Archive for QOTW

Quote of the week

Preston Lerner, in the September Automobile, on Nissan’s entry at 24 Hours of LeMans:

Some race cars inspire love. Others generate hate. Nissan’s GT-R LM NISMO does both. It couldn’t be more polarizing if it were a nuclear-powered, transgender cyborg engineered to perform Masses and abortions on alternating weekends.

I’m betting editor-in-chief Mike Floyd stared at that for several minutes before finally putting down his pencil.

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Morgan Freeberg is old enough to remember when fun was actually earned:

You start off with this lengthy and expansive list of things you have to do today, and you make a big enough dent by 4 or 5 in the afternoon that you can take a breather. That’s why a house involved in some level of luxury would have a “wet bar,” but this led to an associated stigma of alcoholism. Now the wet bar is something you see in a really old movie, maybe a Twilight Zone episode from the first couple seasons, because we’ve gotten rid of alcoholism and replaced it with addiction to marijuana, crack, meth and illegally-acquired prescription drugs, along with the legal stuff to do something about our made-up “learning disabilities.” The casualty in all this is not the addictive lifestyle; what we’ve gotten rid of is the idea that you start with the work, and finish with the leisure which is predicated on the work actually getting done. That’s been consigned to the ash heap of history, at least within this romper room stately pleasure dome we’ve constructed for ourselves.

I suspect most “lifestyles,” to scare-quote a word I’ve always hated, have their addictive aspects; anyone’s who’s seen my standard Saturday cuisine — fried chicken and RC Cola — might suspect some sort of psychological dependency. But that $10 worth of grub was made possible by actual toil, and while I’d never say I’m addicted to work, I would hate like hell to give up any of the things it buys me.

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“Equality”? Forget that, Jack:

The Socialist State gives all power to the government, and therefore cuts much deeper than any other government, in practice, the chasm between the governor and the governed. In every society there is the public official and the private citizen. But the number of things that the public official can do is increased and not diminished by the collectivist change. In short there can not be political equality, even if there is economic equality. Even if we have abolished aristocracy and plutocracy, there can still be bureaucracy; and perhaps a particularly bullying bureaucracy.

Once again, devastating clarity from G. K. Chesterton’s crystal ball. This piece from New Witness originally appeared on 23 December 1921.

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We have Dueling Quotes this week. The topic is Moral Relativism, and Brian J. is here to tell you all about it:

Back when I was a young man majoring in English and philosophy at the university 1990-1994, I took sport in asking my compatriots in the English department to ask three morals. Not any morals, not even morals that the interrogated actually followed. Just three morals. The question tripped up most of them as they were enlightened in the ways of relativism and would not identify morals at all under threat of possibly being considered a prude somewhere. Now, friends, this is a Catholic (!) university, and the Christian faith has ten prominent morals specified in Exodus and hundreds in other bits of the Pentateuch. Most people could spell out at least three of the Ten Commandments even if they didn’t adhere to them or think they could. But oh so many of those adults would not or could not.

That was then. This is now, says Tam:

I grew up with Southern Baptist preachers warning me of the dangers of moral relativism, but the problem with modern Progressivism is its absolute lack of anything even like moral relativism. Bad things are bad, and there are no degrees of badness, except maybe a +5 badness modifier if the bad thing in question was done by a white dude, with an additional +3 if he spoke English.

It’s an odd moral calculus, where Victim Blaming is as bad as Victim Stoning. If you try going Godwin, they hasten to point out that the US had concentration camps in WWII, without acknowledging that there’s a pretty substantial difference of degree between a concentration camp where one leaves via the front gate versus one where the only exit is via the chimney.

Have things deteriorated that much since the early Nineties? (Answer: Yes.)

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Sheila O’Malley reviews Ex Machina, and comments therein:

There is a deep and very human empathy at work in Ex Machina, startling and strange considering the scientific and spare environment of that house, its chilliness, its intimidating perfection. I don’t need all films to be kind and empathetic towards women. I honestly don’t. I loved Wolf of Wall Street, and was so frustrated with the “It’s misogynistic” commentary. For God’s sake, of COURSE it was, because those guys in the film were misogynistic ass-clowns. What do you want? One of those douche-bags to suddenly spout a regretful monologue, “Oh my God, I am a misogynistic asshole and I am so sorry!” Or to have Scorsese somehow point an arrow at all of them, telegraphing, “This is bad behavior.” Have you seen a Martin Scorsese film before? So what you are saying is, you would have liked Wolf of Wall Street better if it had been a bad film but showed the “enlightened” viewpoint? Get outta here with your bullshit. Showing something is not necessarily endorsement. I want to put that on a billboard.

