Friday, November 14, 2014


Pooptie (po͞op'-tē): A term used to express endearment and insult at the same time.

'You is a pooptie.'

Early 21st-century term believed to have been first coined by a toddler in North Carolina, presumably as a variant of the early 18th century imitative word 'poop.'

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The End of Politics

Cyrano De Bergerac was probably, at least in part, a political animal. He was fictional, obviously, at least as we know him, but one didn’t live as he did—able to navigate among fellow aristocrats—unless one was a creature with some political instincts.

When I was a child, I loved the movie of Cyrano starring Jose Ferrer, and I memorized huge chunks of the play (the Brian Hooker translation), a paperback of which I carried around far too frequently. I memorized lots of things back then, including all of the non-sports-related Trivial Pursuit questions (I’ve never been able to retain information about sports), Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky, the cast and crew of every movie that played on HBO (back when HBO only played movies at night), and heaven knows what else. I have forgotten the sorts of things that I used to remember.

It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that no one remembers Cyrano for his ability to articulate his position vis-à-vis royalty, taxation, and whatever else might have been the topics du jour in mid-seventeenth century France. People remember him because he had a huge nose. And he wrote poems and loved with a perfect mixture of heroism, valor, and absurdity.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Logic and a Recent Charlotte Observer Editorial or: Navigating the Unknown

Earlier this week, the Charlotte Observer ran an editorial entitled “There Should Be Nothing Sneaky About a Tax Hike” excoriating Mecklenburg Board of County Commission (BOCC) Chair Jennifer Roberts.

Monday night (4/4/11), in a meeting with a group of CMS parents organized by the grassroots MeckFUTURE campaign, Roberts said that keeping tax rates flat when property values increase is not the same thing as raising taxes. The Observer parried: It’s raising taxes and doing so sneakily because it’s, um, not cutting property tax rates.

Wait, that didn’t come out right. Let me rephrase. Between 2003 and 2011, property values in Mecklenburg County increased by 7% or so, on average. The county knows that because they just did a revaluation, which happens every eight years, statutorily. Because the value of real estate has increased, overall tax receipts will increase if the county keeps the property tax rate flat. Keeping tax rates flat is the very definition of a tax increase, you see. Yeah.

If this happens, then it will be a tax hike that is absolutely inconceivable. And the BOCC is sneaky, because the tax hike will opaque. Opaque? Yes, I say, opaque! As in the opposite of transparent! It’s obviously...What? You require an explanation? Okay, people can investigate how their property was revalued, and the county discloses the rate and how it comes to that decision, but other than that, the megahugegigantic tax EXPLOSION is dastardly and underhanded and secretive and ¡“sneaky”!



I have read the editorial all the way through enough times (i.e. at least once) to absorb its crystalline logic, and as far as I can tell, the Observer’s considered editorial position is due to sophistry, fatuity, or just plain intellectual laziness.

Note that at this point, I’m not addressing the merits and demerits of increased tax receipts, simply whether Commissioner Roberts was being “misleading”. From what I understand, she was alluding to a 2005 article by John Hood of the conservative John Locke Foundation: “A failure to enact a revenue-neutral tax rate after property revaluation does not constitute a tax increase.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Virgins, Psychics, Carnivores, and Conspiracies

Virgins, Psychics, Carnivores, and Conspiracies: confirmation bias and you
“It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.” -Francis Bacon
You and I share something with one another, with President Obama, with Rush Limbaugh, with the Dalai Lama, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Sarah Palin, with Angela Merkel, and with every musician, movie star, plumber, prostitute, stamp collector, sergeant-at-arms, and unemployed underwater basket weaver in the world.

We all able to ascertain patterns, draw conclusions, and make predictions.

This pattern-finding ability is one of the distinguishing marks of humanity. Homo sapiens is man the thinker; perhaps we are, more accurately, Homo exemplum cupitor, man the pattern-seeker. (I am assuming that my decades-unused high school Latin skills are at least slightly accurate. If not, corrections are welcome.)

Pattern-seeking is one of the behaviors that makes humans, as a species, so successful, and it leads to the victories and the quirks that we, as individuals, manifest. It leads to the soaring success of some cultures and the unfortunate decline of others.

In this piece, I will be examining something called confirmation bias, which has given us protection from predators (and the corollary ability to be good ones), virgin sacrifices, psychics and spiritualists, conspiracy theories, and much more.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Necessary Good, or Leaving Lazy Libertarianism

”[When] men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them...there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

For years, I identified myself as a libertarian. I was even a Libertarian for a while. That is to say, I was a registered member of the Libertarian Party for about six months (Here is their platform). I’m not a Libertarian anymore, though, and I’m not really a libertarian either.

In the past, I’ve said that government should function, essentially, as a shell for society, arguing that things from medical research to local parks are a misuse of taxpayer money. I still advocate for limited, constitutional government, but there is a difference between the limits placed on the federal government by the Constitution and the limits placed on government at every level by libertarian ideology. Government, especially at a federal level, has the capacity to be destructive, but I think that there are many things that the government can provide better than anyone else and, for the sake of the civil society and healthy communities, should do so. (Parks, again, are the obvious example.)

