Monday, October 31, 2005

Of Milk and Moo

Two more posts up at Ezra-land. First I criticize the old saw encouraging women not to have premarital sex if they want to get married -- "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" The obvious problem with thinking about men's relationships to women in this way is exposed therein.

David Sirota descended upon my Ohio Senate post and got really mad. So I wrote a response that pointed out his near-complete failure to correctly present his opponents' arguments. It was fun to write, and I hope it's fun to read.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Lindsay? Dadahead? Please?

I'm not happy with either of my friends' contributions to the debate over whether we should nominate Paul Hackett or Sherrod Brown for the Ohio Senate seat. Here I point out problems with their arguments, and talk about what they'd have to prove in order to win my vote.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Swing low, sweet Harriet

As fun as it was to read Redstate and watch conservatives tear into Bush, my right-wing friend Matt O'Brien told me today about an even greater pleasure that the Miers resignation denied us. Many conservative intellectuals, Matt says, have long fantasized about a nominee battle turning into a debate on constitutional interpretation -- a debate that they're sure they can win, and in winning persuade the country to their side.

These conservatives have always dreamed of some intellectual giant of the originalist movement swatting away the sophistries of liberal Senators. The horrifying prospect that opened up before them, however, was that they'd get every bit of their fantasy, except with Harriet Miers as their representative. Imagine them tearing out their hair as she fumbled through arguments, mis-cited the Constitution, and embarrassed them in front of everybody.

Harriet, we'll miss you. You leave us well though -- the filibuster gun is still loaded and the Republican base is fractured. How good it would've been to see you make it onto the Supreme Court, where Breyer could win your innocent mind over to our side. I dreamt of you living in sin with the Court's most eligible bachelor, David Souter! Those dreams are gone now, but I wish you all the best.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we win.

Bush's attempt to underpay workers involved in the reconstruction of New Orleans has been defeated. Congratulations, George Miller, on a job well done.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The John Edwards experience

Over the last few years, I've developed an incapacity to properly listen to political speeches. I generally approach them in some kind of meta way, analyzing how the speaker's rhetorical moves and mannerisms contribute or detract from the effect he is trying to create, and considering how they play into a broader political context. It doesn't usually matter whether I support the speaker or not -- it happens as much with Democrats as with Republicans.

That's not what happened today. For most of John Edwards' talk on poverty here on the UT campus, I was naively absorbed in what he said. This is partly because of my great Edwards enthusiasm, and partly because Edwards' speech -- the stated purpose of which was to encourage students to join a campus volunteer group -- didn't fit within a narrowly political context. It's also because Edwards is an truly amazing speaker. Everything seemed completely natural, off-the-cuff, and conversational and yet it fit together -- often uncannily -- into a well-organized speech. (There's a reason for this -- much of the speech is here. Ezra linked to it a long time ago, but I never got around to reading the whole thing.) The following reflections are, almost without exception, ex post facto.

Edwards' anecdotes about poverty didn't fit the "here's an example to obviously fit my point" rubric that disposes unsympathetic listeners to immediately think up counterarguments. In the aftermath of Katrina, Edwards met a man who had lived and worked for 23 years in New Orleans, but whose workplace had been destroyed by flooding and wouldn't reopen. A truck came by the shelter he was staying at to pick up day laborers for work at 5 AM some mornings. He had stood there for 10 days trying to be among those chosen for work, without success. He told Edwards, "So far, it hasn’t happened, but I want to go to work." The anecdote segued him from talking about Katrina to talking about general poverty issues, and I only realized later that it defused the stereotype of poor people as indolent and lazy. Some of the less tendentious Lakoff framing principles are operative here -- when you want your audience to think "A", and you know they have some degree of credence in "not-A", don't say "not not A". Give them evidence for "A", and give it in such a way that people won't even remember that "not-A" has some appeal to them. One of the major roadblocks to antipoverty spending -- the worry, primarily of middle-class whites, that they'll be supporting lazy blacks -- is thus neatly avoided. Does stable belief-change actually result? Perhaps not immediately. But I'm guessing that it would successfully push people towards liking policy proposals premised on "A", even if "not-A" also has some grip on them. And once people get in the habit of nodding along to "A", their attachment to "not-A" may fade away.

"Some of you might remember I'm the son of a mill worker" was successfully played for laughs, and that made me happy. Not only because it's good to see that Edwards knows what he's repeated ad nauseam, but because it's good (even in a fairly tuned-in crowd) to see that he's established his poor-boy upbringing enough that the joke works.

