Saturday, July 30, 2005

I'm with Atrios

He's absolutely right Schmidt really is a horrible candidate, as seen by the video over here on CrooksandLiars. Her constant retreats to point-for-point talking points, her easily flustered performance... she clearly didn't expect any kind of serious opposition, and has absolutely no idea how to deal with a "nightmare scenario" candidate like the Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett.

She'll still probably win, thanks to the district she's been dropped in, but I doubt anybody is going to take her seriously, and I'm sure that Hackett will have another kick at the can.

Friday, July 29, 2005

More fun with Tom

I laughed when I went back a little ways and read this other piece from Friedman:

Sadly, those are the virtues we now associate with China, Chinese athletes and Chinese leaders. Talk to U.S. business executives and they'll often comment on how many of China's leaders are engineers, people who can talk to you about numbers, long-term problem-solving and the national interest - not a bunch of lawyers looking for a sound bite to get through the evening news. America's most serious deficit today is a deficit of such leaders in politics and business.
Tom, you wanna know what other great superpower tended to elevate leaders with knowledge of engineering and the like?

The Soviet Union.

They LOVED that stuff.

Despite what you may have read in Dilbert, it takes more than number crunching engineers (and, for that matter, economists) to run and populate a modern nation-state. It takes english majors, philosophers, MBAs, and (gasp, shock!) lawyers. Friedman has fallen into the typical trap of someone who isn't that good with numbers being dazzled by those that are, but there are way, way too many aspects of the human condition that are, if not poorly expressed with numbers, completely impossible to express in numbers.

(That computers are really, really handy for crunching dazzling arrays of numbers and completely hopeless with language doesn't change that, which is the main reason I've never really trusted linear regression analysis as anything but a first quantitative step in understanding ultimately qualitative phenomena.)

Friendman on Hatemongering

I would compile it in a nondiscriminatory way. I want the names of the Jewish settler extremists who wrote 'Muhammad Is a Pig' on buildings in Gaza right up there with Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, a Saudi who is imam of Islam's holy mosque in Mecca. According to the Memri translation service, the imam was barred from Canada following 'a report about his sermons by Memri that included Al-Sudayyis calling Jews 'the scum of the earth' and 'monkeys and pigs' who should be 'annihilated.' Other enemies of Islam were referred to by Sheik Al-Sudayyis as 'worshipers of the cross' and 'idol-worshiping Hindus' who must be fought.'
Ok, we have a token Jewish extremist there, but is Friedman seriously trying to argue that the only hate merchants out there are Muslims and that one Jewish guy? Couldn't he find an example a little closer to home? Like, for example, the RaHoWa crowd that hasn't exactly gone anywhere?

(Remember when people actually paid attention to the home-grown christian racist extremists?)

More disturbing is this:

We also need to spotlight the "excuse makers," the former State Department spokesman James Rubin said. After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed. When you live in an open society like London, where anyone with a grievance can publish an article, run for office or start a political movement, the notion that blowing up a busload of innocent civilians in response to Iraq is somehow "understandable" is outrageous. "It erases the distinction between legitimate dissent and terrorism," Mr. Rubin said, "and an open society needs to maintain a clear wall between them."
Friedman plays the typical game of confusing "agree" with "understand". Understanding motivations has nothing to do with agreeing with them, else every homicide detective would be forced to sympathize with the criminals.

(Oddly enough, this used to be one of the main reasons Americans had trouble doing business in Japan. American english blurs the line between "agree" and "understand". Japanese doesn't. Japanese would say "they understood" and Americans would take it as "agree". Hijinks ensued.)

Even so, this (like so much of the rhetoric about the War-Formerly-Known-As-GWOT) smacks of attacking WrongThink. Just as one can understand and even sympathize with the alienation and frustration of a kid sucked into the trap of bullshit neo-nazism, yet loathe the actual doctrine, one can understand and sympathize with someone driven to anti-American extremism while still condemning and attacking the doctrine to which he adheres to. The axiom "hate the sin, not the sinner" is too simplistic, but it fits, and underscores a broader truth that isn't limited to Christianity: Understanding is a strength, not a weakness.

(Besides, since when has ignorance been a useful tactic in war? )

Barefoot and Pregnant

Birth Control Harms Women - Santorum Exposed: The BlogSantorum sez that birth control is bad, not only because "it doesn't work" (it does) or that it "harms women" (being constantly in the state in the title doesn't), but because "sex outside of marriage...shouldn't be tolerated".



Matthew, take a good long look, because this is what that social-conservative posturing you advocate will require. Taking a position one step away from "I wouldn't advocate stoning women in my government role, but personally, I think stoning the non-chaste is an excellent idea."

Me, I'm just going to tell Santorum that his party's jihad against women having and enjoying sex is flat out wrong, regardless of whether or not people frightened of their own instincts support them.


