Sunday, February 27, 2005

World Jump Day

This will not work.

Via Daryl Sng.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Total pleasure is what I'm all about

Jacqueline, the New Libertarian Hotness, likes Democrats a little better than Republicans. But she isn't riding the donkey, because she thinks the Democratic Party is:

overrun with socialists, many of whom aren't that way out of ignorance but out of an unfounded faith in the inherent equality of all people and/or a determination to make everyone equal regardless of the consequences. It seems their ideal society would be the one described in "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut.

Let me introduce you to my way of being a Democrat. I'm not an egalitarian -- I'm a maximizer. I'm a hedonic utilitarian, in particular -- I think that maximizing the aggregate happiness of everyone, measured in terms of pleasure minus displeasure, is the goal of good social policy. (Hence the title of this post). We get off the equality bus long before the Harrison Bergeron station.

So you might be thinking: why won't Libertarian economic policies bring the pleasure? And why do Democrats seem to be pushing so hard for equality? As an answer to both questions, consider the diminishing marginal utility of money. If my currently wealthy father gets $1000 today, he won't buy anything with it that'll make him much happier. But give the same amount of money to a poorly fed Indian village boy (like the boy my father used to be), and you'll increase that boy's happiness tremendously. So if you're going to maximize pleasure, you'll want to massively redistribute wealth down the income scale. Some of the mechanisms of redistribution might be inefficient, but the benefits are so dramatic that substantial inefficiencies can be tolerated. (We'll always be on the lookout for the most efficient way to redistribute, though.) It's very unlikely that enough redistribution will happen if we leave it up to private charity, so the government has to tax rich people if the poor are going to get the boost they need. And we're not doing this to make everybody equal -- we're doing it to maximize the total happiness.

In our messy world, there are lots of other situations where a libertarian 'night watchman' government won't maximize. We live in a world with monopolies, prisoners' dilemmas, bad corporate governance, adverse selection in annuity pricing, and a host of other problems. If you want a pragmatic, consequentialist approach to maximizing total happiness in a messy world -- an approach that isn't bound by dogmas about the appropriate size of government -- let me invite you to join the Democratic Party.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The vibe addict's progress

If I was seriously turned on by the third paragraph of this post about vibrators, does that make me a bad man? Okay, maybe it does. But I'll bet that a lot of guys share my, um, plight.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

How the mullahs won

I've been thinking for a while that the biggest international winners over the last four years have been the conservative Iranian mullahs. Look at what they got:
-Their biggest regional adversary, whom they fought a bloody war against in the 1980s, was eliminated and replaced by a pro-Iranian government.
-The Taliban regime that even they had trouble relating to was replaced with a decentralized government, run by warlords who will be easy to influence with gifts of arms and money.
-They got very far along on building a nuclear weapon.
-The Western coalition that was united against them for many years is fractured, with plenty of ill feelings between Europeans and Americans.
-Their pro-human-rights domestic opposition has lost a lot of power.

And now I read this from Iraqi blogger Riverbend:

I nodded and handed over the bags to be weighed. “Well… they’re going to turn us into another Iran. You know list 169 means we might turn into Iran.” Abu Ammar pondered this a moment as he put the bags on the old brass scale and adjusted the weights.

“And is Iran so bad?” He finally asked. Well no, Abu Ammar, I wanted to answer, it’s not bad for *you* - you’re a man… if anything your right to several temporary marriages, a few permanent ones and the right to subdue females will increase. Why should it be so bad? Instead I was silent. It’s not a good thing to criticize Iran these days. I numbly reached for the bags he handed me, trying to rise out of that sinking feeling that overwhelmed me when the results were first made public...

Then there’s Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). He got to be puppet president for the month of December and what was the first thing he did? He decided overburdened, indebted Iraq owed Iran 100 billion dollars. What was the second thing he did? He tried to have the “personal status” laws that protect individuals (and especially women) eradicated.

