February 28, 2005

Spider-man's greatest bible stories!

Just go. Trust me.

The Christmas Season Starts Early This Year

If any of you are looking for an excellent gift for me, this tie will do.

Now On Ebay, The Stick From Sean Penn's Ass

Welcome to the Style section of Headpiece for the Staff of Ra, I'll be your Cruise Director, Ben.

So I got roped into watching the Academy Awards last night, and other than the fact that the thing's a god damn four hours, I thought it went pretty well. Chris Rock got a couple gasps from me for some particularly catty moments, which I suppose it good as opposed to being bored off my ass, which is sort of the standard. Sean Penn needs some serious hugs to call the fuck down. I thought they did a good job of spreading the awards around a bit rather than piling them all on one film as they usually do, but Hotel Rwanda seems to have been snubbed a bit.

And what the fuck was Laura Linny thinking with that hair?! Hellooooooo!

Breaking: Iraq has been completely pacified

Or not. Not at fucking all.

February 27, 2005


Five years after it was clearly necessary, and five-and-a-half after it could've made a huge difference, Sens. Clinton and Boxer, along with a Rep. from Ohio, have proposed election reform. Based on the press release quoted at that link, the reform includes making election day a national holiday, voter-verified paper ballots for electronic voting machines (which will be considered their official ballot), and same-day voter registration.

And, of course, since accurate vote counts are a partisan issue, we should not be surprised when this goes down in flames.

February 26, 2005


Perhaps you wonder why I refuse to shop at Wal*Mart. Well, besides the fact that they're involved in a huge class-action lawsuit against all their female employees for systematic discrimination, here's some
info about labour conditions at Wal*Mart:
- Average pay of a sales clerk is $8.50 an hour. This works out to be $1,000 below the government's definition of the poverty level for a family of three if this is the only form of income.
- Wal*Mart employs so many people at these wages that other retailers are forced to cut paycheques to be competitive.
- Wal*Mart considers 'full-time' to be 34, not 40, hours a week. True, this means someone who works 36 hours a week is eligible to buy health insurance -- but it also means they're even less likely to be able to afford it.
- By one reckoning, the CEO of Wal*Mart receives 897 times the pay of the average sales clerk.

February 25, 2005

Rings of Rexnor!

Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich has gone gold. Due in stores 8 March. This makes me jump up and down in one place.

Though it makes me wonder how I'm going to keep up with my other superhero game ...

You Know What Would Make Hockey More Exciting? Games Played.

On the heels of a cancelled season the NHL is thinking of ways make the game more exciting for spectators when the players and owners can finally resolve their petty bickering. In a country whose "national pasttime" is as boring as freaking baseball I've never been able to understand why people can't get behind a game as fast paced as hockey. Sure, there's not a ton of scoring, but why is that the ultimate arbiter of excitment? Do basketball fans thrill over every lay in? Hell no! According to this article the average goals per game is down from 7 to 5, which really doesn't strike me as a huge change. My real problem is that it seems like this is being viewed as an either/or situation. I just wish someone could come up with a way to alter the rules that wouldn't favor either offensive or defensive play. My team, the Devils, are a great defensive team, or at least they have been in years past, and I'd hate to see that style of play disappear completely, even if it would be nice if other teams could go for a more open style of play.


Another end of the week, another Photoshop Phriday and all the wry wit you wait all week for.

Spoiler Alert!

Calling all nerds! Here are some pics from the next/last Star Wars movie. Yeah yeah yeah, I got excited for both of the previous two film and they turned out to be less than great, but *this* one looks BITCHIN'!

The Erotic Applications Are Endless

Hey, long time no see! Over at Evil Avatar I ran across a link to a video and an article about supposedly "total immersion" technology which allows 3D objects to interact with real life objects. One thing to keep in mind while you're watching the video is that these are *not* holograms and you can't see them just floating in the air, you have to see them on a moniter or something. In application however, you could perhaps have some sort of headgear or other peripheral that would make it seem as if the objects were in front of you. We'll see, at this point it seems like it's still very much in the lab.

A shoe post


The politically incorrect parts probably have to do with the fact that a woman in high heels is showing her availability for sex in two ways: first, her pelvis is tilted to receive rear-entry and second, she is clearly unable to run away. Or so I imagine. Though high heels are also excellent weapons of self-defense, especially if used against the eyes of the attacker. Just kidding, just kidding! Don't quote me on any of this and don't try any of this at home.

Whoops! Sorry, E, too late now.