Someone needs to explain to Matthew Yglesias that the old axiom (I'm full of 'em lately) "A society is judged by how it treats its most marginal members" applies not only to the fourth amendment, but to the first. He's bought into the "we must doooo something about all that hideous filthy porn on the Interweb! Won't somebody please think of the children" line. Why? strategy.

Well, this all strikes me as a bit silly. But if you think -- and I do -- that Democrats would benefit from adopting a more socially conservative posture, this is a much better way of doing it than making concessions on serious, substantive issues like reproductive rights.
For the last time. It's taking a principled stand on the small stuff, the seemingly unimportant stuff, the seemingly marginal stuff, that makes all the difference. It's what establishes your credibility, and gives you a reputation for consistency. All this will do is further cement the Democrats' reputation as being unprincipled opportunists, because everybody and his dog will figure out quickly that this is merely a ploy.

(How could they not? That's precisely what Yglesias is saying! What on earth is he thinking? Even if it were to be implemented, this strategy is the sort of thing you say in internal, sensitive memos, not on a bloody website!)

This is one of the reasons I can't get behind Hillary, other than the fact that she can't win and is a Republican's wet dream.

It's the anti-video game stuff.

Not only is it ludicrous, not only is it clearly opportunist, but it displays precisely the contempt for freedom of expression that Yglesias just did. It suggests that any issue of principled liberalism that doesn't test well in focus groups or come from a strategist's mouth is going to be ignored. Which sounds good, politically, except that once you start down the social conservative road, they're going to expect you to bend on the "big stuff" too, because they're ideologically principled enough to spot the connection between the two, and the Republicans are bright enough to turn any inconsistencies into bales and bales of political fodder.

Besides, is Hillary aware of just how many copies GTA sold? Some parents may be swayed by her anti-game stance, but not a single one of the adults that bought GTA, or any remotely violent game, are going to vote for her, any more than moviegoers would vote for her were she saying that movies needed to be censored.

Matthew, Hillary: it's a losing game. Be smart, and don't play it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

No Matter What You Say...

Someone's probably already said it. David Sirota tore a strip out of the DLC, and it's a great read.

Oh, and by the by, that last story? Hat-tip to Atrios.

Big Dreams

There's a cliche you've all heard before: fortune favors the bold. It's not quite true, as the bold can end up a smoking crater in the wrong situation, but it holds some truth, at least in politics. Big Ideas get people interested, as does the willingness to act boldly and confidently in your beliefs and ideas. Combine the two (bold support of a Big Idea), and it has to be appallingly bad in order to lose support.

(That's the Bush administration in a nutshell: Big Ideas, expressed boldly, that are so badly thought out that they end up alienating even the most frightened of Security Moms. Pity that the people who end up cratering aren't the Idea men.)

Rick Perlstein, when speaking to the crypto-DINO DLC, argued that social security is one of those Big Ideas (he calls them Superjumbos, but the name doesn't matter), and that nationalized health insurance could be another one. He shows how frightened the Republicans were of Clinton's health care bill going through, because it would cement the Dem's "defenders of the middle class against the depradations of robber barons" trope.

The Republicans know that the only way they can credibly present themselves as "populist" is if they can paint the Democrats as supporting an atheistic and immoral "cultural elite" while simultaneously blurring the lines between the parties on economic issues. Health care would redraw that line, and the Republicans don't want that to happen. Since there's only two viable parties, it stands to reason that anything that the Republicans are politically worried about is probably good for the Dems.

Considering the Republicans nowadays, it's probably good policy too.

The biggest problem that Perlstein has is that he was speaking to the, um, Democratic Leadership Council. National health care is not really part of their platform, which appears to be trying to out-Republican the Republicans and take shots at their own party members. They're the champions of the nice-sounding but utterly bankrupt "socially progressive and fiscally conservative" perspective--usually civil libertarians who forget that taxes pay for things--and are not going to get behind this.

It's a Big Idea, but the DLC isn't the home of Big Ideas, it's the home of "triangulating" small thinkers who wouldn't know "bold" if it kicked them in the teeth. They would scream "EXTREMIST" if they actually did recognize someone being bold. That is why they can't stop losing.

(Is it hypocritical to take shots at them for taking shots at others? Perhaps, but there's a distinction between punishing boldness and identifying "centrists" who attack those who don't support pathetically obvious weakness.)

Edit: Perlstein, in comments, said that the speech wasn't made to the DLC, but to "powerful Democrats". My apologies to Perlstein, if not the DLC. Their presence and their attitude remains the key reason why the health care system Perlstein is advocating is unlikely at best.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kos: It's Roberts

According to Kos, Bush's SC nominee is John G. Roberts Jr..