At this point, there is a distinct possibility that you are groaning internally, because this may seem like a self-indulgent piece of philosophico-political puffery. For one thing, it is about libertarianism, a notoriously self-indulgent subject. For another, its author used a capital letter to distinguish between libertarianism and Libertarianism--in the first paragraph.

I hope that you’ll read on, however, if you’re interested in why I no longer buy into libertarianism or its ill-conceived, majuscular manifestations.

Libertarianism is an idiosyncratic and relatively new movement (between 40 and 60 years old, depending on where you start). It is based on the ideas of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman (a hero of mine), F.A. Hayek (whom I admire), Leonard Read (author of the brilliant essay “I, Pencil”), Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter and possibly the author of the Little House books), and a few others. Most of the thinkers whose ideas form the backbone of libertarianism were radicals of one stripe of another, and this may explain why it is likely to remain a fringe movement, except when its palatable, realistic ideas can be integrated into the Republican Party platform.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Touching Evil: Violent psychosis and the crimes of Jared Loughner

Midmorning on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner, an unemployed 22-year-old, opened fire on a crowd in a Safeway parking lot, murdering six individuals and injuring over a dozen others.

In what appears to have been an assassination attempt, Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head, point blank. As of this writing, Congresswoman Giffords has survived the attack, thanks to the expertise of her doctors and the extraordinary, manmade miracles that we regularly receive as a consequence of advances in medicine. Imagine if this had happened a century ago. Giffords, it is almost certain, would have died en route to a dirty hospital or very soon after her arrival. After all, penicillin, something so basic that we take it for granted, was discovered and made available during World War II, and it is hard for us today to understand just how far medicine has come since then.

Many people have asked why Loughner targeted Giffords and murdered six others. Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Tucson’s Pima County, attributed it to intolerance and the tone on talk radio, asserting that, “[T]he vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.” Loughner, according to this line of thinking, was an unbalanced person reacting to inflaming rhetoric. We’ll call this the media hypothesis.

Some members of the media immediately blamed the shooting on Sarah Palin and various tea party groups. According to this narrative, political conservatives, Governor Palin in particular, were responsible for the murders. Interestingly, Congresswoman Giffords was, herself, quite conservative by many standards (a “Blue Dog Democrat), and the pogressive website Daily Kos included her on a list of “targets” for political primaries). Let’s lump these together and call them the political hypothesis.

Loughner’s friends, however, have said that he wasn’t particularly political. He wasn’t an avid watcher of news programs and didn’t listen to talk radio, and they don’t believe that he was influenced by Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. In fact, his favorite books (according to his YouTube account) were Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto. Some have said that Loughner used to be a pretty normal kid, but that his personality changed abruptly after a breakup with a high school girlfriend. Let’s call this the heartbreak hypothesis.

I’d like to offer an alternate hypothesis, one that it pretty obvious but unpopular with pundits and politicians, because it doesn’t have a solution and doesn’t offer the opportunity for a program that they can push: Jared Loughner is insane.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Moving Our Schools: A fresh perspective on a local controversy

An Open Letter to the Board of Education, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

My name is Greg Garrison, and I’m the father of four students at Smith Academy of International Languages: two in French (fourth grade and second grade) and two in Chinese (second grade and Kindergarten). On top of this, my wife and I have four other children and a multitude of creatures that run, scamp, swim, crawl, slither, hop, and eat (continuously).

There will be no quiz, so you need not remember these details, but suffice it to say that life in the Garrison household is complicated and rarely quiet, to put it mildly. While I'm making introductions, I should mention that this is an open letter from a single individual, and the direct language and opinions expressed in this note are mine alone. I am not a representative for other parents, the school leadership team, the PTSA, etc.

My four Smith children will be impacted by your upcoming decision regarding facilities for next year, and I know that you’re putting your time and best effort into making it judiciously, which I appreciate. The quality of their lives will be affected significantly, whether our program moves to Waddell and thrives, moves to Harding and withers, or stays where it is while we hope for a future facility that is bigger and better.

The students at Waddell and Harding also, obviously, face a good deal of uncertainty, and whether we like the outcome or not, I think that it’s fair to say that families at all three schools will find breathing an easier task once your decision has been announced.

The late economist Milton Friedman once said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” I have no doubt that everyone’s intentions are pure. I have no doubt that the people who built the programs at Harding, Smith, and Waddell had great intentions, good ideas, and genuine love for children. I have no doubt that you have the best possible intentions and want the best for every student. I imagine that your belief in the importance of guiding principles is well-meant, and objective standards and guiding principles are important. If, however, we allow an intention to follow through with our best laid schemes (neighborhood schools) to outweigh the known, tested results of successful schools (Smith and Harding), don’t be surprised if those plans go awry and we find ourselves wondering what happened.