Now for the really awesome part: After the speech, I and a few other local reporters and bloggers were invited to a media session in which we could ask him questions. First I asked about his plans for providing health care coverage to more uninsured people, and asked if he had any particular reflections on single-payer plans to offer us. He didn't come out and offer any particular positive proposals, though he did talk about the necessity and inevitability of universal coverage, and went briskly through the flaws of the current system. He also had a nice bureacracy anecdote -- when Elizabeth was undergoing cancer treatment, he had to fill out a whole bunch of paperwork that he simply couldn't understand, despite being a former lawyer and Senator. I'm wondering whether Elizabeth Edwards cancer-treatment anecdotes will someday play an effective rhetorical role in bringing us closer to a decent health care system.

The end of his speech had discussed the need for American leadership in combatting global poverty, which I was very happy to hear him bring up, especially since there was no real reason why he had to talk about it. So I asked him about that too. He expressed support for more foreign aid spending, and discussed Bush Administration failures of leadership on climate change and a host of other issues.

For the last question, someone asked about whether he'd be running in 2008, and he had some kind of genial non-response, starting with "I can't believe we got this far without hearing that one!" Nobody asked him about Iraq, though he had a few offhand negative remarks about the situation. At one point, he talked about the need for Democrats to have "big ideas" instead of merely targetting their tax cuts a little lower than Republicans target theirs. He was wearing a white "Make Poverty History" bracelet of the Lance Armstrong variety that a student had given him in another town.

At the end I got my picture taken with him and some other folks. I told him that I'd volunteered for him, and that it was good to finally meet him. As I left the Union, simple walking proved too mundane for my emotional state. I leapt onto a long elevated piece of concrete that people often use as a bench and walked on it. A girl passing by broke into a smile as she saw me, and I realized that my enthusiasm was more obvious than I thought.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

No penumbras, no Air Force

As Don Herzog points out, originalism about Constitutional interpretation threatens to make the Air Force unconstitutional. Go to the Ezra-blog to find out how!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Incompetence Dodge

My bit on the Rosenfeld/Yglesias Incompetence Dodge piece is here. Mostly, I think they're right, but that a different set of considerations applies to Democratic politicians than to liberal commentators.

Notes from the happy side of nighttime

A lot of cool stuff happened tonight. In nonchronological order:

-I met Amanda, who embodies the spirit of Austin.
-I met Norbizness, who is every bit as funny as his blog would suggest.
-I met Lindsay, who is even cooler than her blog makes her out to be.
-I even met Twisty! And she appears to be doing fine.
-Dan Korman fed me some genuinely delicious meat substitutes.
-I danced. A good Austin band is responsible.
-I ate fire, somewhat randomly.
-I danced again. And again. Nobody seemed to mind.
-Lindsay said that Paul Hackett seems to be enthusiastically referring to her as "Magic Thighs". She's cool with it, in a codename-assigned-by-the-Marine-commander sort of way.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reflections on blogging and me

My blog's more than a year old now, and altogether I'm pretty happy about how this whole blogging thing has gone. There are downsides -- I spend way more time on the internet than I should, and that's dangerous to someone writing a dissertation. But I'm pleased to have a web presence that far-flung friends can interact with, I'm happy that smart people in politics and philosophy occasionally check out my blog, and I'm really excited about being invited as a weekend guestblogger by Ezra Klein.

In general, I'm going to be pushing the weekday postings in a more philosophical direction here over the next couple months. This is mostly due to a need to get cracking on dissertation-writing so I can go on the job market next year. Lately I've been saving my full-length post ideas for Ezra, and that's probably going to continue. Of course, I'll still say my bit about exciting sudden events like the Miers nomination, and if I find interesting/funny news or a great post by someone else, I'll link it here.

There's a bunch of political stuff I'm really happy to have learned and done over the past 15 or so months of blogging -- last night at the bar with some other philosophers, I was giving this semi-speech on the manifold virtues of single-payer health care, which I didn't know the faintest thing about when I started blogging. People seemed to be impressed -- both with the arguments and the fluidity with which I presented them. (Big thanks here go to Ezra, Brad, and Matt, who are responsible for my increased knowledge.) On Monday I'm going to go see John Edwards speak here in Austin, which I might not have even known about if someone from the Edwards organization hadn't seen my blog and emailed me about it. So, in violation of the philosophy-weekdays trend I'm trying to introduce, you might see a political post from me Monday night.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Ryan Lizza, via Ezra Klein:

"The Hollywood liberals over at Huffington Post as well as the university-town activists at Daily Kos and love Gore."

