Archive for June, 2011


A Tale of Two Commencement Speeches

Stephen Colbert:

Conan O’Brien:


Some Factual Errors in the Latest “Reason” Attack on the Slate Attack on Libertarianism

Matt Welch over at “Reason” aggregates the supposed factual errors identified by his libertarian friends in the Metcalf critique of libertarianism I posted about two days ago. Worth taking a look, no?


Will Wilkinson, in The Economist, on Metcalf’s claim that Ludvig von Mises and F.A. Hayek were “in with the nutters and the shills,” because “between them, Von Hayek and Von Mises never seem to have held a single academic appointment that didn’t involve a corporate sponsor”:

This attempt to marginalise two great thinkers is as lazy as it is dishonest. A little light googling is enough to establish the basic facts, but it seems Mr Metcalf could not be bothered.

[much evidence cited] [...]

If only a levee separated polite discourse from the sort of ax-grinding indifference to fairness and truth Mr Metcalf displays in his essay.

Note that the “much evidence cited” saccade in Welch’s quote of Wilkinson conveniently lets readers fail to notice that Wilkinson offers no conclusive evidence at all. Instead, he writes sentences like the following:

My understanding is that after Mises fled Nazifying Europe and resettled in America, he was offered a number of academic posts in the interior of the country, but preferred to stay in New York City, where his visiting post at NYU was funded by several businessmen.

This is after he notes:

Mises left Vienna for Geneva in 1934 to accept an academic appointment at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, which was offered to him by William Reppard, the Institute’s co-founder

Which conspicuously fails to actually address the question it claims to of who funded his academic appointment. My “light googling” (to borrow Wilkinson’s words) didn’t turn anything up, and, yes, it’s Metcalf’s responsibility to justify the statement now that it’s been challenged, but this isn’t counterevidence yet.

Turning to Hayek:

As for Hayek, his post at the London School of Economics, from which he famously debated Keynes and cemented his reputation in the world of “polite discourse”, did not involve corporate sponsorship, as far as I know.

As far as you know? Did it, or didn’t it? Will: You promised me disproof from “light googling.” So far I’m getting nothing.

Again: Metcalf — clear this up for us, buddy.

And this pattern goes on. In his final engagement with Mises and Hayek’s academic appointments, no actual disproof is offered of the claim that Hayek’s position at the School of Social Thought was corporate funded:

In any case, if the LSE or the University of Chicago’s Committee for Social Thought survived, like art museums and symphony orchestras, by the good graces of wealthy benefactors

Sounds to me like equivocation if not a straight up granting of Metcalf’s point in this case. Where are “the facts,” Will? Tell me.


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A lost penguin, an open question

A lost penguin

So earlier this year I was treated to all sorts of adorableness when my fiancee introduced me to Lala, the Japanese penguin who likes to shop (for seafood, natch).

Then buzz began for the big screen release of Mr. Popper’s Penguins starring Jim Carrey — which, unfortunately, has a decidedly un-emperor-like score of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes right now.

Finally, just yesterday, I come across a story on MSNBC about a lost emperor penguin whose perhaps-happy-but-definitely-navigationally-deficient feet have somehow landed him in New Zealand.

Look up the word "lonely" in the dictionary and this...isn't what you'll see, but it should be, so go ahead and print this picture out, then paste it into every dictionary you can find.

As the article relates, this is “the first time in 44 years the aquatic bird has been sighted in the wild in the South Pacific country” — which isn’t surprising, considering that New Zealand is 2,500 miles from the Antarctic. I mean, I’ve been lost before, but goddamn, that is one hell of a wrong turn.

An open question

Reading the article, I kept waiting for someone to talk about how they were going to help the flightless fowl return to his homeland, or at least stick him in a cushy zoo to live out his days entertaining the easily captivated masses. Instead,

Peter Simpson, a program manager for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, said…officials plan to let nature take its course. Simpson said the bird could live several weeks before needing another meal.

So my open question is this: if this penguin doesn’t get his act together and attempt to return home the same way he got here, are they really going to let him starve and/or sweat to death right there on the beach in front of onlookers? Or perhaps more to the point, should they? Or does nature only get to take its course up until the course it’s taking begins to depress us? Because I could be swayed either way, since obviously there are billions of animals in the world (not to mention, you know, all the people who are dying and shit), and yet here is one animal in particular — one very lost and, more importantly, cute-as-a-button — animal that we could, theoretically, help if it came to that.

