More mush from the wimps...

>> Friday, September 24, 2010

Well, what else can you call it? I realize the tradition is to say Democrats are effete pansies, but yesterday's Republican "Pledge To America" is, as Alex Pareene writes at Salon, "sad"; it's a bunch of impotent sloganeering and emasculated childish rage, but with pictures.

You can read it here (PDF link) if you'd really like to. Might be worth a larf or making googly eyes at, but don't worry about getting angry and angsty over it because it's not serious enough to merit it. It is, in fact, a tourist brochure for flavor-of-the-moment Republicanism: lots of bright color pics and contentless graphs, a miscellany of blurbs and pretty much everything you already knew about when you pulled into the rest stop to take a leak plus some stuff you wouldn't have cared about if you'd known; you'll put it back in the rack between the disposable state highway maps and the pamphlet with a kayak-er getting soaked on the front and wonder if the Slim-Jims are worth seventy-five cents and if you get the Mountain Dew will the much-needed caffeine boost be worth having to pull over again to take another leak a hundred-and-fifty miles down the road? And this is the part where you've already forgotten about the, what was it, Republican Bat Caves Spelunking Whatever?

If you think I'm engaging in hyperbole, it's less than you think and you can demonstrate this by way of math: you may have heard news reports like this one describing the "Pledge To America" as a twenty-one page document, but if you clicked on the previous link to the official PDF (or picked it up off the brochures rack) you may have noticed the real deal is slightly heftier and shows a 48-page page count; counting four pages as cover (front cover, front cover inside, back cover inside, back cover), what we end up with is a 44-page handout. So what gives? Did the Republicans add lots and lots of substantive detail to the 21-page draft that popped up before the official rollout? Nah. What happened is that more than half the final product is pictures--cowboys, the Statute Of Liberty, Main Streets USA, that kind of crap--plus the Republicans had the typesetters use a really big font, wide gutters and extra-wide margins. Kind of like when you were a kid and you tried to turn your three pages of all-you-knew-about-Beowulf into a ten-page magnum opus by WRITING REALLY BIG IN THE CENTER OF THE PAGE. Except maybe the Republicans have a partial excuse insofar as they're assuming old white people get tired of wearing their bifocals all the time, I dunno.

I didn't see any photo credits, so I don't know if the authors used a whole bunch of public domain clipart or if these are photos donated by various campaigns. So many Republican candidates this year like dressing up like cowboys (hey, it worked for George W. Bush!) that it's hard to tell whether the lassoing cowboy in the sunset is from a cigarette ad or a still from some upstate New York Congressional candidate's TV promo. One suspects, however, that photos like the one of Mt. Rushmore came from somewhere, and one worries the Republicans might be, ahem, thieves, but honestly, who knows? It comes to mind partly because I consider myself a creator (writer, blogger, photographer, y'know?) and partly because a friend's significant other was recently having problems with a fanzine misappropriating his work, and also because it's always funny when a group of people who walk around going, "Ronkronkronk--private property--ronkronkronk--ownership--ronkronkronk--business" end up "borrowing" intellectual property without permission or credit, like a pop song appropriated for a campaign theme, say, or a bunch of images probably downloaded by an intern from the Internet.

I write this knowing full well that some people probably wouldn't want credit for their contributions to the padding. I love the pie chart on page 23 (page 25 by way of the PDF page counter; it actually appears in the draft version, too, on page 12) labeled "Federal Assistance Programs." Odin knows what this is supposed to be--no, actually he doesn't, and Odin All-Father knows ev-er-y-thing, that's what his missing eye and raven are all about. He doesn't know for the same reason you and I don't and can't, which is that this chart doesn't have anything to explain what the various numbers mean--millions of somethings, billions of somethings, money, hours, percentages (not unless you can have 413% of something), growth, shrinkage, Frequent-Flier-Miles earned, what?. And look at what's listed: I get that certain conservatives consider the Department Of Education and the Department Of Health And Human Services and the Department Of Housing And Urban Development to be "assistance programs," but the Department Of Defense? Homeland Security? Really? And I would've thought those small-business-pimping politicos would be alright with the assistance programs offered through the Department Of Commerce, but okay, so Commerce is on the chart so it must be evil, right? Just like the Department Of Veteran's Affairs?