And while we’re at it, here’s a bit from her review of The Wolf of Wall Street:

People yearn to iron out complexity because it is personally triggering for them to witness said complexity. But complexity like this should be triggering. It’s not there to make you feel comfortable, to re-affirm your own prejudices and beliefs, it is not there to provide solace for you in darker moments. Some art acts that way. I cherish a lot of it. But it is not a requirement that ALL art work that way.

Well, at least not yet it isn’t.

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How will we fare under “fairness”? Hint: you have to define “fair” as the teachers used to, which is “not as good as good“:

Life is unequal and unfair but more equality and fairness came into the world because of people freely pursuing their self interest in free markets. Wise, loving, “enlightened” people had nothing to do with [it], unless it was those who created a legal structure of rationality, predictability, an even-handedness within which trial and error could slowly lead to amelioration of the harshness of life.

No attempt to cast aside workable legal restraints has led to anything more decent or more just. When was “revolutionary justice” anything but a satisfaction of individual revenge fantasies and bestial instincts that led straight to more slaughter? Handing more and more political power to what some like to think are the “right” kind of people has only led to horror in our times, not just mass killing but social decay that threatens civilization itself. Once-great American cities in our own time are being laid waste by uncivilized people and where is there a scintilla, a soupcon, or a smidgen of evidence that that will ever be turned around? Destruction of our cities is today the course that we pursue with determination. Each new fracturing draws not leaders but buffoons and other political jokes like vultures on the Ferlinghetti Plain.

Hmmm. Maybe “fair” is too good.

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The Z Man says we’re now in a post-democracy world:

[T]he ruling elite conspires with and manipulates local elected officials into gaming the public, foiling them into being looted by the global elite. We think our elections are about arbitrating disputes between the ruling class over public policy. In reality they are festivals to keep the public busy so they don’t revolt against their leaders. The Greeks can have as many elections as they like, the results will not change. The turd sandwich is what they get. The English can vote Tory or Labour. The results will be the same.

If there is any doubt about this just look at American politics. The GOP ran against ObamaCare in 2010 and won a huge majority in the House. They spent the next two years trying to enfeeble the Tea Party movement, rather than halt ObamaCare. They won big again in 2014, capturing the Senate and a bigger majority in the House. So far they have managed to pass more of Obama’s agenda in six months than Reid and Pelosi did in six years.

Which, if nothing else, suggests that the Republican Party at the very top is indistinguishable from the Democratic Party at the very top: they evidently get their orders from the same place. This is called “bipartisanism,” which presumably sounds nicer than “collusion.”

In the authoritarian age, violent revolt was the check on the skimming class. The ruling families could only loot so much of the people’s wealth before they ran into dangerous resistance. In the democratic age, the ballot box forced the skimming class to compete for the public’s affection. Get on the wrong side of the voters and you ability to skim was diminished. In the global age, what will be the check on the skimming class?

There won’t be. The need to buy campaign ads — hell, the need to buy voters — will guarantee that politicians will kneel to the plutocrats for the foreseeable future.

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Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, on where science is going wrong these days [pdf]:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have now put their reputational weight behind an investigation into these questionable research practices. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals. Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale. We reject important confirmations. Journals are not the only miscreants. Universities are in a perpetual struggle for money and talent, endpoints that foster reductive metrics, such as high-impact publication. National assessment procedures, such as the Research Excellence Framework, incentivise bad practices. And individual scientists, including their most senior leaders, do little to alter a research culture that occasionally veers close to misconduct.

Horton mentions no specific areas of inquiry in this paragraph — feel free to read the whole thing — and I’m not pointing any fingers myself. Then again, perhaps I don’t have to; anyone who digs into the unofficial channels can find scores of stories in a short time.

(Via Roger Pielke, Jr.)

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There are times when reality doesn’t seem all that real:

I’m beginning to have suspicions that the universe or what we call reality is actually some kind of cosmic computer program, and it has become unstable due to lack of updates.

Some morning I fully expect to walk out of my house, look up at the sky, and see a BSOD.

Given this week’s heavy stormage, I’ll settle for almost anything blue up there.

