Around the Internets

It’s the freakin’ weekend — raise ‘em up if you want links (after the jump):

Eleventy million dollars worth of nothing: Doctor Science on how Election 2012 really was a foregone conclusion:

All those stories you’re seeing about how “Obama won the election because he did X, Romney lost because he didn’t do Y” — they are, statistically speaking, fairy stories. There is no evidence so far that *anything* made a difference, not even the choice of Romney as the Republican nominee. The whole bloody hellishly expensive campaign did nothing.

[…]

We can tell that there were no game-changing developments, because the game never changed. Which means that something like 99.9% of the narratives going around about the campaign are disproven bunk. One of the few observers who got it right was Wiesman, who wondered in July if this was the least volatile election ever. I think he was completely right when he said then that People are pretty much settled on who they will be supporting in November.

More from Nate Silver:

“Numbers aren’t perfect, but for me, it’s numbers with all their imperfections versus bullshit. You had people saying, ‘You can’t quantify people’s feelings through numbers!’ But what’s the alternative? Me sitting at my Georgetown cocktail party saying that I know how people in Toledo, Ohio, are going to vote better than the actual people of Toledo, Ohio, who answered a survey? It’s incredibly presumptuous. And truth is an absolute defence. So if they got it right it would be one thing, but they didn’t. They’re consistently quite wrong.”

Meta up yer you-know-what: Aaron Bady examines the perniciousness of ‘politics':

Everything is political, so the “political” can be nothing in particular. And this means the particular can’t be anything.

Think of it this way: when we say things like “the personal is political,” for example—or attach an adjective like “sexual” or “identity” to politics—what we really mean is that the sense of the political sphere which excludes mere personal concerns (like sex, or sexual identity) is bogus and wrong. We are right to say this, excluding the personal from the political is bogus and wrong. Dignity is as much a part of the struggle for labor rights as are things like salaries and benefits, and the dignity of marriage no less so; any one who thinks a civil union is the same thing as a legal marriage is missing the reason why reactionaries are defending that very difference, tooth and nail, and why legally distinguishing between people who have real marriages and people who have fake, pretend marriages is really about legally distinguishing between people. And, more generally, the subject of politics is subjectivities, not just Objective Facts: the kind of clothes you wear, the kind of things you post on facebook, the expression on your face as you do your job, even how you talk to your family, all of these things are “political,” and if you don’t think so, experiment by adopting with politically unorthodox choices in your public behavior.

The problem, then, is that nothing left of the word once we have declared politics to be also personal; if politics is anything, it’s everything minus the personal, so adding the personal back in—as we must—forces the essential meaninglessness of the word “political” to the surface. If it can’t distinguish between the act of casting a presidential ballot while thinking about the Supreme Court and the choice of how, when, and whether to have sex with whom—or if it makes these seem like qualitatively different and wholly unconnected things—then the word “political” is not helping us think about the world we live in. It’s only describing the difference between voting and everything that isn’t voting, which is pretty much everything. That voting and everything else are connected, however, is entirely the point of voting. But the fact that it’s even necessary to say that “everything” is political demonstrates how the word “political” falsely asserts that some things aren’t political, and how this is its only meaning. And if everything is political, then the word tells us nothing interesting: how you vote and how you have sex are both political, which demonstrates how unhelpful the word itself is in describing how they are differently so.

Watching the detectives: Greg Beato on the bipartisan boondoggle-in-waiting that is the (zombie) virtual border fence:

While CBP is terrified of another crushing disappointment, what is perhaps even scarier is the prospect of success. The agency’s failure to construct a viable surveillance system has had at least one tactical advantage: It has kept people from questioning the value of a functional virtual fence. Any attention the project has attracted has focused mainly on diagnosing its immediate shortcomings rather than assessing its long-term utility as a means of deterring illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and terrorists seeking entrée to the U.S.

Building dozens of towers that don’t really work as advertised has been somewhat costly, but how much would it cost if we had hundreds or even thousands of towers that do work as advertised? In the wake of 9/11, the Border Patrol has grown tremendously. In fiscal year 2000, it had 9,212 agents and an annual budget of $1 billion. Ten years later, the Border Patrol boasted 21,444 agents and a budget of $3.5 billion. A virtual fence, and the monitoring and maintenance it would require, will no doubt ensure a well-staffed, well-budgeted future for the CBP. But what impact would it have on the security of America?

“The main problem the Border Patrol faces isn’t just seeing drugs or illegal aliens coming through,” says Maril, the East Carolina University sociologist. “It’s getting to wherever that’s happening before the people are gone.” While a more functional system may cut down on calls prompted by suspicious agaves, it won’t help agents traverse harsh and often inaccessible terrain any faster. “You can’t just get in a squad car and be there in 10 minutes,” Maril notes.

In any case, there is no guarantee this iteration of a virtual fence will work any better than earlier ones. Tom Barry, a senior analyst at the Center for International Policy who focuses on border issues, notes that a retired Air Force major general testifying at a 2010 congressional hearing confessed that 12 out of 15 sensor activations are caused by wind. “They’re spending many millions of dollars responding to weather events,” Barry exclaims.

Thank you sir may I have another? LSE economics professor John Van Reenen on why he’s drawn to conservative thinkers, despite leaning centre-left:

I have always located myself on the centre-left, but even in my strident student days I was seen as an incorrigible reactionary by my mainly anarchist friends. Such disdain encouraged me even more into reading Hobbes, Locke, Smith and classical liberal thinkers.

Perversely, I think I always enjoy reading Conservative thinkers more than leftist ones. It’s much more fun to have books that really challenge your positions rather than confirming your prejudices. Everyone should read Milton Friedman’s Right to Choose and Freidrich Von Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. Roger Scruton’s character assassination of our intellectual heroes in Thinkers of the New Leftwas a particular delight. Maybe like surreptitiously reading the free Daily Mail on the plane.

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