Archive for the 'sarcasm' Category


I guess I should write something about that election

Today is “funny stories about Canadians” day, I guess.

Well teenagers, it’s been four years, time to line up again.

Ballot measures look much more encouraging this time around.  Civil rights look to prevail in ME, MD, MN, and probably WA.  As I write this Colorado’s shitting on the drug war 53 to 47.

On the way home I stopped at the liquor store to stock up on bourbon, for reasons which I really hope I don’t need to explain to you on election night.  This’d be about 6pm PST.  The counter clerk was shaking like a cat shitting a cactus, eyes glued to the flatscreen TV showing Romney up, I dunno, 104 to 30 in electoral votes.  Yes, this is what happens when Georgia and Texas report before New York and California.  I don’t think she could’ve gotten any more agitated if I’d told her that a swarm of flesh-eating zombie wasps had just infested the building.

This leads me to compare Presidential elections — at least when watched by Canadians — to NASCAR.  You get a bunch of people who write it off as “boring politicky shit” and a core of fascinated fans who’re mesmerized by the spectacle of cars flying past each other and zooming around corners in huge packs.  Then you get joy-killing nerds like me, who point out that the one guy only took two tires last pit stop and is getting just a little bit too loose exiting the corners, and thirty laps later when they call California for Obama and you go OH WOW DID YOU SEE THAT HE WENT RIGHT PAST THE OTHER GUY we say “Yeah, toldjaso, now what’s happening in Ohio?  He’s making his tires last?  He oughta be able to leapfrog NC in the pits, take fuel only, and get right back up to the front on the last stint”.  And then you’re all like “It’s no fun when they gain places in the pits, you’re such a nerd, don’t you want to watch something exciting?” and I’m like “learn2spreadsheet, noob, now let’s look at the Senate races.”

(Insert “NASCAR’s boring, they only turn left” political joke here, you clever reader you.)

Finally, a number of my friends who’re too sensible to follow politics (let alone foreign politics) for more than five minutes a year have approached me wondering why anyone beyond a raving psychopath would even consider voting for a hate-filled fucked up bag of evil like Romney.  I ask them what Romney’s done to out himself as a hate-filled fucked up bag of evil, and they just kind of sputter until one of us wanders off.  Really, guys?  We had a chance to see Romney contrasted against some genuinely unpleasant people, like Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and it turns out he’s about as bland as a sawdust milkshake.  If he’s in the “hate-filled fucked up bags of evil” big leagues, it’s only because he’s selling peanuts in the stands.  Not coincidentally, he’s also leading in the popular vote as I write this, and doing better county by county than McCain could ever have dreamed of doing.

After Akin and Mourdock, I rather suspect that the next Republican president will become so by taking a cue from Stephen Harper and snapping an Elastrator around the neck of every GOPper who looks like he might maybe utter the word “rape” or even “abortion”, and if the ballot measures keep going the way they are now s/h/it might do the same for anyone who looks like agitating about teh ghey.

Now in an entirely unexpected turn of events, my glass of Wild Turkey has become more interesting than this fucking election.  Try to shut up for three and a half  years, will you?


A pair of tidbits on public transit

Because fuck my commute right in its furry little ear.


Rush-hour public transit is a special hell for introverts because it puts us unavoidably in close contact with other Hated Fellow Bipeds.  Some of those fellow travellers place a quite unreasonable emphasis upon “being sociable” or “friendliness”, which brings with it the need for those of us who don’t want to help you talk about your day to post the nonverbal equivalent of “please die in a crotch fire” without being so offensive as to draw even more attention.  Yale University sociologist Esther Kim actually managed to get published for documenting said FOAD signals:

Kim systematized the unspoken rules into a list of strategies commonly used to keep a free seat:

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Lean against the window and stretch out your legs.
  • Sit on the aisle seat and listen to music to pretend not to hear people asking for the window seat.
  • Place a large bag or multiple items in the empty seat to make it time-consuming to move.
  • Look out the window with a blank stare to appear crazy.
  • Pretend to be asleep.
  • Put your coat on the seat to make it appear already taken.
  • If all else fails, lie: Say the seat has been taken by someone else.

