An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

August 15, 2010

Oh, We Were Supposed to Follow The Whole Law? Whoops.

Filed under: Government and Policy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 12:35 pm

You know how when you go to the DMV, they also ask you if you want to register to vote? That’s because the 1993 National Voter Registration Act compelled states to make it easier to register to vote, by offering voter registration to people seeking other government services. simply having DMV employees ask people if they want to register while their at it has added millions of people to the voter registration rolls.

Except that’s not the entirety of the law. It also mandates that states offer registration to people when they sign up for welfare programs, including foodstamps, disability services, Medicaid, and S-CHIP (health coverage for children whose families are just above the Medicaid income cap). And if a state doesn’t comply, the justice department can sue to force them to comply. Which they’ve started doing, 17 years after the law was passed. Thanks Bush. And Clinton.

Of course, the working assumption here is that people who receive public assistance, being low income (by definition) and generally not stupid, will mostly vote for Democrats. And enforcement of the non-DMV parts of the law went completely enforced throughout the Bush years, as the Justice Department tried instead to whip up a dubious panic panic about voter fraud. As the NYT put it:

The Bush administration devoted its attention to seeking out tiny examples of voter fraud and purging people from the rolls in swing states. It did little to enforce the motor-voter law despite years of complaints from civic groups and Democratic lawmakers.

I do agree with Ed that registering people is not a guarantee of massively improved turnout–plenty of people will say ‘yeah, sure’ and forget it. But, in my very limited experience with Get Out the Vote campaigns, it’s a lot more work to get people registered and then get them to vote than to focus on voter turnout. In states (unlike mine) that have party registration, this is even more true–each party can turn to their own voter roles for targeted GOTV/ride to the polls/etc campaigns. Hopefully this will do some noticeable work toward undoing the Bush era purges.


August 5, 2010

The Teabagger Style in American Politics

Somewhere out there, for some reason (I think I can blame Thomas Frank for this one) I wound up googling up a copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Originally published in Harper’s Magazine circa 1964, it holds up pretty damn well. It’s like Richard Hofstadter was the Nostradamus of Wingnuts, except literally right. More right than he could have imagined, actually–he describes the proto-wingnuts of American history as decidedly fringe elements even within the right wing. Still, passages like this show a lot of insight:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.


It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.

Sound familiar? (I have a post brewing somewhere still from when I read What’s the Matter with Kansas? about the mileage the US right has gotten out of choosing impossible goals, and the damage that same tactic has done to the left.)

Really, though, it’s not exactly prescience. Hofstadter was describing the ideological ancestors of today’s paranoid conservatives–constantly, intensely afraid that some enormous but invisible conspiracy of foreigners and the US elite was deliberately…doing something UnAmerican. Sometimes it’s ill-defined, sometimes it’s defined in ridiculous, implausible detail. A lot of the ideas that were floating around in ’64–that the President is a secret capital-C Communist, that the income tax is some sort of socialist plot, that the US is being intentionally invaded by non-anglo Catholic immigrants who want to destroy Our Way of Life*–still have a solid, sometimes growing (or regrowing) following.

It’s a long article by intertube standards, but worth the read. Just replace 2 of every 3 references to ‘communists’ with ‘terrorists,’ and you could write your own AM radio show.

*if you’re feeling strong-stomached, google ‘Aztlán conspiracy’ and look at some of the wingnutty top hits.


August 4, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Radical Scientist @ 11:00 am

This is fucking awesome:

If you don’t read XKCD, you should. But I don’t need to tell you that, because you already do.  That is all.


August 3, 2010

Why Aren’t There More Women in Computer Science? Because They’re Just Not Into Your Bullshit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Ethan @ 8:23 pm

Female Computer Scientist has a great post up called “Women in CS: It’s not Nature, it’s Culture” in which she points out that the U.S.’s piss-poor recruitment of female students into university computer science programs is far from universal–many countries have gender parity, and in some, computer science is a female-dominated field. She offers up 5 specific suggestions on what US universities can do to fix this, all of which boil down to “So, please – stop mansplaining and start doing.”

I dated a math/CS double major toward the end of her undergrad years. She’s exceptionally good at shooting down sexist dickheads, but even so, she same home with some nerd-douche horror stories.* She’d occasionally refer offhandedly to ‘the other girl’ in her classes. The one. In a school with 30,000+ students. If I’d had to deal with that kind of environment just to get a freaking BS, I’d have gone with a less dudebro heavy program. Like agriculture. Or poultry science.

*Which I’m gonna keep to myself, since I haven’t asked if I could use her college unpleasant experiences as blogfodder.


August 1, 2010

Solar Power now Cheaper than Nuclear

Inhabit reports that one study in North Carolina shows solar-produced electricity from a new plant clocking in at 14 cents/killowatt hour, while nuclear-produced electricity clocks in at 16 cents. This is big news, potentially, for reasons I touched on here: photovoltaic solar (i.e. solar-produced electricity, as opposed to passive solar heating)  has been improving in leaps and bounds over the last decade or so, and as it does, it starts to cut into the profitability of dirtier energy sources.

Bulky, expensive, fragile glass panels are giving way to cheaper, flexible vinyl ones. Increased demand (especially from China) has allowed companies that make solar panels to scale up their operations, making each panel cheaper. There are still some drawbacks–those are some very large, non-renewable silicon wafers they use, the cheaper thin-film cells are a few percent less efficient than the crystalline cells, and so on.