Sooo…thoughts? What would Peter Singer do?


Louie Season 2 Premieres Tomorrow!



Gaga and Zizek / Sitting In A Tree (Note the Update: The Zizek / Gaga connexion is a fake)

The NY Post:

Lady Gaga has struck up a strong friendship with mysterious Marxist Slavoj Zizek, dubbed “the world’s hippest philosopher.”

In a recent blog post titled “Communism Knows No Monster,” Zizek called Gaga “my good friend” and said, “There is a certain performance of theory in her costumes, videos and even (some of) her music.” He says her infamous meat dress is a reference to “the consistent linking in the oppressive imaginary of the patriarchy of the female body and meat, of animality and the feminine.”

Seems pretty obvious. *googling* Here it is. He’s quoting someone else’s take on the meat dress to set up a broader discussion of A PAPER LADY GAGA WROTE IN UNDERGRAD! (Okay, so I have some qualms about this. I’m not sure how thrilled I’d be about people reading my undergrad papers, but I do think it’s pretty fascinating, and I don’t think I’d mind so much as long as I was confident people recognized that I was like 18-21 when I wrote it, and like most 18-21 years olds, pretty stupid. She, though, apparently wasn’t stupid. It’s a not-bad paper.)

Back to the Post:

Zizek, who once described himself as “communist in a qualified sense” and a “radical leftist,” will be a visiting professor at NYU, where Gaga once studied. He’ll teach German in the fall.

No. He’ll be teaching in the department of German. He’ll teach Hegel and Freud in the fall. Now I’m envious of New Yorkers.

I still think this video is brilliant, you know…. because of the performativity of theory (that was a joke, but I kindof mean it too…. Trevor had a word for this, but I forget it). Sorry Kanye, it beats Single Ladies in this respect by a mile:


UPDATE: It’s a fake… the relationship between Gaga and Zizek anyway. I think the paper by Gaga is real. Will investigate. Speculation:

According to Left Eye on Books, which bills itself as a website for progressive book news and reviews, the blog post that the New York Post references is likely a fake anyway, concocted by anarchist theorists looking to discredit Žižek, whom they consider a “rigid Marxist.”


The Rule of 70

Sharp math goes alarmist. There’s truth in there, amid the hysteria:

via mburke8 who writes: ”The Rule of 70 will destroy us all!!!”

Sucks when hysteria follows from truth.


UPDATE: Thought I’d note that this video was posted in the discussion of the question “Can someone explain to me why basing an economy on infinite growth makes sense in a finite world?” on the r/economics board. It’s like it hit a funny bone within the community — in the thread no part seems to make sense to the other parts any more. The most notable split is between the radically optimistic ideologists of science and technology –

You are forgetting a resource that really is infinite: human ideas. We have proven as a species to be remarkably good at innovating and solving problems. I recommend you read the economist Julian Simon for more on this concept.

Tangent: did you know the world doubles in economic output every 15 year? That remarkable measure of productivity will give you an idea of what humanity is really capable of.

– and the pessimists people who live in the world

That might be true but the fact is that we are burning through our resources at increasing and unsustainable rates. For example, I just read that most of the major food fish are on the verge of extinction. We can’t just “invent” a new ocean full of fish.

Not sure if this is the exact article he was referring to, but it’s probably reporting the same study. And a nice little visualization, c/o the Guardian:

Information is Beautiful on vanishing fish stocks


Drinking Too Much = Hangover: Explained! (In a British Accent)

First, a general note: the BBC should really allow me to embed their videos.

Now that that’s out of the way, here is a video that explains the physiological process your body goes through every time you get shitfaced. (Pro tip: drink water before you go to bed shitfaced. Otherwise your brain shrinks. Which might explain why you feel so stupid the day after a night of hard drinking. Also, you’ve likely made a fool of yourself somehow.)


INTERNET FITES! or Answering the Question: “Just How Ridiculous Can Libertarians Be?”

Libertarians are horrible people. The following exchange was a tangent off of a discussion of that Stephen Metcalf’s piece about Libertarianism we discussed yesterday:


Government spending on education. The fact is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. And the American horse has become such a lazy, entitled piece of shit, that the only way to wake him up is to make him feel some pain.