According to his comment section, he's red meat for the social conservatives. He hates Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, labour laws, and 12 year old girls eating fries on the subway(?!)

According to common sense, he's worth of a filibuster if anybody is.

According to Demosthenes, he's a test of courage. If the Dems don't act, they're invertebrates.

Friday, July 08, 2005


From the blog of alienated Canadian Liberal, Warren Kinsella:

The money shot, as Hollywood would call it: do those of us on the Left, whatever that is these days, need to reconsider our position on Iraq? Is it possible that Bush and Blair have been, in some way, right about their 'war on terror'? As you survey this morning's papers, and if you are being honest with yourself, you have to at least reflect on that question. I know that I have.
First: The term "money shot" tends to be of an, ahem, San Fernando Valley term. Hollywood has precious few of those.

Second: good grief, why? Although I agree that this is not likely to be directly due to Iraq, a country only has so many resources, especially intelligence resources, and Iraq has sapped those away. Considering the structure of Al Qaeda nowadays, this was very likely to have been the work of one or a few relatively loosely connected cells (if it was the work of an Al Qaeda related group at all), which reinforces the idea that the way to deal with terrorism isn't state-on-state military action but policing and intelligence work.

And I'm not even going to get into the whole "Bush as Al Qaeda's recruitment gift from Allah" problem.

If we get news that these bombers were, say, Syrian agents than things might be different. In the meantime, however, this doesn't invalidate the critique of the right's methods, it reinforces it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Flypaper theory (among other things)

The flypaper theory is dead and buried. The idea that going to war in Iraq would prevent attacks in the west is going to hold precious little currency now. This is important: it isn't stated much, but this is a fundamental justification for the Iraq war as a component of the WoT.

Also, the CIA/NSA/MI:5/MI:6 agencies are going to endure serious criticism and critiques. Make no mistake: if the Americans had an inkling, the Brits would have known, and thus there's no doubt that the Americans didn't know either. This was an intelligence failure and a big one, and it was under the watch of Bush and Blair's intel services. I would not be surprised if the attacks are levelled at those within the agencies who aren't "playing ball"- certainly that's the way it's worked to date- but then again, this is different than the 9/11 or Iraq failures, as it speaks to a core foreign policy goal of the Bush administration and Blair government.

Blair's going to be a target too- not only because it was his watch, but because there's going to be an undercurrent of belief that this has to do with the U.K.'s visible and open support of the U.S. A weak PM is going to be much, much weaker, unless a "rally 'round the flag" effect builds him up. I've never got the impression the UK worked that way- a PM isn't a president.

Not sure whether the UK is going to start having domestic turbulence. A LOT depends on how official Britain handles this, and it looks like they're try to prevent anti-Islamic reprisals (and, in turn, "defensive" acts by frightened British Muslims.) The calm public reaction would seem to imply otherwise as well.

Finally, my support and sympathy to those affected by the bombings and Londoners in general. I hadn't mentioned that before, but rest assured of it.

More than 30 die in London blasts

As the BBB said, there were a series of attacks on the London Underground this morning (as well as a double-decker bus). No confirmed perpetrator yet, but the press conference officials weren't talking about that either, asking questions to be restricted to the relief efforts.

The attacks, however, do fit the Al Qaeda-associated organization profile: early morning, coordinated, aimed at a well-known symbol of a country involved in the Middle East. (I may be wrong about the early morning thing, considering the Cole bombing.)

They said that it was sad but unsurprising- they had drilled for this, and thus were able to quickly act to aid the victims.

One organization called "the Secret Organisation Group of Al-Qa’ida of Jihad Organisation in Europe" on the Al Qal'ah (The Fortress) website has claimed resposibility after the fact. Could be true, could be a distraction, could be nonsense. Since Al Qaeda didn't take credit for 9/11, I'm not convinced yet.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Good Advice

From Atrios:

I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately, and I have some advice for new bloggers: do it anonymously, at first at least.

There's a distinction between private/public figure which isn't always perfectly clear, but it's something that the internet totally destroys. If you write something on the internet, it's public. A big blog links to it, suddenly you go from 50 hits per day to 5000 in one day. 5 hours later, CNN puts it on their "inside the blogs" segment, and suddenly you've gone national to a non-blog reading audience who are perhaps unaware of conventions of blogging.

I think that until you blog for awhile it's hard to quite get a handle on how much you want to be public versus being private, and how easily blogging and the internet and the media can tear down that wall in a way you never expected.

I'm not saying that everyone should blog anonymously forever, but until you get a better idea of how it fits into your life, I really suggest starting out that way.
I only disagree with this latter contention. I'm personally of the opinion that anonymity (or pseudonymity) is a basic prerequisite for a lot of progressive bloggers.