The folks at Inhabit point out that this study isn’t even the tip-top of the solar world: this study used regular flat-panel-generated power, not any of the sexy concentrating reflectors shown above. And North Carolina isn’t exactly the sunniest place on earth. Moreover, they show the cost of nuclear power rising. Nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to construct, and when states use nuclear to add to their electric output, those costs get split between the consumers and taxpayers–it’s not like the company is going to just eat the cost. You can download the complete study, done by Duke and NC WARN, here. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with their money graph (though I don’t know why they insisted on using straight lines for their best fit curve, when the cost of nuclear is definitely more of an S-curve), and one of my favorite ever solar power station: this one in Seville, Spain, that channels sunlight toward a giant boiler/turbine tower. It works on the same principle as a coal burning plant, but with sunlight instead of coal. And it’s literally awesome:


July 30, 2010

Recreational Sex is a Survival Strategy

Filed under: gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 7:00 pm

There are plenty of studies out there on human sexuality that seem to assume that evolution hasn’t quite caught up with all our modern sexual tinkering, seeing as how they start off assuming all sex, and all our sex drives, stem only from a fundamentally a reproductive urge (this one, which that claims that women who are approaching menopause become “more willing to engage in a variety of sexual activities to capitalize on their remaining childbearing years”  is what spurred my thoughts today) There are points where this makes sense–genetically-driven instinct won’t catch on to the advent of The Pill for a few millenia to come. But other purposes for sex, and forms of non-reproductively oriented sex, have been around for more than enough time.

Queer sex, oral, manual and anal sex are OLD. Judging from our closest living relatives, all those ways of fucking are older than we are as a species. Our hind brains may not have picked up on condoms yet, but ‘I don’t want to get pregnant, so how about you go down on me instead?’ is older than time.

And why should all sex be driven by reproduction? Humans do, and probably always have, used sex for lots of other things–for fun, to strengthen relationships, to ease tensions (and did I mention for fun?). We’re social creatures, and our gene’s survival depends not only on our ability to churn out babies, but on our ability to gain the love and support of others. With fucking. Or sharing food or whatever. But fucking is free.

I’m not an expert in human sexuality, so I’m curious: is there any evidence that having more not-PIV-sex is strongly correlated to having more PIV sex and higher pregnancy rates? If there’s not, wouldn’t it be important to distinguish between sex-in-general, which may or mat not include PIV sex, and sex that’s actually able to lead to pregnancy, when you’re doing research on sexuality and reproduction? Because it’s not a good idea to assume that when you ask someone about how often they have sex, or how intense their sexual fantasies are, that their personal definition of sex is all missionary, all the time.


July 24, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Ethan @ 10:03 pm

Just FYI–I went back and cleaned up the tags a little bit. It’ll probably take a few passes before I’m happy with them. I don’t really expect you to care, but hopefully they’ll be a teeny bit more useful in the future.


July 19, 2010

Mini-post: Anonymous Racists try to get Utah to do Their Vigilanty-ing for Them

I haven’t seen this much anywhere else, but this is fucking terrifying. An anonymous group of people in Utah sent out a list of the names, addresses, social security numbers, workplaces, phone numbers, children’s names and due dates (of pregnant women) they feel should be ‘immediately deported’ to Immigration, Enforcement and Customs (ICE) and media outlets. Their targets are 1,300 Latinos, who they claim are all undocumented. But unsurprisingly, that much isn’t even true–several of the people who have found out they were on the list have come forward to make it clear the group’s claims of careful data thieving are bullshit.

Colorlines magazine speculates that the information may have been stolen from (or rather, by people with access to) state health and/or employment agencies. They say Utah officials are investigating who might have stolen these people’s identity info, but ICE wouldn’t comment as to whether they intended to target the people on the list or not.

What. The. Fuck.


July 12, 2010

Waxing and waning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Ethan @ 10:14 pm

Hey y’all, just a heads up–I may be posting even more erratically than usual for the next month. I’ve got some spare time on my hands right now, being underemployed, and I decided to play with my zombie story, NaNoWriMo style. Since I doubt/hope I won’t have this kind of time come November, I’m gonna try and do it now, starting this evening. My deadline is 50,000 words my midnight, August 12. If I don’t make it, feel free to mock me mercilessly.

And really, there’s better than good a chance procrastination will set in, and I’ll post twice as much. Either way, now you know.


June 23, 2010

Hello, Detroit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Ethan @ 6:34 pm

I’m in Detroit for the US Social Forum this week. Not much to say–it’s fabulous and I’ve been hella busy–but there’s one thing I wanted to comment on before I pass off the laptop to my lovely traveling companion.

Detroit is really, really empty.

Walking through the center of downtown at rush hour, there was only a light smattering of cars on the wide, major roads. Few pedestrians. It’s hard to tell if a lot of businesses are open, and those that are have few customers and close early.

There are tons of abandoned buildings, vacant lots, streets with only one house left per block.
And there are nice, solid-looking, architecturally interesting abandoned buildings. Art-deco era semi-scyscrapers, giant Victorian houses, stuff like that. Not just ugly shit is vacant.

I was joking earlier that I keep expecting zombies to come out from somewhere.
My partner just said it looks like they already did, got bored, and moved on.

I’m used to urban poverty going hand-in-hand with overpopulation. Cities get full, prices go up, people get squeezed out of their homes or have to crowd more people into each apartment. I had unconsciously assumed it was something of a law of nature.

But this is different. Eerie. And also full of a weird sort of unrealizable potential–I keep thinking, there are so many empty buildings and so many people living on the streets, it seems like at some point someone would have to just say fuck it, and look the other way on urban homesteading.

I’m so accustomed to problems of scarcity, it’s hard to imagine a collapse that brings overabundance of space. And yet, something tells me Detroit is the wave of the future for America.

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