Good thing someone published that list in a high-impact factor journal or I would never have guessed that those tactics weren’t utterly sincere.

But “keep a free seat” isn’t the only motivation driving transit asshattery, and if you’ve ever actually commuted by bus you can probably guess what comes next:

The game changed, however, when drivers announced a bus would be full. Riders just wanted to avoid the “crazy” person and sit next to a “normal” person.

Kim found that race, class and gender weren’t key concerns when commuters realized someone had to sit next them. They were primarily concerned with maintaining their own safety.

Shockingly, people really don’t want to get assaulted.  Yeah, I’m surprised too.  This is my surprised face.

“Ultimately this nonsocial behavior is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time,” Kim said in the release. “Yet this deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces.”

Surprised.  Face.


We go from explaining asshattery on behalf of bus riders to explaining asshattery on behalf of bus-system-running freeriders.  Careful readers will recall Frances Woolley’s excellent piece on the conflicting goals of public transit systems: Getting poor people to work cheaply; getting rich people to work with a (we hope) reduced carbon footprint; and providing good jobs for unionized employees.  I submit that many — most? — public transit decisions are being made for a fourth reason: Accruing status to the system’s directors.

For example, greater Vancouver’s transit administration is running dangerously low on funds, to the point where it’s dipping into its cash reserves (bloated by some admirably canny real-estate deals during the recent boom) to cover operating expenses.  It has consequently cancelled a number of planned improvements and expansions to its commuter bus routes.  The decades-old Evergreen Line project, however, is pressing forward regardless — a stunning piece of triumphalism which just happens to parallel a major bus route in subsuburban Vancouver.  Were this about moving more people from Point A to Point B, it would surely suffice to (say) double the number of buses on that route, at lower cost and with greater flexibility.  This isn’t about making people’s commutes easier, though: it’s about self-satisfied triumphalism rising on brutalist concrete columns above the stuck-in-traffic masses.  Who cares if it bankrupts Translink?  They can just blame the provincial and municipal governments for not wanting to raise taxes in an election year.



All linky, no thinky: Special edition on Reason magazine

So far, blogging seems to be the biggest casualty of my new job.  In any case I’ve accumulated a ton of open tabs, and rather than try to string them together into an intelligible post I’m just going to vomit them forth into WordPress, with a bit of snark and little else in the way of added value.  This one’s all from Reason‘s Hit & Run blog.


First we have a lulzily indignant paean to category error:

(h/t Reason, ofc.)

The author of this ironically sincere piece — we’re well into the realm of metacommentary here — is up in arms over the fact that some of her friends might be conservatives (or libertarians; she’s a bit confused on the distinction).  Brian Doherty has a lot to say, and most if it is witty and incisive and includes anecdotes like this:

And I distinctly remember a marketing person at ZDNet, who was trying to organize a debate over Internet regulation, screaming in frustration across the office, “Goddamnit. Is anybody here NOT a libertarian?”

But what I get most strongly out of the Phoenix piece, which Doherty doesn’t mention, is that its author is mostly just frustrated with the realization that libertarians — and even conservatives — are people too, not just abstract and easily-despised Others.  They might even be people with whom she’s friends — or worse, people who buy the same clothes she does.  How horrifying!

(Full disclosure: I’m a vociferous anarchocapitalist and I wear Naked & Famous jeans to work.  Finding hipster jeans that will accommodate legs with muscle on them is a bit of a challenge; fortunately, raw denim stretches.)


I hear someone recently gave a speech that sounded a bit like this:

If you have a mosque in Tennessee, somebody along the line gave you a hard time until you paid them off. There was a xenophobic zoning official somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to swim in an ocean of paperwork. Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and used that investment to stonewall you. If you’ve got a mosque — you didn’t build that. Somebody else could have made that happen, but didn’t.

I might’ve gotten a few of the words mixed up, but the intent’s basically there, right?  Government’s inextricably entwined in major struggles and accomplishments, invested in every step of the way — including the three steps back after two steps forward.  If government wants to step up and take credit for the successes of new businesses great and small, it’s also going to have to step up and take the blame for xenophobic disgraces like this one:


Next we discover that Jesse Walker — and Alex Pareene — dislike Aaron Sorkin as much as I do:


He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic “everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid” attitude of the contemporary progressive movement.