Monday, February 21, 2005

LeBron quits, Cavs move to Uzbekistan

The title's just a metaphor. I'm talking about the action at The Conservative Philosopher, where Keith Burgess-Jackson has alienated Max Goss off of the blogroll and shut down trackbacks and comments.

While I disagree with Max a lot, his piece on Conservatism and Rootedness was one of the most interesting things on the blog. While I don't think Max can get a good argument for conservatism out of that analysis, it was probably the most interesting thing I saw there. Some other TCP posts either fell into triviality, as Brandon will show you, or supported the deaths of way too many innocent people, as Max will tell you, or were easy prey for a werewolf, as dadahead will describe. (Okay, that last one is a bit self-indulgent.)

I'm certainly going to read TCP less now that it's lost its interactive character. (I was already disappointed when Keith never rose to defend his early piece from werewolf predation.) Most likely, Keith is content never to hear my howls again. But -- if you'll permit a return to the original metaphor -- there are problems with moving your basketball team to Uzbekistan so nobody will play you. While nobody's going to beat you, you aren't going to win anything either.

Secret arguments

This beggars the imagination:

ATTORNEYS FOR the Justice Department appeared before a federal judge in Washington this month and asked him to dismiss a lawsuit over the detention of a U.S. citizen, basing their request not merely on secret evidence but also on secret legal arguments. The government contends that the legal theory by which it would defend its behavior should be immune from debate in court. This position is alien to the history and premise of Anglo-American jurisprudence, which assumes that opposing lawyers will challenge one another's arguments.

I want to write a paper with secret arguments in it. Maybe I can get it accepted in a secret journal! But I'll have to work fast to finish it before the secret police come for me.

Okay, seriously: we have an Attorney General who has claimed that the authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president." Whatever your views on the judicial system are, that should strike you as insane. And this business about secret arguments goes even beyond that. This isn't a matter of disobeying the particular laws that are on the books, it's a matter of doing something that renders the trial unfair no matter what the laws are. When the counsel for the defense isn't even allowed to know what they're defending against, a trial simply can't be fair.

Here's another article about the situation.

Update: I asked, "What do you do when the other guys are making secret arguments? Try to guess what they were and give counterarguments?"

Ira responds: "You start getting your appeal ready. 'They used secret arguments! Overturn it!'"

Let's hope this freakish tactic gets squashed before the appeal. (post above edited for clarity)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Bubble tea for men

Bubble tea is one of the least manly drinks in existence. I'm just waiting for the FDA to reveal that regular consumption of bubbles increases your risk of spontaneously transforming into a Japanese schoolgirl. But there is a way to drink bubble tea while retaining your masculinity, even when it's too early in the day to pour in a few shots of Seagram's 7.

You see, bubble tea only appears to be a drink. It's actually a projectile weapon in disguise. Instead of swallowing the bubbles, take the wide straw and forcefully blow the bubbles out of it. The straw gives the bubbles plenty of time to accelerate, and once they come out they're going at a very high speed. You should be able to shoot them several yards. And since you're blowing the bubbles out instead of swallowing them, you're much less likely to wake up one day with an inexplicable desire for a Hello Kitty lunchbox.

Recokelicans vs. Dopeocrats

Ahhh, the wit and wisdom of Daily Kos:

It's the cokehead party vs. the pothead party. It is no coincidence that I can't stand people on coke and I can't stand Republicans. Potheads? Some of the best people I have met are potheads. One party is all about belligerence, overconfidence, and it hates nuance. The other is about reflection, introspection, and making sure there is enough food. The last decade of politics has seen a cranked up, delusionally overconfident jerk trampling all over a well-meaning, gifted, but underachieving slacker.

Don't believe me? Picture yourself at a bar. A brawl breaks out. Would you rather be aligned with the potheads or the cokeheads? Well, you would probably say the cokeheads (but of course, then you are probably with the jerks who started the fight). Republicans are the party of war. Now, picture yourself hanging out at home, eating dinner, watching a movie. Would you rather be surrounded by the cokeheads or the potheads? Democrats are much better on the domestic front because it is there natural environment. Plus, potheads care about others: "It must really suck to be out delivering pizzas right now so we better give the delivery person a really good tip. "

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day!