Heels are also terrible for your feet, knees, legs, and back. One of my grandmothers worked as a cocktail waitress for many years, wearing high heels for 40 hours a week. She's had foot surgery at least half a dozen times, probably closer to a dozen times, and, while she can still walk and go up and down stairs, she's considered legally handicapped, with wheelchairs at the airport and a parking placard.

Oh, and another story, this one about one of my step-sisters. A couple years back, Rachel begged and begged for a particular pair of high heels for months. Finally her mom relented. Rach will wear them for 5-10 minutes at a time, then have to take them off or sit down because they're so uncomfortable.

"But they're fun!" "But they're cute!" "But they're sexy!" Uhhh, yeah, fine whatever.

February 23, 2005

Do I have an inner whore?

It's illegal to sell sex toys in Alabama. Today the SC said they won't consider the constitutionality of this law.

Bitch. Ph.D explains the narrative underlying why "siding with the sex toy merchants could open the door to the legalization of behavior such as prostitution":

Ah yes, we all know this story. A young girl, fresh and innocent, purchases her first vibrator. She becomes addicted to sexual pleasure, masturbating constantly, and neglecting her studies and her family duties. Her hair becomes greasy and unkempt, and her eyes unfocused, and she begins to steal money to purchase more vibes. Anything, anything! to feed her habit. Next thing you know, she's lost touch with all that is Good and Holy and is prostituting herself on the street, mere pennies for a blow job, anything to earn money towards a rabbit vibe. By the end of the novel, there she is, poor, ruined thing, standing on a street corner in the freezing rain, fingering herself right out there in public in front of god and everyone without even realizing what she's doing, all sense of shame lost in her addiction, muttering "suck your cock?" to every passing car.

Happens all the time. Only by outlawing sex toys can we protect women from their inner whores. Don't give me that "if you outlaw sex toys, only outlaws will own sex toys" crap, or the "they'll just masturbate with cucumbers or electric toothbrushes" argument. It's a slippery slope, and we must stop masturbation here and now or we'll descend into a nightmare world of humping and groaning and civilization, as we know it, will be doomed.


Give me reasons

I agree with Jesse, although permit me to express my reaction to 'framing' in the terminology of a philosopher:

Framing is sophistry. Sophistry is the sort of thing ad executives, the worst sort of lawyers, and patronizing political hacks do: wrap up whatever they're hocking (usually crap) in a bright shiny bow so they can force it down your throat before you even think to ask whether it's what you really want. Okay, got my metaphor's a little mixed, but I think you get the idea.

The term 'sophistry' comes from the ancient Athenian school of rhetoric, the sophists. If you were a politician or other prominent Athenian, you would go to their school and they would teach you how to impress people with your fancy vocabulary and compelling and vacuous arguments. Think of a modern day forensics club. Or trashy law school. Or a marketing degree. The sophists were the rivals of the great Athenian philosophers, who prized not popularity or political success but truth and virtue.

The thing that pisses me off so much about the conservative movement in this country is not that I find their positions short-sighted and bigoted. If that were all, presumably we could come together in various fora, share our points of view and possibly even come up with new policies all could agree as beneficial. No, the thing that really pisses me off is that every single one of these people is engaged in pure sophistry to defend these crappy ideas and avoid engaging their ideological opponents in genuine debate.

Should the Democratic party follow suit and become such masters of framing that Karl Rove breaks down and cries at it all, that is the day it will truly have lost what little appeal it still has for me at this point. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian communist, articulated a revolutionary strategy very much like framing. But Gramsci said this was not a matter of propaganda but of education, a means of breaking the workers out of their false capitalist consciousness. Communism itself was still a philosophical position to be defended and justified.

Contemporary progressivism, in order to truly be democratic, must walk a fine line between energetic advocacy and defense of its positions, and sinking into the sophistic slime the conservative movement wallows in.

Lean on me

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

February 18, 2005

Larry Summers: Womens are just dumberer!

Via Armando at Kos, I see that the Office of the President of Harvard University has released a transcript of his 'polemical' comments last month. (You should know by now that this is going to be long.) He talks about three reasons why women are underrepresented in academia and industry, particularly in science and engineering, in what he believes to be descending order of influence (that is, (2) plays a bigger role than (3), and (1) plays a bigger role than either of them):
  1. Women are (for whatever reason) less likely than men to choose the demanding career of an academic or scientist.
    Comment: This factor cannot be isolated from the broader cultural standards Summers discusses in (3). Even among middle-class liberal folks striving for gender equity in their households, there is strong anecodtal and sociological evidence that women tend to spend much, much more of their time cleaning, cooking, and caring for children than their male partners do. This, in my opinion, clearly does not reflect some kind of innate mothering instinct, but instead the way men and boys are raised: wives end up cleaning, cooking and taking care of their children because husbands don't pull their own weight around the house. Meanwhile, there's the double standard that a dirty house with crappy food and neglected children reflects negatively on the wife, not the husband, independently of how much they work outside the home. Given this cultural situation, it's entirely rational for women to forgo a career that involves 40 years of 80-hour weeks.