Bang.  On.  (There’s more.  Click through and RTWT.)

Sorkin’s worship of the Great Man theory reminds me of the sort of person who admires Robespierre and Stalin — but, carefully, only in the abstract, because those purges are kind of awkward.


You know those late-’80s dystopias in which prisoners are subjected to horrible experimental medical experiments?  (Okay, okay, this theme far predates the ’80s but I’m thinking of Skinny Puppy albums.)  Well, imagine a world in which we replace the destitute and disadvantaged with the extremely rich.  After all, those plutocratic fuckers need to “pay their fair share”, right?  Wouldn’t it be great if they helped advance the cause of medical science and maybe scouted out some horrifying side effects the way that douchenozzle in the red Camaro scouts out traffic cops?  Why, progressives would be ecstatic — and not because they’re at all resentful of the successes of others, no sir, it’s just because they only hear noises that might save babies.

Spoiler warning: We actually live in that world.  And of course bioethicists are complaining.

Naturally.  Someone comes up with a new cancer treatment, and the first thing a bioethicist says is “That’s horrible!”


Turns out that Jimmy Carter is racist.


Finally, you know how people are constantly talking about Canada and Sweden as if they’re basically the Soviet Union with the hammers and sickles filed off (and wonderfully successful, therefore socialism works)?  Yeah, not so much.  Sweden’s been massively privatizing and deregulating its public sector, and Canada’s been deficit-hawkish and growth-focused for quite some time now.  Great comparison, bass-ackwards conclusion.


Maybe this weekend I’ll clear up the tagged articles from my economics RSS feed.


Standing athwart the tide of history, yelling…

…”What’s goin’ on?  Who took my glasses?  You damn kids and your rock ‘n’ roll….”

Andrew Sullivan likes to think of himself as an Oakeshottian conservative, and for all I know about Oakeshott he actually is.  (I’ll perhaps read up on the classical conservatives once I’ve finished Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty.  Name: dropped.)  Today he links to a pair of stories which reveal the crudeness of conservatism’s change-panic:

Notably, he links to Hanna Miet:

Cell phone reception was bad enough, but this is the last straw. We are being denied the basic liberty to pretend we did not receive an email on off-hours. We have lost the freedom to guzzle coffee, scan the tabloids and have wordless existential meltdowns as we travel to the places where we pretend to be competent worker bees. The subway was for dreamers, drunks, and the halfway-caffeinated masses. The subway was our dirty, mobile, oyster. Now, the world is our office.

A few things:

– Ten-year-old technology, let me show you it.  That genie left its bottle a long time ago.  I’m not surprised that there are people out there, pretending to be functional adults, who’re ignorant of the smartphone phenomenon; I am exasperated that The Atlantic is letting them pretend to be opinion journalists and probably paying them a salary.  New Media is supposed to be better than that.

– “We are being denied the basic liberty to pretend we did not receive an email on off-hours.  We have lost the freedom to guzzle coffee, scan the tabloids, and &c.”  The positive formulation of liberties just jumped a shark on waterskis that was itself jumping a shark.  Done.

– Here’s a thought, cupcake: If you don’t want to read email on the subway, leave your fucking laptop at home.  Are you really so dain-bramaged by tertiary-stage dumbworm infestation that you’ve forgotten the equivocation skills your public-school teachers tried so hard to impart?  “Gee, sorry boss, I left my homework netbook at home because it’s awfully heavy in my bag and my back’s really starting to hurt when I lug it around all the time.  Do you think that would be covered by worker’s comp?”

– I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that anyone so passive-aggressive as to whinge about losing an opportunity to pretend not to have email access is constitutionally incapable of setting professional boundaries.  For the rest of us, may I suggest not checking work email outside of work?

– Seriously, what the fuck.



Things are tough all over

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Western multinational with dominant market position invades small south-east asian community and destroys quaint local industry (with strong cultural-historical ties) with predatory pricing.

Nike?  Nope.

Wal*Mart?  Nuh-uh.