So it's supposed to be a holiday of love, not spite. But if you're in India, give someone a Valentine just to spite these guys. Whether it's in America, the Middle East, or India, this liberal is against conservatism everywhere.

Fitted babydoll T's for, um, somebody

So I'm trying to figure out what to make of the National Review's new shirt. Will it be worn by Republican girls who want right-wing pundit John Derbyshire's face on their tender nipples? By busty women who want to use the sour Face of Derb to keep men from looking too long at their breasts? By liberals who are more ironic than me?

It's also funny that they're using CafePress, which I've always associated with tiny personal blogs that sell a total of three tshirts in their history (two of which are bought by the blog's author).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Deeeeeaannnn!!!

Congratulations to Howard Dean! It looks like things here are working out for the best. Much of the party base loves him, and they'll fight harder under his command. If he prepares well and takes care not to say anything dumb, he can be a powerful speaker. There are some good things to say about Terry McAuliffe, as far as fundraising and getting modern voter lists going are concerned, but huge amounts of work remain to be done in terms of rebuilding the party organization. If Dean picks up NDN's Simon Rosenberg to help with that, we'll be in perfect shape.

"I think you will see his bluntness, his directness, his energy and intellectual honesty," said Scott Maddox, the Florida chairman. "I'm a pickup truck-driving, gun-owning Southern chairman, with a bulldog named Lockjaw, and I'm perfectly comfortable with Howard Dean as chairman of the national Democratic Party."

Libertarian Girl, we hardly knew ye

I will admit to having occasionally visited Libertarian Girl's blog, less for the Libertarian than for the Girl. To see the picture that originally adorned the blog, click here. Pretty cute, huh? In the faraway possible world where I know her and she's single and I don't have my squirrelish timidity, I'm hitting on her.

As you've seen if you've clicked the above link, the folks at Catallarchy discovered that the same picture was on a website for Russian mail-order brides. After a brief period of hopeful theorizing -- maybe she's a mail-order bride with strong libertarian leanings or half of a separated-at-birth identical twin pair? -- the picture at the top of Libertarian Girl's blog has, um, changed. I felt vaguely icky about this upon finding out, but that has worn off and now I'm just amused. In retrospect, the hot pink background of Libertarian Girl's blog was a little over the top. It's also interesting that most female bloggers I know don't have prominently displayed pictures of themselves. (Lindsay, don't change anything!)

I'm curious now about how much the author was writing as himself, and how much he was roleplaying. Thanks to dadahead for the pointer.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

We shall overcome

It's been a long night of hot chocolate, vodka, and Michigan-style metanormative theory, and now I have the pleasure of talking to conservative philosophers about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. There's two big claims in Keith's post (Keith occasionally goes by AnalPhilosopher, but since I take the more anus-friendly side of this issue, that name may not fit him here). First, he says that this issue is a political loser for the Democratic Party. Second, he says that granting gays and lesbians the right to marry would be a significant change in our practices and there should be a heavy presumption against it.

On the first thing, let's look at some actual polling data, rather than using the >75% opposition number that the AnalPhilosopher pulled out of his ass (sorry). Skip down past the lawsuit stuff to see the gay marriage numbers. Usually, you get 30+% support for full-fledged marriage and ~60% opposition with 5-10% undecided, when those are the only options offered. While a slight majority opposes civil unions, the civil-union + full-fledged marriage disjunction actually wins a majority when both options are offered. My guess is that the next Democratic nominee will be a mere civil unions guy*. I accept that there'll be a slight majority opposing this view -- something like 55-45. It's not what we'd like, but this talk of a 'liberal death wish' is radically overstated. And oddly enough, on some questions independents seem to support gay people's right to marry more than Democrats do!