Okay, that's nice as far as the primaries go. But this is absolutely not the group of people you need to appeal to in the general election. Do I have any reason to think that he'll appeal to Hispanics? Suburbanites? The white working class? Chris Bowers points to old polls according to which his his unfavorability ratings were in the mid-40s. Clearly, there are/were a large number of people who don't/didn't think much of him.

If he runs for president he would be the only candidate in either party who instantly passes the post-9/11 threshold on national security issues.

I don't see why this is the case. Sure, he may have more foreign policy experience than whoever the GOP runs, but is there any reason to believe that ordinary people would think, "Ooh, Gore! There's a guy who can protect our country!"

Now, the guy has given some awesome speeches that I really like. If the rest of America were able to appreciate Al Gore's awesomeness, we wouldn't actually have any of the problems we do now. But Americans won't take to Gore, as far as I can see, and we do actually have all these problems.

Ezra weekend posts

Bit late on this, but my work at Ezra's this weekend consists of a brief description of three liberal groups I'd like to see, and a longer, more morose reflection on the ratification of the Iraqi constitution.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bunny's chickens

Bunny McIntosh wants to get some pet chickens. This is a decision I would strongly endorse, as the presence of pet chickens might get nearby people to reflect on the evils of farming these wonderful animals in awful ways. And since Bunny is a blogger who takes excellent pictures of herself and others, there is a possibility that cute chicken pictures and stories might spread righteousness far and wide.

When the Iraqis stand up, Sunnis will die

From a sergeant major in the heavily Shi'ite Iraqi Army: "Your country had to have a civil war... It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq the price for peace will be blood."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mark Schmitt geeks out

By going to his home site rather than TPMcafe, I unlocked a secret level. Nice post too, full with Schmitt-wisdom.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Cramer: Everything is going to hell

Jim Cramer (who taught me a lot of what I know about investing) is telling us to invest in gold, oil, and minerals, since they'll keep their value even after Bush destroys our currency. Now, if I know Cramer, he'll abandon this view in about two weeks, but the fact that he's even considering this is scary:

Our only hope that financial disaster won’t strike sooner lies with the Chinese, who actually fund our deficit by buying our Treasuries—$242 billion worth, or 12 percent of all foreign holdings. If the Chinese decide to be good communists and stop buying our bonds, the Feds will have to raise rates to attract new investors and the reaper will be at our doorstep with interest rates more akin to those of South than North America. Right now, it’s not a problem. But in a year or two or maybe less, I perceive that the government will throw a bond auction and nobody will show, including the Chinese, until rates shoot up dramatically... You can bet that when you cash out your nest egg of nice U.S.-based mutual funds and solid common stocks, your dollars will fit nicely into a wheelbarrow designed specifically to cart worthless currency to the bank.

NGOs help Mozambique

As an Oxfam donor, stuff like this makes me proud. I know there's a lot of debate out there on the relative advantages of aid versus trade in helping developing countries, and the apparent Mozambican success lends some support to the aid side.

Kung Fu Monkey helps Pakistan

Last month when I gave money for Katrina relief, I sent it though Kung Fu Monkey, who matched my donations and sent them to the Red Cross. This time when I wanted to give for Pakistan earthquake relief, I did the same thing. Given that you can effectively double your donation, it's a good way to help.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Adverse Selection

Ezra had the day off, so he had us fill in for him. I'd wanted to post something explaining adverse selection for a while, so that's what I did. This is a post that will Teach You Something about economics, and I'd encourage you to go check it out.

Yglesias and democracy

Solid Matt post on how democracy actually spreads. The one thing I'd add is that part of the motivation behind actually invading Iraq, rather than just letting democracy run its course over the decades, was a desire to act in big dramatic explosion-involving ways after 9/11. When you add in confusion among benighted segments of the electorate about whether Saddam was responsible for 9/11, you've got a recipe for the dumb, violent, ineffective form of democracy-promotion.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Miers and Roberts

My latest at the good Mr. Klein's: "given what seems to be the case with Miers, Bush simply didn't care about advancing deep conservative goals with his second nominee. So why should I think he tried with the first?"

Missing voters

How can Democrats mobilize poor nonvoters? As I argue, it's hard. What I do know is that our policies help them, and that there's a big challenge in trying to get useful policies to win you elections. (This is kind of a typical Neil-post-at-Ezra's, in that I sympathetically but critically examine things that my liberal buddies say. Also, I go all John Edwards Crazy at the end.)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I asked, and I received

In response to a query, friend Tony offers some good thoughts on why we actually do want Paul Hackett going up against Mike DeWine, instead of Sherrod Brown. I agree with a lot of what he says, though I'm still concerned about the fundraising angle.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Imagining conditionals and trouble for Kant

Responding to Aidan's concerns about imagination and modality, I'm going to spell out in greater detail how one comes to know the truth-value of subjunctive conditionals, and how one evaluates claims about necessary truths truth or falsity.