Any blogger runs the risk of having his name, identity, and location "outed", but the risk seems to be higher for progressives, considering the attitude and actions of both real Freepers and Low-Grade Freepers (LGFers, natch) towards those who disagree with them. Rare's the time you're going to see even the most enthusiastic leftie seriously threatening the lives of the opposition, but as David Neiwert has rather exhaustively demonstrated, the same is not true on the right.

At the moment, nothing truly nasty has happened to a progressive blogger, but the Internet also has a tendency to archive what you say, and one never knows what tomorrow may bring.

Without the possibility of pseudonymity, there is no privacy. Without privacy, free speech is impossible: fear will eradicate it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Brad DeLong's Grasping for the Democratic Peace Theory

Brad DeLong has asked a question that many people grapple with nowadays: why is it that war seems so rare nowadays?

Now, of course, that has to be qualified.

Before I read any more "realists" writing about a Chinese-American cold (or hot) war in Asia, I want them to come up with an explanation of why the War of 1812 was the last Anglo-American war. Why not 54'40" or fight? The claim that "wars are almost never worth the costs, and yet states keep on fighting them" doesn't seem to apply to relationships between some states since 1850 or so.

The "realist" school has absolutely no clue as to why there has been no Franco-British or Anglo-American war in 190 years, no Mexican-American war in 85, and no Franco-German war in 60. The language of administration in Strasbourg is simply not something that people are willing to kill or die for these days. Which kinds of states study war (against each other at least) no more? And why not? Those are, I think, the most interesting questions in the academic study of international affairs.
Generally, realists respond simply with "democracies don't fight one another, and we don't know why, but neo-liberals don't know why either". Most of the liberal arguments in favour of their position (that war is irrational, that people generally are rational, and will restrain their leaders from war if given a mechanism) doesn't make sense if you consider that democracies are perfectly willing to war against non-democracies, and that leaders do tend to reap substantial popularity and elites substantial wealth from the enterprise.

(DeLong contends that warfare used to be less costly but now is more so. He cites 1850 as the date when it changed. That's erroneous- Japan profited tremendously from the Sino-Japanese war, the United States seemed to profit quite well from the first Iraq war, and there were certainly enough "dirty little wars" during the Cold War that somebody was profiting from them. Systemic warfare is useless because of nuclear weapons, but that's only one kind.)

It also runs into a significant and substantial problem, which is defining what, precisely, a "democracy" is. Define it too narrowly and you have too small a sample set to mean anything; define it too broadly and the rule is violated. More important is the passage of time: today's democracies may become tomorrow's authoritarian regimes, and the unpredictability of these changes forces democracies to arm themselves against possibilities.

There is a possible answer, though. Why don't democracies fight democracies? They have an army, and there are benefits to reap from warfare. I believe the answer is identity- citizens of democracies derive a measure of superiority from being such, and that shared identity helps mitigate conflicts between them, as long as there are non-democracies around. A democracy need not engage in war against another democracy if the benefits of war can be gained from attacking an authoritarian regime, which can be used to reaffirm the superiority of the citizenry through the simple rhetoric of "liberation". This is the core critique of the newest Gulf War- that it was used to make America feel better about itself; and solves the question. Democracies fight non-democracies.

The remaining problem, though, is this: what happens when there are no non-democracies left?

Ok, that tears it.

After seeing my site become unreadable once again with Firefox, I'm switching templates. Links and such to follow, including a switch to Haloscan if the base comment system is unacceptable. Yes, it's still black.


Happy Independence Day

To celebrate, Kevin Drum has sparked a very interesting debate over quality of life issues in the U.S. vs. Europe, where less time and energy are spent on work and more is spent on leisure time. The debate is over whether or not emphasizing work leads to a better society- the contribution that entrepreneurs and innovators make is often accompanied by absolutely insane working hours (to the rest of us), yet overworking people doesn't seem to be the most efficient way of handling work, as the lower per-hour productivity figures of Americans vs. the Scandinavians (and others) implies.

Thing is, I don't think this is really an exclusive debate. Entrepreneurship and innovasion are often the product of free time- assuming that you aren't spending all your time doing nothing productive at all, there's a pretty intuitive connection between hobbies and innovation that should be obvious to anybody who knows someone who has turned a hobby into a profession. Heck, anybody who uses Mozilla or Linux and the like benefits enormously- the whole Open Source scheme is pretty much built around people using their free time.

(Or, well, blogging.)

In economic terms, there are often significant (and unpredictable) positive externalities to leisure time, and the opportunity cost of giving it up can be much higher than it seems at first. Squeezing that last ounce of energy out of employees may be good for Wal-Mart, but it isn't necessarily good for the economy as a whole, and certainly not for society.

So, enjoy your day off, those Americans who can; remember that you are greater than your job description. (And happy belated Canada Day to Canadians, and congratulations on a sane SSM policy.)