Jesus.  YA RLY.

At upwards of US$500, the cost of slaughtering a buffalo to revive a relative condemned to ill-health by the spirits has pushed the Jarai indigenous minority residents of Somkul village in Ratanakkiri to a more affordable religious option: Christianity.

In the village in O’Yadav district’s Som Thom commune, about 80 per cent of the community have given up on spirits and ghosts in favour of Sunday sermons and modern medicine.

Sev Chel, 38, said she made the switch because when she used to get sick, it could cost her hundreds of dollars to appease the gods with a sacrificial package that might include a cow or buffalo, a chicken, bananas, incense and rice wine.

“So if I sold that buffalo and took the money to pay for medicine, it is about 30,000 riel to 40,000 riel [for them to] get better, so we are strong believers in Jesus,” she said. “If I did not believe in Jesus, maybe at this time I would still be poor and not know anything besides my community.”

A small wooden church has emerged in Somkul commune where the word of Jesus Christ, or “Yesu Yang” to the Jarai, is preached instead of the mixture of animism and Theravada Buddhism they have traditionally followed.

Kralan Don, 60, said he and the four other members of his family began attending the church about five years ago because of their poor standard of living.

“We believe in Christianity because we are poor; we don’t have money to buy buffaloes, chickens and pigs to pray for the spirits of the god of land or the god of water when those gods make us get sick,” he said.

Market competition wins again.


All linky, no thinky

Here’s Mike Boyle getting contemplative about the mechanics of deadlifting vs. squatting:

“It’s obvious”, right?  Go read.


And here’s Warren over at Coyote Blog, pointing out some rather shocking innumeracy from (who else?) Kevin Drum:

Warren spotlights this claim from Drum:

These two things together reminded me about an energy factoid that’s always struck me as slightly odd: virtually every form of energy seems to be almost as efficient as burning oil, but not quite.

For example, on either a power/weight basis or a cost basis, batteries are maybe 2x or 3x bigger and less efficient than an internal combustion engine. Not 50x or 100x. Just barely less efficient. And you see the same thing in electricity generation. Depending on how you do the accounting, nuclear power is maybe about as efficient as an oil-fired plant, or maybe 2x or 3x less efficient. Ditto for solar. And for wind. And geothermal. And tidal power.

I’m just noodling vaguely here. Maybe there’s an obvious thermodynamic explanation that I’m missing. It’s just that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were lots of ways of generating energy that were all over the map efficiency-wise. But why are there lots of ways of generating energy that are all surprisingly similar efficiency-wise? In the great scheme of things, a difference of 2x or 3x is practically invisible.

(Emphasis added.)

I… I just… wow.  Really, Kevin?  Suppose we were to reduce your salary by 50%.  Is that difference of 2x “practically invisible”?  How about we triple your taxes.  “Practically invisible” yet?  Give this one a try: Tonight, go out for a long, leisurely dinner at a nice brewpub, and have four pints of beer.  Tomorrow night, do the same, but have twelve pints.  Tell me if the difference is practically invisible.


While we’re on the subject of Arts majors being idiots, here’s a bit of the usual from the Daily Fail (h/t Jalopnik):

At $150,000, the Ford Mustang certainly doesn’t come in cheap.

The car in question:

That’s a Ford GT, you dumbfucks!  I thought journalism degrees were supposed to teach research skills and the importance of getting a few basic details right.  Quoth Jalopnik:

It’s not just that the DM confused a Ford GT with a Ford Mustang GT500, which is a mistake perhaps a blind person could make if told they’re writing about a fast Ford with racing stripes. It’s that they’re constantly wrong about anything to do with cars.

At least the comments over at the Daily Fail are amusing.


Next, Derek Lowe spotlights an interesting paper on resveratrol:

Yeah, it’s a mouse model paper, but kind of a nifty one.  The researchers in question showed some SIRT1-dependent effects, and some independent effects.

Sinclair’s quoted in this Nature News piece as saying that this reflects the nature of resveratrol as a compound. “Resveratrol is a dirty, dirty molecule, very non-specific”, he says. I think that’s a very fair characterization, which is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t take it myself.