But now I get to my favorite part. According to every poll that breaks things down by age groups, the 18-29 age bracket is by far the most pro-gay, and the 65+ folks are the most anti-gay. (There are only older polls on this, so click on the second poll link). On most questions the young people support gays at more than triple the rate of old people. Sure, this is going to be a tough issue in the short-term for Democrats. But eventually the old folks will cease to be physically located, the kids will grow up, and Democratic fortunes will grow with them. In terms of sheer political strategy, supporting gay people's right to marry is an investment that's going to pay off huge for us. Twenty years from now, we'll have a clear majority and you guys will be trying to figure out what to do with a losing position that costs you more every year. Fifty years from now, the right to marry will be regarded like integration is today. All our grandchildren will see the conservatives like we now see George Wallace and the old segregationists, and acknowledge that the liberals were the heroes of the tale. So it ever has been between us; so it ever shall be.

This assumes, of course, that Keith is wrong on the second question. If expanding the right to marry has the unexpected consequence of destroying essential social structures and causing serious misery, my fifty year scenario goes out the window. But that won't happen. Remember, the proposal we liberals want makes absolutely no changes to heterosexual marriage. If some wacky theory motivated us to propose that every marriage be required to involve 3 persons and a duck, you guys would be right to complain about us destroying useful old institutions willy-nilly. Big presumption against! But we're not changing the basic structure of any existing social institution (except maybe antigay prejudice) -- we're just copying an institution and allowing a couple more people to use the copy. People currently covered by heterosexual marriage will hardly notice the difference, while those newly allowed to marry will be much the better for it. The presumption against allowing gay people to marry should be small because the fundamental and wonderful institution of heterosexual marriage is unaffected by it.

If you're going to object that there's something incoherent about the idea of two women getting married, my rebuttal and Justin's addition to it have already been posted. So Keith, I urge you to drop the scare quotes around the latter term in 'homosexual "marriage"'. And while you're at it, we're called the 'Democratic Party' and not the 'Democrat Party'.

On the whole, I expect that this expansion of the right to marry won't be nearly as far-reaching a social change as integration. Many fewer people are directly affected, and the indirect effects are small. So if you fear radical social changes, there's really not much here to be afraid of and only a tiny presumption against should apply. At the very least, you ought to support civil unions. They're a nice incremental measure, if that's how you like it. When you see after a decade or so of civil unions that we aren't falling into barbarism, you'll be ready to go the rest of the way.

*My prediction is that it'll be John Edwards, who is a mere civil unions guy. There may be a lot of wishful thinking behind this prediction, though. I briefly volunteered for Edwards during the primaries and I plan to do so again in '08.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Catherine MacKinnon vs. gay dudes

This from a panel discussion after the New York screening of pornodocumentary Inside Deep Throat, which included Catherine MacKinnon*:
...MacKinnon did her thing, claiming that the film we had just watched was promoting the acceptance of rape. At one point, however, her righteous zeal became unhinged when she claimed that it was not possible to do deep throat safely, that it was a dangerous act that could only be done under hypnosis. "What's so funny?" she snapped as the audience rippled with mirth. Todd Graff's hand shot up - "I can do it," he said, and the room echoed with a chorus of gay men going "me too!" (Gigi Grazer - wife of Brian - later told Graff to stop bragging and that she could do it better than him and had the rocks on her fingers to prove it. Touché).

*MacKinnon was a participant in the panel, though not in the actual movie.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Extraordinary rendition

This is some scary stuff.
Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of “the Special Removal Unit.” The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as “extraordinary rendition.” This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America—including torture...

Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.” What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects—people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants—came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms “illegal enemy combatants.” Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime.

Trust those who actually know stuff

In the Goldberg-Cole spat, most of the attention has gone to whether chickenhawks like Goldberg are being hypocritical when they support a war that could use more people, while they have no plan to go and fight themselves. But the major issue that really grabs me is how partisans who don't know anything get major media placement while experts who know tons of stuff work in the shadows.

Jonah Goldberg -- as far as we can tell -- hasn't read a single book about Iraq. He doesn't understand Arabic, so he can't read Arabic-language newspapers. Juan Cole, on the other hand, has spent many years of his life studying the Middle East. Why does Goldberg get hired by CNN and NPR to talk about Iraq while Cole doesn't? Does anointment by conservative think tanks and the National Review count more than a Ph.D and decades of study? (Obviously, yes.)