    On the other hand, I believe we are rapidly approaching gender equity among physicians, and female lawyers also seem to be quite common, and these fields are just as demanding as academia. This doesn't negate my point in the last paragraph so much as indicate that the situation is much more complicated than Summers seems to think.

  2. The innatist thesis:

    The second thing that I think one has to recognize is present is what I would call the combination of, and here, I'm focusing on something that would seek to answer the question of why is the pattern different in science and engineering, and why is the representation even lower and more problematic in science and engineering than it is in other fields. And here, you can get a fair distance, it seems to me, looking at a relatively simple hypothesis. It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined.

    [This is followed by a long and obscure statistical argument, which I've summarized in the header for this point. Then he gives some asinine anecodtal evidence about his daughters calling toy trucks 'daddy truck' and 'baby truck' and how people fell into traditional gender roles in experimental communes shortly in Israel. Then he explains why he thinks all the discredited research into evolutionary psychology has shown there are innate differences:] When there were no girls majoring in chemistry, when there were no girls majoring in biology, it was much easier to blame parental socialization. Then, as we are increasingly finding today, the problem is what's happening when people are twenty, or when people are twenty-five, in terms of their patterns, with which they drop out. Again, to the extent it can be addressed, it's a terrific thing to address.

    Comment: Again, there is no way to separate this factor from the simple cultural issues in (3). Indeed, the fact that women succeed as science and engineering majors in college, ie, do well with the math and science itself, and only fail to develop careers in their field after graduation, ie, once they have to deal with the scientific and engineering establishment, seems to me to clearly support the case that there is discrimination against women as professional scientists and engineers, and undermine the innatist argument.

    He finishes up this point with a pathetic qualifier, but the damage has already been done. I have to agree with Armando over at Kos, the guy is either an idiot or a misogynist or both.

  3. Women are discriminated against both during the hiring process and in the workplace.
    Comment: So long as this is expanded to include other, more general cultural and sociological factors, I agree that this is a major problem to be addressed. However, as I've said above, I do not believe there is any justification for sharply separating this point from the other two: discrimination and double standards put differential pressures on men and women, allowing the former the luxury of dedicating themselves to their careers in ways the former cannot, which both (groundlessly) lead to beliefs in innate differences in ability.

It should be clear by now my fundamental critique of Summers' deeply ignorant and offensive argument: the three factors he identifies cannot be sharply delineated on an empirical level. Cultural factors are simply too pervasive to conclude that women and men have inherently different preferences and abilities. Which is what feminists have maintained for about sixty years now.

Edit: Fixed some odd spacing. There's a shorter summary of his inanity here, link via Atrios.

February 17, 2005

My paper is good because I spellchecked TWICE

Echidne has a few choice quotations from David Horowitz' Giant Index of The Evils of Liberal Professors.

"This complaint applies to the discriminating nature of grading of my English teacher…On the last one, I wrote about how family values in the books weve read aren't good. I know the paper was pretty much great because I spell checked it and proofred it twice. I got an D- just because the professor hates families and thinks its okay to be gay." [sic] - Ohio State, English, 2/9/05

"We were then required to watch an immoral Seinfeld episode dealing with masturbation, an exercise with little sociological value. She then gave a lecture on 'moral relativity,' which she defined very closely with 'cultural relativism.'" - St. Louis University, Sociology, 2/13/05

"Talked about flags as symbols of states and argued that new Iraqi flag was not a result of a transparent and fair process…Claimed AS FACT that other Arab societies had red, green and black in their flags…" - St. Michael's College, Human Geography, 4/30/04

Perusing the list Atrios generated, most of the complaints seem to be along the lines of 'the professor expressed an anti-Republican opinion in class!' or 'we did not read any books expressing a conservative point of view!'.

Here's the thing: we're working off the empirically justified assumption that most of the people around us are just as liberal as we are. Should we make jokes and bitch about how we don't like or understand Republican voters? Ehh, probably not. But we're people -- we slip up, and we're willing to apologize when we see we've genuinely hurt someone.