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Quote of the week

Doug Mataconis, on why the 2016 presidential election is an exercise in futility:

Even if you’re not much of a “horse race” person, though, the 2016 election doesn’t give you much to look forward to. More so [than] ever in the past, we are going to see candidates and their supporters pushing out tightly crafted messages designed largely to appeal pander to the worst aspects of their base supporters Joining them will be the SuperPACs that will be pushing messages different from those of the campaigns themselves, and far more negative. This guarantees that there will be little serious discussion of the issues facing the nation, whether we’re talking about the economy, immigration, entitlements, tax policy, federal spending, the relationship between Washington, D.C. and the states, social issues, and foreign policy. Instead, we’ll get prepackaged slogans, exaggerated claims, over-the-top attacks on opponents, and of course stump speech after stump speech of meaningless flowery rhetoric. Both sides will argue that this is “the most important election ever” and that their opponent will bring doom and gloom to the nation. All of this will be covered breathlessly by the always-on political media, which now exists both on cable news networks and the Internet, to the point where it will be impossible for anyone to get away from it. It is enough to make one want to completely unplug, or perhaps retreat to a desert island.

Vanuatu, anyone?

Then again, this is inevitable in our current hyperpolitical culture:

To a significant degree, we live in a nation that is almost equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. One of the things this means is that even the most trivial differences between the two sides become exaggerated to the point where compromise becomes nearly impossible. Additionally, the fact that both sides generally spend most of their time sending messages to their own bases means that they feed into the hyperpartisanship that has been created by cable news, talk radio, and the Internet to the point where it all becomes a horrible, soul-sucking, self-sustaining entity. As long as that’s the case, it hardly matters who wins one election or the other, or which party controls Congress by a handful of seats, because the way the system works guarantees that the battle will continue until … well, that’s really the point. The way we fight political battles today, the only way either side can be happy is if the other side is utterly destroyed. That’s never going to happen, though. There will always be Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives. They used to be able to talk to each other, but now all they seem to do is yell at each other, and as a result we have a political system that is frustrating, annoying, tiresome, and so predictable that is utterly boring.

Some folks, largely Democrats, whine about “getting the money out of politics.” I’d be happy if they got the frigging politics out of politics.

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If “Why do all the candidates suck?” has crossed your mind of late, you might want to take a look in the nearest mirror:

Just as people like the semblance of getting a “real” glimpse into the Real Housewives of Wherever’s lives, we like the semblance of a genuinely approachable, relatable, human, real-keeping presidential candidate. But when the candidate says something a little too raw or real or sarcastic or even eccentric (as real people might) about abortion, or entitlements, or cronyism, or civil liberties, or foreign policy, we freak out.

When we have a choice between the more open, straight-talking candidate or the one that does everything through self-managed media so that they can control the message to the maximum conceivable degree, we go for the latter.

When we have a choice between uncomfortable substance and truth on the one hand, and reality or feel-good talking points and make-believe on the other, we reject the former.

When we have a choice between airbrushed images in magazines or seeing the way people actually look, we want the Photoshop.

When we have a choice between meeting people in real life, with all the potential awkwardness that might entail, or just sitting around texting and Facebook messaging, more and more, we seem to go for the “virtual.” We don’t want the sacrifices or pain entailed to really achieve; we prefer the comfort of telling ourselves that we are excelling, even when any objective analysis would show that is at best a half-truth. We don’t actually want reality, whether in our entertainment, our jobs, our education, our lives, or our politics. We just want something that kind of looks like it.

What’s that? You say we’re not like that at all? Too bad you missed President Santorum. Or Sanders. Or any of those folks we were told are “unelectable” for whatever reason.

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Jack Baruth hits up the health-care exchange:

Strictly speaking, I should have signed up for my “Obamacare” when the last dregs of my “COBRA” ran out last year, but after seeing that the best “Bronze option” plan I could find charged ninety-seven dollars per week and didn’t kick in until I’d spent $6500, I decided to wait until I had a new day job.

My new day job was with the same contracting company for whom I’ve done half-a-dozen gigs since 2003. They explained to me that they no longer offered healthcare for full-time employees, but that I was welcome to use their ACA exchange. So now I’m paying five grand a year for coverage that doesn’t kick in until I spend $6500 a year. This is, apparently, Mr. Obama’s miracle. Once upon a time I paid $2000 a year for coverage that kicked in once I’d spent $250. The good news is that, uh, well — every poor person I know doesn’t pay enough taxes to see the ACA penalty, and even if they did it wouldn’t change their decisions regarding healthcare because poor people have low future time orientation. That’s why they are poor.