It must be really hard to be Juan Cole. You have enormous knowledge of a region of the world, and yet you just have to sit and watch while the opinions of the ignorant about that region gain influence and tragically misdirect our policy. I've occasionally thought that Cole's fury at this situation makes him slightly less effective than he could otherwise be -- there are more effective postures and rhetorical tactics which he might use if he weren't so angry about the hijacking of Middle East policy by people who really don't know anything. But as Gibbard will tell you, there's a difference between what justifies having some attitude and what justifies wanting to have some attitude. Cole is warranted in being furious, even if we are justified in wanting him to be less furious.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

We have that privilege

This is why we read Billmon.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Trilok Singh, meet Trojan Man

Here's an interesting story about sex ed for Indian truck drivers. Among the things I learned are that Bill Gates is putting some of his money to good use, and that eunuch-fucking is quite popular among truckers.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Why we took up arms

Apologies for the dearth of posts -- mostly, I was having a great time at Vericon with the strange and wonderful creatures that compose the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.

In a discussion about Social Security, conservatives on Max and Liz's blog were enquiring about "the constant impulse for Dems to so easily dismiss anything Bush says." They're right that Democrats have stopped being the cuddly bipartisans they were when some of them backed the Iraq war resolution, No Child Left Behind, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Harry Reid says that Bush's Social Security privatization plan won't get a single Democratic vote in the Senate. I remember hearing that Democratic strategists were studying 1993-1994 GOP opposition to the Clinton health care plan to map out their strategy for the next two years. That's what we're seeing now.

Part of the reason why Democrats are united against Bush is that he's repeatedly betrayed any Democrat who tries to cut a deal with him. Ted Kennedy voted for NCLB because he thought it'd give more money to schools, but the White House didn't allocate the money as they had promised. Kennedy also negotiated a version of Bush's Medicare bill and tried to persuade Democrats to sign onto it, but Republicans changed the bill in conference committees after Kennedy had voted for it. (There's also the fact that the White House was lying about the total cost of the bill. They originally claimed it would be less than $400 billion, but revealed two months after the bill's passage that it'd be around $535 billion.) Lots of Democrats voted for the Iraq War resolution because Bush had given them reasonable expectations about what would happen over the next few months. They thought Bush would use the war vote to force Saddam to admit UN inspectors, hold off unless the inspectors were being thwarted, and engage in military action only after assembling a coalition reminiscent of the 1991 Gulf War. But just as Hans Blix was in Iraq discovering minor banned weapons and forcing Saddam to destroy them, Bush launched his invasion with under 10% of the allied troops his father had.

After being cheated again and again, Democrats got wise to the game. Now they're pretty sure that weird things will get packed into the Social Security bill in conference committee after versions pass the House and Senate, and that any wiggle room given to the Executive Branch in implementing the bill will be used in mad ways. (Sheer anger at being cheated may also have a role.) The proposal* is a pretty bad one as it stands, too -- long-lived people and bad investors can run out of money and be left in poverty, there is no possible situation where Social Security needs saving and the proposal successfully saves it, and it looks like people currently under 55 will be facing severe benefit cuts. Given that there's no imminent crisis here, Democrats shouldn't rush to patch together a compromise package. If any adjustments needed to be made, they can be made by the Edwards administration in 2009 or maybe the Obama administration in 2019. (Okay, optimism.)

Democrats have no reason to be bipartisan. There isn't really a problem to solve, Bush's proposed solution is awful, and Democratic attempts to improve the proposal would come to nothing. Their best course of action is to start blasting away immediately with a focused message that will make moderate Republican Senators fear supporting the bill. If this fails, Democrats filibuster. It won't be pretty, but if we do it to save Social Security, America will support us.

*As I researched the post, I realized that the administration simply hasn't put forward its entire plan yet. In arguing against it, I'm going off of the little bits that have been separately revealed.