This may seem like nitpicking, like I'm not critiquing the ideas the Republicans are presenting; which, you know, there actually aren't any, or at least aren't any you haven't heard before, but that's not really the issue either. The reason I'm discussing their pie charts and illustrations is that it's a central part of the Republicans' flim-flammery. Why is that pie chart there on page 23/25/12 when it doesn't show anything at all and conveys absolutely no information whatsoever? And the answer is so they can have a chart. Because charts are scientific and smart and stuff: economists and scientists use charts, and Al Gore had a bunch of them and lots of people think he's smart for a politician, and a lot of those magazines that have long words in them will break things up with a chart. "Trust us, we have charts and everything." And the saddest part is that there's more than a few poor idiots out there amidst the huddled masses who will look at that chart, and instead of saying, "Hold on--what the fuck?" they're going to say, "Boy, look at how government wastes so much on Health And Human Service, 413, that's a lot, and Department Of Defense only gets 64."

Except this example, sadly, gives our hypothetical moron too much credit. Because, you see, another problem with this chart as an infographic, above and beyond (below and beneath?) the fact it doesn't show anything, is that it uses repeated or similar colors to not show it, and to figure out that the Department Of Defense's teal color is not the Department Of Justice's teal, you have to assume (a) that the government agencies are presented in the list in clockwise order, starting with the blue Department Of Health And Human Services whose wedge begins at "12:00" and (b) that the Department Of Defense is not one of the five mystery wedges (i.e. the teal "16"), since the chart lists fifteen agencies but actually shows twenty slices of pie.

I mean, it's completely possible the Department Of Defense is 16, which is pretty embarrassing for a major governmental agency during wartime, etc. When's the last time you can remember an important, cabinet level Federal agency being a 16 while other agencies are 184 or even 12? And why, why in the name of all that is holy, are good, decent Americans putting up with a 132, 132, for crying out loud?

Seriously, though, the incompetence and dishonesty is staggering, and that's the point here. It's bullshit pure and simple. My guess is that they grabbed the chart from some government or think-take pub and didn't screengrab a chunk on an opposite page that explained the five mystery wedges, perhaps along with an explanation of what the assortment of numbers means. They grabbed this chart because they wanted a chart, but they do not actually care enough to worry about trivialities like content or accuracy, and they assume their audience is too stupid to notice or care that they don't care.

I imagine the flimflam here is supposed to disguise the paucity of content in the actual text in the same way a stage magician burns a bit of flash paper to keep the audience from noticing he just stuck the Jack Of Diamonds into his pocket. In this case it might have been a better trick if the "Pledge" was printed on flash paper and actually spontaneously combusted before you could notice how fucked-up their illustrations are, but whatever.

Here's a summary of the whole "Pledge": you've heard and seen Republican House and Senate candidates campaigning in various primaries and state races, right? And you've heard them say they want to renew the Bush-era tax cuts, repeal healthcare reform, and they're against abortions and love our troops and we need tighter border security and, oooooo! that Obama pisses them off and they hate him, etc., ad nauseum, and so forth, blah, blah, blah? Well, that. That's the whole pledge. All twenty-one or forty-four pages of it, just that, except the "long" version has more pictures and doesn't say anything about just having to take the President's word for it that he was born in America and is a Christian and that he never went on a date on a Satanic altar--wait, strike that last part, that was someone else. The "Pledge" isn't a contract and it isn't a plan, it's a bunch of standard-issue campaign fare with the usual head-scratchers and contradictions. Lower the deficit by raising less money, cut Federal programs unless they're really popular, expand personal liberty unless genitalia are involved somehow, America's a land of opportunity except for immigrants, we're going to make it an official requirement that we read legislation before we vote on it because apparently we're not already doing that, and (oh yeah!) I guess we also ought to start following the Constitution (because apparently we were doing that wrong, too, even before we became the minority party). Do not try to cut any of it with a knife or to eat it with a fork.

May the gods have mercy on us. These liars and fools could very well be elected to Congress in large numbers. I'm not sure if I should be worried that they'll then try to make an agenda of trying to pass their Pledge into law or worried that it doesn't even make for much of an agenda. They'll compare themselves to Reagan, but Reagan was (at least) an idiot with an ideology, whereas these people compose a gibbering horde armed with slogans and borrowed pictures. Should I despair?


Phiala Friday, September 24, 2010 at 7:12:00 AM EDT  

Pie charts are a really good way to lie with true numbers, because human brains aren't any good at estimating angles. Some careful positioning, a bit of color adjustment, and you can make the data look like anything you want.

[What? I study how to make good charts. Which means I have to learn how to fake it too.]

But this? Sounds like they were too stupid even to make one that lies. Confusing and meaningless were sufficient.

Imagine that.

Warner (aka ntsc) Friday, September 24, 2010 at 7:27:00 AM EDT  

Hey 16 is a good number, it is both 2 to the 4th and 4 squared and what other number can you say that about?