Unless, of course, they were driven to the poorhouse by medical expenses. Then again:

I have the same problem. The only reason that I am not desperately poor is because I know how to make money in a hurry. Someday I will be desperately poor. I have the mentality of a poor person. That’s why I didn’t sign up for ACA until last month, which meant that I wouldn’t receive any benefits until May, so my dental and healthcare expenses related to this Utah Ebola would be entirely paid by me. Well, they would have been anyway — but now they won’t even count towards my $6500 deductible. Sucks to be me.

Note: He was in Utah; he didn’t exactly contract Ebola.

CFI Care (not its real initials) offers no clue as to the level of metal for which 42nd and Treadmill is probably paying $6000 a year on my behalf, only a certification that the policy adheres to the new rules; but the numbers seem to fall between bronze and silver.

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Some people look at high-rise residential and do a Marv Albert elbow jerk: “Yes! We’re urban!” Others see something like this:

… these concrete and asphalt blights where you live in twelve story stacks of people where the only view you have is into an alleyway full of garbage and dog shit which separates you from a close up view of the guy in the next buildings bathroom, who you have to obviously attempt to ignore eating spaghetti while they’re on the crapper. Sure, my Mid-Western city might be comparatively boring and uncultured, but I can walk 15 feet out my $639 a month, 800 square foot, ground floor apartment to have my dogs poop in actual grass next to a tree that was there before the apartments were built 40 years ago. I’ll trade a city that never sleeps for grass and actually being able to see stars at night. Call me crazy like that.

I admit to having eaten spaghetti in a variety of places, but that’s not one of them.

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Governor Pence has already signed it, but this is what one of his constituents thought about it:

The Religious Freedom law wending its way to the Indiana Governor’s desk should have been easy for the Legislature to write. All they had to do is dig up some of the Jim Crow laws from the Deep and not so Deep South one hundred years ago.

One of his commenters elaborates:

I’m tired of people filing lawsuits because some dumbass narrow-minded idiot uses a religious reason to deny service to someone who violates their sense of right and wrong. The dumbass narrow-minded idiot has a right to his opinion, and the last I looked his business wasn’t owned by the government. A normal person thus dismissed would simply nod and walk away, and make it clear to everyone he met that the dumbass narrow-minded idiot was a bigot and should be boycotted out of business. That’s his right, too. Then the free market can take over and either the shop stays in business or goes out of business, depending on what the market thinks.

The lawyers who dominate legislatures, however, have thoroughly imbued the American public with the notion that anybody should sue anyone anytime over anything, down to and apparently including mere butthurt.

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The next bozo who goes on some ranty rant about “cultural authenticity” has earned a bitchslap from Jack Baruth:

Peter Green was a white Englishman who heard the Chicago blues on pirate radio and wanted to imitate it. Robert Cray grew up in a middle-class household and was performing for a living before he turned twenty. Even Albert King, who picked cotton on a plantation in his teens and then drove a bulldozer, was firmly into the pro-musician groove by his early twenties and could afford a Gibson Flying V. None of these guys ever shot anybody or went to prison or got poisoned by a woman or worked on a chain gang or plumbed the depths of human sorrow before they started making records. They didn’t live the blues — they played the blues.

Muddy Waters reportedly told Little Walter, “We don’t live the blues, we play it.” Miles Davis said something similar to his bandmates. I repeat: The best musicians to ever play the blues didn’t live the blues. You think that’s unique to the blues? Ask Dr. Dre how much crime he’s actually done in his life, how many people he’s shot. Rick Ross was a correctional officer, not a gangster. Ice-T was a gang member once — but he’s spent a much larger portion of his life playing a cop on television. Axl Rose wasn’t born in Los Angeles. Robert Plant wasn’t actually a character in a Tolkien book. Barry Manilow wrote a lot of songs but “I Write The Songs” wasn’t one of them.

Musicians are performers, assuming a character for the purpose of performing music. If you want authenticity in your life, you’d better look somewhere else besides music, maybe “upcycling” or “curating” or something like that.

And if you ever hear me claim this five-million-plus-word unauthorized autobiography to have been “curated,” you can slap me.