Gonna need to know more about the data in that chart before I can accept it.

And the American horse has become such a lazy, entitled piece of shit, that the only way to wake him up is to make him feel some pain.

What the fuck is that? American workers score among the highest in terms of productivity in the world, and they work some of the longest hours with the fewest vacation days in the world. And I’ll tell you — the average American feels a lot more pain than the average German (since you’re bringing up Siemens with the article you linked to) who, incidentally, works far far fewer hours and has much more of her or his higher education subsidized by the state.


Your statistic is incredibly distorted by those at the top. It says nothing of the median, to which I was referring. Furthermore Americans lack impulse control, and have a much lower saving rate than their counterparts abroad.


What evidence do you have that it’s so skewed? Why aren’t they similarly skewed in other countries?

Americans do lack impulse control, not only compared to other countries, but compared to their past selves. They had much higher savings rates 30 years ago in an era of much higher unionization, taxation and much more public-sector employment. The end of saving was in large part a consequence of incredibly freely available credit (an initiative of the financial elite) and the ideology (pushed by the financial elites) that housing prices would go up forever, and that you didn’t need to save because you could just count on that to pay off what you owe.


It was a consequence of a closer reminder of how harsh life could be, and how utterly government could fail. Our coddling via the social safety net has removed all care, and restraint, from our complacent populace.


America started to strip back the coddling in the early 80s. Savings rates began to decline in the mid 80s. Coincidence? No. Lower rates of savings are a natural consequence of a more unequal economic system. The poorer majority has to spend more on necessities, leaving less for them to save, pulling the stats on personal savings rates down (increased rates by the rich few can’t compensate for it because each person’s % is weighted equally in the stats). This isn’t a sign of laziness or complacency. That’s a self-serving myth advanced by privileged people who want to think they’re self-made.


The poorer majority has to spend more on necessities, leaving less for them to save

Right, because they can’t touch their leisure budget????


I’m still inclined to think it was a joke, but checking through the guy’s comment history…. if it’s a joke, he’s been living in it for a while now.

Homeless chic:

(I doubt if this person is actually homeless)


UPDATE BY TOM: I maintain that we should not even bother engaging in debate with libertarians.

UPDATE BY BEN: I agree that it would be nice to ignore them, but people think this is a “serious” ideology. If things don’t change, it’s going to continue to be one of the major fallbacks for people who, reasonably, become disillusioned with the bullshit binary ideological system that structures politics today. Things need to change. How can we change the things that need to change but by engaging them?


Well, this is terrible

For me, I mean. For little kids and stuff, sure, whatever, it’s good news (but, honestly, fuck them). I, for one, do not want to be reminded of the health costs associated with my various vices!

The Food and Drug Administration announced the first new cigarette warning labels in more than 25 years on June 21. The agency hopes the labels, which will start appearing on cigarette packs late next year, will lead to a decrease in the number of smokers.

Here’s the grossest one.

Let me kill myself in peace, plz.


It was only a matter of time

Holy shit.

It’s a sad story, don’t get me wrong, and my thoughts go out to his family and friends, but perhaps the most surprising thing about Jackass “star” Ryan Dunn’s death yesterday in a (presumably high-speed, possibly alcohol-related) car accident was that he had lived to age 34 in the first place. That all of them except Dunn have survived into their 30s and even 40s is frankly astonishing. Say what you will about the self-immolating prank/stunt oeuvre pioneered by Tom Green and perfected by the Jackass crew (go ahead, say stuff — I’ll wait) — not to mention the untold thousands of pre-YouTube Knoxville knockoffs who nearly killed themselves imitating their MTV idols — but if you’ve actually seen any of the Jackass movies, you know I speak the truth when I say that what you have witnessed is pretty much the outer limits of what the human body can endure in the name of entertainment (even if that entertainment left you — and them – in a wincing puddle of vomit afterward).

They may not have Keaton’s timing or style, Chaplin’s rhythm or wit, or Chan’s sheer athleticism, but watching the clips below, it’s tough to deny that their testicles must be the size of many small countries.

(Also, their choreographed set pieces are pretty flippin’ fantastic).

Alligator Tightrope:

Knoxville vs. Yak:

Parachute-less Plane Jump:

And perhaps the awesomest of them all,

Big Red Rocket:

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