At the same time, it's our job to try to get you guys to learn the ideas of the field of our specialty. This is because we've studied it intensely for years or even decades; possibly even longer than you've been alive. We're simply more qualified to write the syllabus and lecture than you are. You've got to trust us when we tell you that Antonio Gramsci (communist) is more respected among political scientists than Ann Coulter, and his ideas and arguments are more worthwhile to examine than hers. But of course you write your own term paper: if you want to cite Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand, or David Horowitz (post-him being a communist, of course) in your paper, and your paper actually uses these writers to address the issues brought up in class in a relevant and coherent fashion, you will deserve and should receive a good grade.

On the other hand, if your paper on Margaret Sanger and her stance on abortion can be summarized as 'Abortion is murder! James Dobson and Ann Coulter both say so!' (only with 'murder' and 'is' misspelled), you will have earned your F by failing to address the assigned topic.

February 11, 2005

The idea of accountability

Excellent post on the (non)justifiability of torture over at Kos. It got me thinking a bit about Bush's current defense of his policies: his administration had an 'accountability moment' -- the election -- and since the American people apparently approved of his policies, they are now exempt from attributions of blame for their actions prior to the election. Hence, it seems to go, because a slight majority of Americans voted for Bush and his administration, they are not morally responsible for Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, even if they approved of those policies themselves.

This strikes me as completely bizarre in two ways, both of which tie into Bush's rhetoric of moral absolutes. First, it is an explicit argument that one's moral accountability for one's actions can be negated by events after the action in question. Granted, I'm not an ethicist, but the idea of ex post facto exculpatory circumstances strikes me as ludicrous (and, in a legislative setting, in violation of the Constitution): you can't justify stealing a loaf of bread because two days later your boss unexpectedly fired you. There is a legal notion of a statute of limitations: a time limit after which one cannot be prosecuted for a crime; but such a statute must still be in place prior to the crime's committal, and I suspect this is largely pragmatically rather than ethically grounded. By contrast, the background for Bush's moral absolutism is a fundamentalist Christian theology of hellfire and damnation, in which humans are to be divinely judged for all their sins and sentenced to eternal punishment.

The second bizarre contrast is with the explicit, and quite radical, moral relativism of the argument: the citizenry must be actively and self-consciously responsible for determining who may and may not be held morally accountable for their actions. It is not that mere social conventions, out of anyone's real control, have just happened to lead to Bush's moral exemption; rather, the people themselves have granted him this status through their deliberate choice. Most pointedly, it is not God who has determined whether or not to hold these men and women responsible.

All of this is driven home by the fact that this extreme moral relativism is used to justify the methods of prosecution of the war on terror[ism] (the Jus in Bello), while the necessity of its prosecution (the Jus ad Bellum)is justified (by Bush) with moral absolutist rhetoric. (cf. Wikipedia's entry on Just War)

February 10, 2005

The Bush Administration: Incompetastic (but not politically)!

So it turns out that

In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.

And not only that, but also

The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.

Five months. That would be October. That would be right before the election. That would be right right before the election in which several people I know voted for Bush because they thought he would do better at keeping us safe from terrorists.

Thanks, guys!

February 09, 2005

Cavalcade of evolutionary psychology continues!

Over at Echidne. I've never liked Steven Pinker, ever since I read some of his stuff in a class I took back in college on evolution. Stephen Jay Gould referred to the work of evolutionary psychologists as 'Just So stories', and the 'research' these people turn out really is pretty craptacular. Steven Pinker is somewhat better than a lot of these lunatics -- but that's not saying much.

Storm on the horizon

Two excellent pieces on the contemporary abortion-rights movement over at Salon.

But, Kissling said, 'I think it's pretty sad if the reality of pro-choice thought is that a discussion of morality leads to an antiabortion position.' Kissling has always trod the delicate line between her pro-choice compatriots and her Catholic belief. The Roman Catholic hierarchy remains the mortal enemy of reproductive freedom -- be it abortion or birth control. 'I've thought about the morality of this ad nauseam for 35 years and come to the conclusion that making the choice [to have an abortion] can be a profoundly morally correct decision,' said Kissling. 'It can be morally incorrect too, but so can having a baby.'

Questions of legal rights ultimately (or at least should ... ) reduce to moral questions. The anti-choice movement has been slowly but steadily gaining ground for the past twenty years because of the failure of pro-choice advocates to maintain their core position: there is nothing immoral about abortion, and reproductive autonomy in general. It is complicated and fraught with emotion, as most things involving people are, but it is not immoral. What is immoral is the anti-choice position, which demeans women, pregnancy, children, and the conditions in which people actually live in favour of pursuing a fiction of motherhood as the raison d'etre of women.

However, the reader should note that the rejection of this fiction is not the rejection of motherhood: indeed, it is only once one recognizes the autonomy of a woman's choice whether to be a mother or not that one can truly appreciate motherhood. In a way, the fiction that women are 'meant' to be mothers undermines the very notion that it is meant to glorify, reducing it to a necessity like eating or breathing rather than making the hard choice to undertake a difficult and noble project. The only true parent is someone who has chosen to be a parent.

Both of the Salon articles are inspired from this essay.

February 05, 2005

Budgetary Fun


Bush wants to cut student loan program

Bush to seek $419.3 billion for defense

The Best Thing Ever

Yet another entry in "The Best Thing Ever" competition making a run at the title. Watch this and you will be amazed and hilarified.

Thanks to Anne for sending me the link!

February 03, 2005

The evolution of the ass

Echidne has hilarious parody of the sort of 'reasoning' prevalent in evolutionary psychology. Go read her for the full context.

Maybe humans inherit big buttocks from their fathers, too? But why did this gene (if it exists in humans) survive? Here's where the scientific evolutionary psychology comes to my aid. The rules are something like this: Figure out how something that appears today might have once been useful, then explain its prevalence by the fact that it was once useful. It's a neat method, as lots of time is being saved by not having to go out to gather evidence or set up laboratory experiments, and it has the additional advantage (to me, at least) that nobody can prove my theory wrong. So here's my theory entitled 'How Buttocks Came to Be'.

A long time ago and far away lived a tribe of humans. Some of them were slender as a reed, and where we have buttocks they only had a small tight knot. Others had very large buttocks dragging behind them on the ground as they walked. Yet others were just right, not too slim and not too fat. Like we are.

Once a year the tribe would gather together for a mating ceremony in which all the men would fight each other for the right to inseminate all the females. (The females, as is common in evolutionary psychology in general, are going to be ignored from now on.) The mating ceremony took three days: On the first day all men would sit in a circle until they couldn't take it anymore. All those no longer sitting at sunset were discontinued. On the second day all remaining men would run around in a circle, nonstop, until the sun set. The fastest runner at this time would be declared the winner of the insemination ceremonies. The third day was spent on insemination.

Well, dear reader, you can guess what happened. None of the stick-figurelike knot guys could sit on the ground all day. They developed terrible sitting sores and despite firm determination and great stamina eventually had to admit defeat and get up just to get the blood moving again.

The really big-butted guys had a wonderful time with the first day's tournament. They could have easily sat for another week. But the next day they had to run and run, and as they ran their buttocks dragged behind, hit rocks and sticks and just hurt. Then they started bleeding. Besides, it's hard to run fast with something like that. However, valiant they were, these men, too, were disqualified. Only the fastest of the just-right guys got to pass his genes on.

And that's how buttocks came to be.

We must destroy this safety net in order to save it

There's lots of stuff all over the blogosphere today about the unveiled Social Security plot plan; I'm not going to bother with the digest, you're all big girls and boys. Atrios, though, has what I consider the definitive smack-down of this nefarious scheme dumbass plan.

I was born in 1980; many of you were born right around that time as well. According to the lovely chart the CBO has provided for us, I am scheduled to receive $20.5k (in 2004 dollars) the first year I collect social security. Not great, of course, but better than nothing. And significantly better than the $13k total (social security + kinda-private account) I can expect from the Republican plan.

'But wait, Mister Smarty-pants Liberal Commie Fascist Pinko!' you might be saying, 'Dear Leader told us Social Security's going to be bankrupt, and you won't get that $20.5k anyways; $13.1k isn't great, that's true, but it's better than nothing!' That's where we look at the third column of the CBO chart: payable benefits. Assuming we don't do what we've done in the past and tweak the system to keep it running, I can still get $19.7k my first year on social security. That's roughly half as much again as what quasi-privatization is going to give me! And the younger you are, the more the system is going to screw you!

And that's not all! Not only will paid benefits be significantly smaller, but this system will cost a shitload more than the current one. Two reasons: transition and administration costs. This is a windfall of epic proportions for the private brokerages who will manage your semi-private account. Or it would be if the real goal of this plan wasn't to make the Social Security system so cumbersome and facile that it would be easier just to scrap it twenty years down the line. 'Starving the beast' was the way Milton Friedman, the free market messiah most of these supposedly pious Christians truly worship, put it.