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An observation by incurable romantic Jack Baruth:

Being a woman, as far as I can tell, is like walking around Chicago at night wearing a 10-ounce Credit Suisse gold bar on a necklace. Some of the people you will meet will want to buy your bar from you at a fair price. Others will want a bargain. Still others want it for free. Last and worst, you have the people who will simply take it from you through measures ranging from misdirection to naked force. Ask yourself how long you could last under pressure like that, then you’ll have some sympathy of your own. It’s a remarkable gift to be unwanted in this world, to go about your business alone and unremarked-upon. Women, particularly women, don’t get that gift. They have only pressure to yield, mighty and unrelenting as the column of dark water above the Challenger Deep, until the moment that they lose their looks and become utterly invisible to everyone.

In these times, this is perhaps the only meaningful example of so-called “male privilege” from which we are likely to benefit more than theoretically: we can be ignored. I’m thinking maybe I should appreciate it more.

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Robert Stacy McCain instructs us in Contemporary Logic 101:

Now, it happens that I am quite lazy in my rhetorical methods. That is to say, I understand that the object of the argument is to win the argument. In politics, we find that most people have profound partisan prejudices, so that there is no hope of persuading a Democrat to support, say, tax cuts or a larger defense budget. Therefore, when we find ourselves confronted with an antagonist in public argument, the simplest way to win is to ask ourselves, “How do I demonstrate that this person is a fool?”

My methodology in this regard was developed from years of youthful studies of military history: Locate the weakest point of the antagonist’s argument and pile onto that point with everything you’ve got. Deliver a crushing blow at the point of attack, and then wait for the response. The antagonist will invariably make some new error in attempting to defend the point you’ve attacked and — rather than continue your previous attack — you then shift to attacking his new error. “Unfair!” the antagonist will shriek, but as they say down home, “I ain’t never heard of no fair fight.”

These tactics work best against arrogant fools. I’m always on the lookout for such people, who always begin with the presumption that they are smarter than me and, when the argument is over, never can figure out how they got beat by a dumb hillbilly.

For some of them, it will take the equivalent of a deathbed conversion to bring the light to their eyes.

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Ana Marie Cox, founding editor of Wonkette, presently writing about US politics for the Guardian, on coming out as Christian in an atmosphere that seems hostile to it:

Conservatives might pounce on my closeted Christianity as evidence of a liberal media aversion to God. After all, my day job is all about expressing my opinions and beliefs — some of them unpopular. In my private life, and very cautiously on social media, the people close to me can see evidence of my affiliation. Tweeting out prayers and quotes from Scripture still feels subversive. But until now, I have avoided publicly aligning myself with one of the most popular beliefs in the world.

My hesitancy to flaunt my faith has nothing to do with fear of judgment by non-believers. My mother was an angry, agnostic ex-Baptist; my father is a casual atheist. (I asked him once why he didn’t believe in God, and he replied easily, “Because He doesn’t exist.”)

I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.

As for said “liberal media,” they will happily acknowledge something greater than themselves. Unfortunately, they think it’s government.

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Purina. Dog? Ciao.

(Linked to this.)

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Roberta X, on the debased condition of our politics, and by extension our culture:

[W]e live in a bumper-sticker kind of world, where Twitter’s 140-character limit about matches the typical attention span. Buckley, Vidal and Mencken are all dead and buried deep and the latter’s “boobocracy” is in the driver’s seat, encouraged by as rotten a pack of politicians as we’ve ever had — no worse than the worst, but certainly not a patch on the best.

The Right have become modern-day Know-Nothings (and even the Left has learned to drop final g’s when hectoring the unwashed); the Left encourages a culture of smug superiority, especially among the average (and the Right emulates it with a wink and a chortle), with a resulting downward pressure on the intellect of the body politic: Sure, both sides say, we’re Average Folks, but we’re way smarter than those crooks and fools who support the other party. Next thing you know, we’re all extras in Idiocracy. (I’m not talking about who does or doesn’t have a college degree — you can walk out with a Ph.D. and still be an ignorant lout about anything outside your specialty.)

By under-estimating themselves and way underestimating the other guy, by measuring “smart” and “savvy” in terms of buzzwords and unexamined bullshit, The People generally act dumber than they are — and our “Leaders,” who were supposed to be high-minded public servants, have become rulers, laughing behind closed doors at the milling pack of rubes who comprise the electorate. It ain’t no way to run a railroad, let alone a nation of people who were supposed to be largely left alone, neither run nor railroaded unless they violated the peace.

Then again, The People, or some substantial fraction thereof, voted for those “Leaders”; they can’t foist off all the blame on Washington and the state capitals. As Mencken put it, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Of course, this nation was never intended to be a democracy; but once again, The People dropped the ball.

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Almost a mocking tone here, one might say:

Well played, sir.

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