this is the best illustration of why her reasoning is flawed. "Let's just acknowledge that commonsense conservatives must be stronger and work that much harder because of the obvious bias," she says, because what are you, some sort of liberal, who lacks the "commonsense" to acknowledge things that are obvious? Naturally, the main propagator of that bias is the "lamestream" media, which, Palin helpfully explains, is so named because "mainstream" is now a misnomer, what with the LSM's increasing irrelevance.

But then, if the mainstream media is no longer mainstream, what is it? And how can an entity that's "becoming quite irrelevant" also be a formidable enemy of conservatives? I mean, honestly. You'd think someone demanding better treatment from the media would try to make her internal contradictions a little harder to find. At the very least, spread it out over multiple paragraphs.
Let's keep pivoting around media bias, and not get distracted with the vulgar personal shots. Even with limited time we can try to call out lies and set the record straight, but always keep the ball moving. No one ever won a game only playing defense.
I have nothing to add to this, except that "Let's keep pivoting around media bias" edges out the sheep thing from earlier for my Favorite Palin Quote of 2011 So Far. While we're at it, let's post up on public-sector unions, and run a pick-and-roll against tax hikes, and execute Phil Jackson's triangle offense to defeat fiscal irresponsibility.
Today, our country is faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges. We have an unsustainable and immoral $14 trillion debt problem which, combined with a self-inflicted energy crisis, could bring America to her knees. The President of the United States is manipulating an energy supply by refusing to develop our U.S. energy resources. Shouldn't that be the media's focus today?
She goes on to suggest a few more things for the media to focus on, like the deficit, unemployment, home foreclosures, the Federal Reserve's recent decision to engage in some quantitative easing, rising gas prices, and our latest messy foreign entanglement.

I'm generally as skeptical as anyone of the media's ability (or willingness) to cover the important stuff, but I'm even more skeptical of Sarah Palin's ability (or willingness) to realistically characterize the extent to which everyone's out to get her, so I conducted a highly unscientific study.[3] I did some Google News searches, restricted to March 19 through March 24—after Maher's juvenile name-calling and before Palin posted her thoughts on Facebook—and got the following results:

Search Term Hits
"United States" "national debt" 646
"United States" energy 32,200
"Barack Obama" energy 10,500
"United States" deficit 4,230
"United States" unemployment 5,330
"United States" foreclosures 1,080
"Federal Reserve" "quantitative easing" 1,040
gas price "per gallon" 5,360
"United States" Libya 27,900
"Barack Obama" Libya 26,600
"Sarah Palin" "Bill Maher" 16

The table proves nothing, except that I've learned how to tinker with column width and text alignment within cells, but I think it does create a rebuttable presumption that the media is not neglecting the real issues to talk about Sarah Palin. The media can and does cover both, and then some, because the media is an expansive, nebulous entity. So expansive and nebulous, in fact, that it should probably be referred to instead as "The Media," with finger quotes and a half-ominous, half-sarcastic tone.

More importantly—and I've touched on this a few times already, but it can't be emphasized enough—Sarah Palin is part of the media. I have a pretty negative opinion of her as a politician, but I do agree that her views are sometimes mischaracterized. Why? Because when she feels her views have been mischaracterized, I hear about it through the media. And when she feels an issue is being neglected, she talks about it through the media. So excuse me if I don't have much sympathy for Sarah Palin here. My sympathies are with the person whose voice is being legitimately suppressed.

Who is that person? I have no idea. That's the point.

1. "First Amendment" is very high on my list of terms that create a rebuttable presumption that the speaker doesn't know what they're talking about. Also on the list: racism, socialism, political correctness, anchor baby, hipster, and rebuttable presumption.
2. I was negative-three years old when Reagan was first elected, and not quite one when he was re-elected, and even I know his opponents were hardly given a free pass by the media. Carter, of course, had spent four years making a mess of everything, and Mondale famously promised to raise taxes, which I'm sure wasn't mischaracterized or blown out of proportion at all.
    As for Lincoln, the only reason he was even mentioned is that he was a Republican 150 damn years ago, when the Republican Party stood for sweeping societal change and federal usurpation of states' rights.
3. Alas, data gleaned from a Google search is far from reliable, considering Google's secrecy regarding their methodology, and the fact that hit counts often behave in seemingly illogical ways (decreasing when the date range is broadened, increasing when the range is narrowed, changing when search terms are reordered, etc.).
    But I'm pretty sure it's still more scientific than Palin's methodology, which is to simply assume there's a perfect overlap between your political agenda and reality.