And this being a resveratrol piece, the comments go from zero to stupid in the very first post.

In fact, resveratrol seems to be superior to targeted Sirt1 activators as it improves blood sugar levels and liver health.
Leave it to ‘modern science’ to attempt to disparage a wonderful, multifaceted, Natural molecule.

Capital-N Natural.  Yep.  Just like strychnine.


Finally, Ilya Somin makes a lot of sense on property rights absolutism:

Briefly: In the real world, absolutist moral intuitions are messy.  Click through and RTWT.


Metaphor fail

This headline puts one in the mood for good news:

The story is pretty much what you’d expect from the title — Indian fashionistas are going nuts for Pakistani designers.  That’s a pretty awesome thing — besides the usual story of mutual gains from trade enriching both parties, the fact that these two countries are getting closer through trade lowers the heat on a fairly significant hot spot.

The reporting, however, leaves much to be desired.

A ferocious confrontation between India and its archrival, Pakistan, is under way – although not of the kind you perhaps expect.

This one pits a host of Pakistani fashion designers, armed with heaps of wafer-thin cotton and lace, against the grimly determined middle-class shoppers of the Indian capital.

Early signs are that while Pakistan has the moral victory, the Indian shoppers have succeeded in driving the designers back, behind chairs, tables and signboards to seek refuge from seething crowds demanding … outfits. Oh, and shoes.

That’s right: The metaphor upon which our reporter, one Stephanie Nolen, has seized for commerce between two nuclear powers is war.  In commerce, both sides gain (one perhaps more than the other); in war, both sides lose (one perhaps more than the other).  These two nations have actually fought real wars — you know, the kind where people are killed — on many occasions.  One would think that such eager trade relations between citizens of both countries (this isn’t just a dreary summit where suited ministers shake hands and smile for the cameras) would merit a more optimistic metaphor.

But hey, we’re talking about a journalist here.  War is optimistic — a chance to pose for the cameras in a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket and really add some marketable experience to the old résumé.  All the better if you can invoke war-reporter tropes and not actually have to worry about getting shot, bombed, mortared, incinerated, or otherwise deadified.

“Sure, fine, I suppose it’s newsworthy that two nuclear-armed belligerents who’re squabbling over ownership of a border province and have a history of religiously-motivated warfare are enthusiastically trading with each other and seeing each other as humans with real wants and desires and things of value to offer rather than as The Hated Enemy… but how can we make this story more about me?

There was an air of barely controlled frenzy in the hall on Friday as shoppers and curious onlookers poured through the doors. The crowds were seven people deep around the more popular stands, and there was a heaving throng trying to get into something called the Designers’ Lounge. Your correspondent is unable to tell you what goes on there; the skills acquired in a dozen war zones could not get her through the door.


Malthus is ever with us

Here’s Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute and obviously an impartial observer with no incentive to stoke ecological panic:

Grain yields are beginning to hit a “glass ceiling” in many countries, Brown said, where farmers have already taken advantage of what science has to offer for improving yield. As more and more countries hit an upper limit on productivity, the world grain harvest will begin to plateau, even as demand for food continues to rise, causing a rise in prices.

That’s right: We’re all tapped out for scientific discovery in agriculture.  Science has nothing more to offer farmers who want to improve their crop yields; there will be no more Norman Borlaugs.  Brown has a Master’s degree — in Public Administration, but focus on the “Master’s degree” part — so you know he knows whereof he speaks.  He even appropriates the term “glass ceiling” for what we math nerds would call a ceiling (or, if we’re feeling especially math-nerdy, an asymptote) because, you know, Social Justice and stuff.

Oh yeah, and grain is apparently all that matters when it comes to feeding people.  Consumers couldn’t possibly substitute into other staple foods; that would imply change in response to incentives, which is too complex a thought for even someone with a Master’s in Public Administration to hold in his knowledge-swollen head.

Someone had better tell these bioscientists that they were focusing on the wrong plant.  Or not; after all, we’ve been informed that Science is all out of ideas.  By a very smart bureaucrat.  Maybe they should seek Master’s degrees in Public Administration instead.

Special message to Lester Brown:

It’s high in protein!

anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW