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Versus Bracket

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Some works didn't make the cut; in "Ecks vs. Sever" vs. the passage of time, the latter seems to have won pretty decisively.
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Fidtz
17 days ago
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"The Volcano" vs "The World" or "The Justice League" or "Marvel", depending on your view of various super powers.
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reconbot
17 days ago
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In Predator vs Godzilla I'd put my money on Predator
New York City
alt_text_bot
18 days ago
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Some works didn't make the cut; in "Ecks vs. Sever" vs. the passage of time, the latter seems to have won pretty decisively.
silberbaer
18 days ago
Final four: Larry Flynt, Predator, Marvel, and Batman?
reconbot
17 days ago
Superman would realistically beat batman. I ended up with Predator vs Volcano vs Marvel vs Superman
lahosken
17 days ago
You might also like: https://twitter.com/xkcdbracket

wine fraud

2 Comments
this_part_of_the_date_is_so_stressful_that_you_should_prolly_drink_beforehand
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Fidtz
543 days ago
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All better than Merlot for a Wedding! Valpolicella or Beaujolais could be inexpensive red options too.
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Covarr
543 days ago
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I don't care what the experts say. The experts would have me serve Merlot at my wedding reception, and that is simply not happening.
Moses Lake, WA
Fidtz
543 days ago
Good lord, what experts say that? That is the worst choice for a random group of people.
Covarr
543 days ago
Well, that's what the people at the winery I visited suggested. I'm probably gonna go with a Riesling for white (my personal favorite), and maybe a Malbec or Pinot Noir for red. Even if I did think Merlot was a good choice in general, it doesn't fit our menu.

Temperature Preferences

4 Comments and 11 Shares
There's a supposed Mark Twain quote, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." It isn't really by Mark Twain, but I don't know who said it—I just know they've never been to McMurdo Station.
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Fidtz
751 days ago
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First xkcd for a while I don't think works. I have been to Riyadh and Hong Kong in the summer. I find it hard to believe anyone who loves one of their climates would even like the other. Dubai+Delhi seems dubious too though I have no first hand experience there.
mooglemoogle
751 days ago
Yeah that’s the thing, heat and humidity don’t necessarily go together. I could definitely see liking hot, dry summers but hating hot, humid ones. I would understand the other way less but that’s just me :)
kazriko
750 days ago
I'm tolerant of hot, dry, but I don't like it. Hot and humid, or even warm and humid just makes me miserable.
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zippy72
738 days ago
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Lisbon doesn't get a look in? I'm hurt...
FourSquare, qv
ameel
751 days ago
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Awesome. And I love that both Lahore and Karachi are in there!
Melbourne, Australia
angelchrys
751 days ago
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I was wondering if KC would make it and sure enough, it is where it belongs: if you love cold and love heat. I live here and love neither.
Overland Park, KS
infogulch
751 days ago
Yup. I also hate both, but I hate heat more. Looks like I need to move in the direction of New York (on the chart, obviously).

This Is Real

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I felt like I needed to stipulate right in the headline that this is not "fake news," because, well, it may be difficult to believe that this is where we are.

Following Betsy DeVos' confirmation as Secretary of Education, Republican Representative from Kentucky Thomas Massie introduced legislation to abolish the federal Department of Education.

Really.

The legislation, H.R. 899, is one sentence long: "The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018."

Really.

It already has at least seven co-sponsors: Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID).

Really.

In a press release, which you can read in its entirety at Massie's House website, Massie says: "Neither Congress nor the President, through his appointees, has the constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn."

Really.

And: "Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children's intellectual and moral development."

Really.

And: "It is time that we get the feds out of the classroom, and terminate the Department of Education."

Really.

You might imagine that Massie's legislation is some sort of critical commentary on the selection of DeVos, but that would be wrong. Because DeVos almost certainly shares his opinion about the department she was just confirmed to run.

After all, as I have been observing since the day Trump selected her, DeVos' only qualification is her willingness to destroy the Department of Education.

She was chosen specifically to be the perfect partner for Trump, who has said he wants to break up the "government-run education monopoly," and for Pence, who has been destroying public education in Indiana for quite some time, and for Bannon, whose exploitation of ignorance is significantly aided by subverting public education.

The GOP has spent decades shouting at poor and/or marginalized people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and now they want to take away their best opportunity to access a pair of boots.
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Fidtz
1030 days ago
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superiphi
1027 days ago
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There's a serious difficulty trying to make a country work without national standards. Especially education, which relies on the assumption that people can move from one state to another....
Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
kazriko
1027 days ago
National standards can be agreed upon between the states without having a free-standing bureaucracy to trump the local initiatives. The Common Core initiative actually began as a state-run cooperative (And was actually popular... Until the DoE tried to force it.) We had minimal federal oversight of education as part of one of the other bureaucracies for decades before the Department of Education was formed in the late 70's.

Team Chat

8 Comments and 28 Shares
2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.
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Fidtz
1064 days ago
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2051, solid 1960's style future prediction there!
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stsquad
1060 days ago
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Truth
Cambridge, UK
hooges
1063 days ago
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IRC, never die!
Topeka, KS
encolpe
1064 days ago
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Si true
Lyon, France
emdeesee
1064 days ago
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OK, fine. When the galactic singularity becomes an option, I'll consider switching from IRC.
📌 Lincoln, NE ❤️️ Sherman, TX
beowuff
1064 days ago
Don't worry. It'll still run irc as it's back end, so you can still connect.
Covarr
1064 days ago
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What if I'm only still on IRC because the rest of my groups are?
Moses Lake, WA
alt_text_bot
1064 days ago
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2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.

The Future of Democratic Values

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Hey, did you know we are having an election here in the United States? I think I saw it mentioned on TV. Whatever your preferences may be, everyone eligible should try to get out and vote.

This election has, without a doubt, been somewhat unique. I’m cautiously optimistic that Hillary Clinton will win, that we will celebrate the election of the first female President in the history of the republic, and that she will do a relatively good job — although as a good Bayesian I know that empirical predictions are never certain, and in an atmosphere like this uncertainty runs relatively high.

Even if Clinton wins and the U.S. avoids complete embarrassment, I’m still very worried about what this election has revealed about the state of the country. No matter who our next President might be, there are real reasons to be concerned that the U.S. is veering away from some of the foundational principles that are necessary to a functioning democracy. That may sound alarmist, but I don’t think it’s unwarranted. Historically, democracies don’t always last forever; we’d be foolish to think that it can’t happen here.

This isn’t a worry about the specific horrible wrongness of Donald Trump — it’s a worry about the forces that propelled him to the nomination of one of our two major political parties, and the fires he so willingly stoked along the way. Just as a quick and hopelessly incomplete recap:

  • Trump built his early political notoriety via “birtherism,” explicitly working to undermine the legitimacy of our elected President.
  • He has continually vilified immigrants and foreigners generally, promoting an us-against-them mentality between people of different races and ethnicities.
  • He has pledged to violate the Constitutional principle of freedom of religion, from banning Muslims from entering the country to tracking ones that are here.
  • His campaign, and the Republican party more generally, has openly engaged in suppressing the vote from groups unlikely to support him. (“‘We have three major voter suppression operations underway,’ says a senior [Trump] official.”)
  • He has glorified violence against protesters who disagree with him.
  • He has lied at an unprecedented, astonishing rate, secure in the knowledge that his statements will be taken as true by a large fraction of his intended audience.
  • He has presented himself as a uniquely powerful strongman who can solve problems through his personal force of will, and spoke admiringly of dictators from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-un to Saddam Hussein.
  • He has vowed that if he wins the election, he will seek vengeance on those who opposed him, including throwing his opponent into prison.
  • He has repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election outcome, implying that he would refuse to accept the result if he lost.
  • He has pointed fingers at a shadowy global conspiracy in charge of world finance, often with explicitly anti-Semitic overtones.
  • Several Republican politicians have broached the prospect of refusing to confirm any Supreme Court nominees from a Democratic President.
  • A government agency, the FBI, has interfered in a Presidential election.
  • Republicans have accused Democratic officeholders of being traitors.
  • A number of Trump supporters have spoken of the prospect of violent resistance if Clinton is elected.

This is not a list of “why Donald Trump is a bad person who is disastrously unqualified for the Presidency”; that would be much longer. Rather, I wanted to highlight features of the campaign that are specifically attacks on (small-“d”) democratic norms and values. The assumptions, often unspoken, by which legitimate political opponents have generally agreed to operate by over the course of the last two centuries and more. Not all of them, of course; there are glaring exceptions, authoritarians who have run roughshod over one or more of these norms in the name of personal glory. History generally looks down upon them, and we consider ourselves fortunate that they didn’t have greater success. But fortune can run out.

The most worrisome aspect of the situation is the very real prospect that these attacks on the foundations of liberal democracy will not simply disappear once Donald Trump rides off into the gold-plated sunset; that they will be seized upon and deployed by other politicians who couldn’t help but notice Trump’s success. If that’s the case, we will have a real reason to be concerned that American democracy will stop working, perhaps sooner rather than later. I don’t think it’s likely that such a disastrous scenario would come to pass, but one has to balance the small likelihood against the devastating consequences — and right now the probability seems closer to 0.05 than to 10-5.