Or even the x to the y and y to the x part?

uning - saying the same thing about 1.

timb111 Friday, September 24, 2010 at 11:15:00 AM EDT  

I'd like to point out that there is another chart in a picture on page 12 titled "Public Debt Nearly Half Owned By Foreign Entities" with seven slices and a white haired man pointing at it.

In addition a chart of "Secretary Health & Human Services" is repeated in three places.

So there is way more going on here than a cursory glance will tell you. None of it makes much sense of course, but you have to admit the pictures are colourful and the silhouette of the cowboy swinging the rope is pretty good.

Steve Friday, September 24, 2010 at 11:41:00 AM EDT  

All the pictures were of old white people.... They sure know who their base is.

Eric Friday, September 24, 2010 at 12:13:00 PM EDT  

Now, now, Steve, to be fair there are two persons of color in the background of the Washington County photograph taking up all of page 36 (38 of the PDF), walking across the street--or they might be wearing hats. I tried zooming in, but the image is pretty pixellated in the PDF and I can't quite tell. But they're probably not white.

So you can't accuse the Republican Party of not being inclusive! They have a big tent with plenty of room for persons of color... especially if they're far away... and kind of walking in the opposite direction....

Seth Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 2:12:00 AM EDT  

I thought perhaps the numbers in the pie chart represented billions, so I looked up the budget for HHS. On page 3 of that PDF is, yes, another pie chart, showing that the HHS budget excluding Medicare expenditures but including Medicaid is roughly... $446B. So, not exactly 413, but maybe they were using a previous year's number?

Also, $64B seems low for the DOD budget. I mean, simple math shows that the number of active duty servicemembers (about 1.5 million) times the average salary (let's say $50,000, when you factor in benefits), would account for most of that $64B right there. And that's not even including planes, which I am given to understand are expensive!

So... I dunno.

Phiala Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 7:34:00 AM EDT  

I just read the PDF and the 2010 federal budget summaries. I hate you all.

I didn't go through everything (do you have any idea how long the budget is???), but I can't make the Pie Chart (TM) match up to anything resembling real data.

In 2010, defense was 755bn, while non-defense appropriated funding was 666bn (eeek!). Mandatory programs (medicare, social security - stuff that can't be cut) was 2037bn.

So, definitely not related to total budget. The chart is labeled "Federal Assistance Programs" so I thought perhaps the DoD part was VA and such, but VA funding was about twice what's shown.

USDA is listed as 236 - I think; I can't read that very clearly. Assistance programs: USDA has various farmer and rural development programs, but the big one is WIC (food stamps). That was 7.2bn in 2010. Nothing like 236.

So.... all this time spent, and I still have no fucking clue what those numbers mean. Now I'd really like to know where they stole the pie chart from.

Oh, but wait! Now I get it. If you are talking about federal assistance programs it's mandatory to use a horrid pie chart with no indication of quantities. See? Those numbers are in the ballpark, and I'm guessing if you spent enough time rummaging through the listings you could figure them out. That I'm not going to do.

Dammit. I guess the pie chart is based on actual data, not fantasy data, at least for the top five.

Eric Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 11:30:00 AM EDT  

Phiala, you may have hit something with the CFDA chart you linked to. That chart at least explains that it's showing how more than 2,000 assistance programs were allocated as of September this year (e.g. DOJ manages or oversees 125 programs). What this chart doesn't pretend to tell us, obviously, is how much any of those programs cost, and it should be added that even if it did, cost alone doesn't tell you anything about efficiency or utility of a program unless you're one of those ultra-libertarians for whom government has no business spending anything on anything.

Which makes the use of the chart in the "Pledge" document even more disingenuous... assuming that this is where they even got it from, which looks likely (though they probably used an older version, since the numbers don't actually line up, they're only close) though it isn't certain.

Thanks for digging, Phiala!

Phiala Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 11:36:00 AM EDT  

Thanks for digging, Phiala!

You owe me a beer.

Seriously, I completely missed that those were numbers of programs. Obviously reading federal budget material at 7am on Saturday is bad for your brain.

That makes perfect sense.

So yes, let's get rid of disaster aid to farmers, and support for food banks, and veteran's benefits. By all means. All federal support programs are eebil.

Got it.

Eric Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 2:09:00 PM EDT  

Phiala, I keep looking for a "Send Beer" tab in my PayPal BlackBerry app, but it hasn't been implemented yet or I'm missing something.

A beer shall be yours, however, if it becomes feasible to send!

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