Democracy is a curious and fragile thing. It’s not just “majority rules”; crucial to the project are the ideas that (1) minority rights are still respected, and (2) in return, losing minorities respect electoral outcomes. It’s the second of these that is under siege at the moment. Since the time of the Federalist Papers, it’s been understood that democracy is an attempt to provide common self-rule for people who don’t agree on everything, but who at least share the common values of democracy itself. Having strong, even extremely passionate, political disagreements is inevitable in a democratic system. The question is whether we cast those with whom we disagree as enemies, traitors, and cheaters who must be opposed in every measure at every turn; or as partners in a grand project with whom we can fiercely disagree and yet still work with.

I don’t claim to have a complete understanding of how we got to this precarious point, though there are a number of factors that certainly have contributed. Arguments have raged over whether Trump’s support among the less well-off should be attributed to the economic anxieties of a class that sees their way of life eroding, or whether we should point the finger at racist and nativist sentiments that have been so ostentatiously on display at his rallies and on the internet. The answer is surely some combination of both; the economic anxieties are very real, and in many cases that anxiety has been channeled into distrust and outright hatred for people with different skin colors or nationalities. A lot of the blame for that channeling has to lie with the politicians who find “stroking resentment” to be a cheap and effective road to electoral success; it’s an old, familiar strategy.

But there are other causes, which can arguably be traced to specifics of our system of government. A politician whose goal is “attain and preserve political power” might have a very different game-theoretic calculation of how to behave while campaigning and in office than one whose goal is “make the country and the world a better place.” It’s not that hard, from a somewhat Darwinian point of view, to see how the former type might prosper in the struggle for political survival. Suppose you propose a certain system for dealing with health-care costs. But then your political opponent begins advocating an essentially similar system. Do you congratulate them on finally seeing the light, or change your mind about the system because it gives you a convenient issue with which to criticize your opponent?

My personal suspicion — quickly acknowledging that there are people out there who are much more expert than I am on these matters — is that the Trump phenomenon is a logical outgrowth of the Tea Party movement. When Barack Obama came into office in 2009, the economy was in shambles, and the government had to navigate a tricky course of promoting job growth, rescuing the financial system and industry, and not blowing the federal deficit too high. Seeking a weapon with which to oppose the newly-elected Democratic administration, Republican officials seized on simmering resentments about taxation and government interference, and flamed them into a full-scale “movement.” Hard-core Tea Partiers, however, went well beyond boilerplate Republican platform items about cutting taxes, and pushed hard on a politics of resentment, often to extremes. One of the arrows in the movement’s quiver was to mount primary campaigns against Republican officeholders who were deemed insufficiently committed to the cause. This had the effect of shifting the GOP uniformly away from the political center, and placed a very high emphasis on obstructing anything remotely associated with the Democratic party. Many in the Republican establishment didn’t subscribe to Tea Party extremism themselves; they just wanted to fire people up to get their votes. They didn’t imagine that those same people would prevent good establishment soldiers like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio from being nominated, in favor of an anti-establishment buffoon with zero loyalty to the party apparatus. It’s often hard to put the genie back into the bottle.

What they don’t tell you in school is that democracy is really hard. Voting is easy; the difficult part is to accept the outcome and work with your opponents for the common good. To think of those with whom you disagree as honest people with different opinions, rather than corrupt hell-beasts who should be thrown in jail. Our psychology tempts us into less lofty ways of thinking. In The Big Picture I talked about a concept in social psychology called the “Pyramid of Choice.” Two people with almost exactly the same views and preferences face a close decision, and the two of them end up choosing different alternatives. Over time, our brains work to justify these decisions; we forget it was a close call, and convince ourselves that the choice we made was the obviously correct one from the start. By this process, the two people who started out from nearly identical beliefs are driven ever further apart. You can see how this plays out in political contexts. People get nudged toward one side of the spectrum or the other, start thinking about all the reasons why it’s correct, listening to news that confirms their beliefs, and prop up their self-esteem by looking at their opponents as haters and losers. Tribal identity is a hell of a drug.

Democratic values, including most especially the ability to disagree without demonizing, are certainly not dead yet. Here’s an example of such values in action, when Barack Obama chides his own audience for behaving disrespectfully toward a protester:

Nor are such values confined to the Democratic side of our two-party system. Everyone remembers John McCain, politely disagreeing with his own supporters who wanted to paint Obama as a frightening foreigner:

We can disagree with each other and still work together. It’s happened, with some bumps in the road, for more than two centuries now. But it’s far from certain that we will continue to succeed.

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Fidtz
1123 days ago
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Good point to focus on
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