First, subjunctive conditionals, which have the form "if p were true, q". We imagine the closest world where p and then apply our whole set of beliefs to the facts of that world, to determine whether q in that world. So suppose I'm considering the subjunctive conditional, "If Gore had won the election, America wouldn't have invaded Iraq." I imagine the counterfactual situation, and extend my imagination into the future by applying my beliefs about Gore's intelligence, honesty, and rationality. My beliefs lead me to imagine a world where Gore doesn't invade Iraq and instead launches some kind of global antipoverty program after invading Afghanistan. So I accept the subjunctive conditional.

Now, claims about necessary truths. Let me just consider those which have the form "necessarily, if p then q". This actually seems simpler for the imagination account than the case of subjunctive conditionals does. "necessarily, if p then q" is false iff the following obtains in any one world: "p ^ ¬q". So we just try to imagine a world where p ^ ¬q obtains. If we can successfully imagine such a thing, the claim is false.

This, it seems to me, is exactly how I go about trying to think up counterexamples. Kant says, "If everyone made false promises all the time, then the institution of promising would necessarily collapse." He intends his claim to hold across all worlds, not just ones close to ours, so I'm licensed to imagine some pretty wacky worlds. I can imagine a world where everyone makes false promises all the time. Can I imagine the institution of promising flourishing there? Well, yes, if I imagine also that there's a psychoactive chemical in the water that causes everyone to forget all false promises, and gives them false memories according to which people have made great sacrifices to keep their promises. Since I can imagine (a world full of false promising) ^ ¬(the collapse of the institution of promising), Kant's claim is false.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Not actually an endorsement

This is what we want to hear:

"Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her [to discuss abortion]," Bush said Tuesday at his first solo press conference since May. "What I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be."

The president said he has never discussed abortion with any of his judicial nominees. "There is no litmus test," he said.

Bush also defended the 60-year-old Miers, who came to Washington with him from Texas in 2001 and has been White House counsel since February, against Democratic charges of cronyism and questions about her conservative record, saying she shares his legal philosophy.

Looking at her blog, it would seem that their agreement on legal philosophy is pretty far-reaching!

Note: this post once contained an endorsement of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Sorry, just thinking about this situation for too long makes me go all unserious.

She's embarrassing. Not terrifying.

TLaura's post on the embarrassing and the terrifying sums up my feelings on the substantive Miers-related issues quite well.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Imagination and modality at FBC

For philosophers who can pull themselves away from gawking at the distraught Republicans, Jonathan has a nice post on connections between modality and imagination. I've wondered for a while whether one can use imagination to explain modal thought and discourse in the way that philosophers like Gibbard use (supposed) mental states of norm-acceptance to explain normative thought and discourse. I haven't thought enough about this to say anything particularly good, but I like Jonathan's observation that imagining and belief often interact as follows: we imagine a particular situation where (perhaps among other things) p is the case, and our belief that p -> q causes us to imagine q subsequently happening.

The old-girls' network

Looks like Harriet Miers graduated from Southern Methodist University with a degree in mathematics in 1967, and got her law degree there in 1970. Laura Bush graduated from SMU with a degree in education in 1968. Wikipedia has Miers meeting George Bush in the 1980s, but she could've met Laura 15 years earlier. Of course, there's no evidence that they met, or that Miers' nomination resulted from pictures of Laura Bush Gone Wild.

Harry, thanks for Harriet

I haven't been reading many liberal reflections on the Miers nomination. There aren't many out there yet, and it's fun to watch Republicans freak out for a change.

Democrats seem to be in a pretty strong position. As she's never been a judge and she's Bush's personal lawyer, we'll be able to attack on cronyism if we want. If we find evidence of a serious anti-choice streak, we can attack on ideological issues as well. But having the cronyism point in our pocket is pretty nice.

We should take a moment now to reflect on the skill of our Democratic Senators in getting us here. This is a judge who forces Dobson to roll the d20 to save against Souterization. Had we lost the filibuster fight or set up our defenses badly in the Roberts vote, Bush would've been able to pick some extreme candidate with clear right-wing views, and Republicans would be rejoicing. But we saved the filibuster and we used it to set an ambush that could possibly destroy any extreme right-wing nominee. I'm proud of Harry Reid, and you should be too.

I don't know how she'll rule on business-related issues. But whatever the answer is, she's 60 years old. Win election 2016, and you're in good shape.

Harriet Miers

At this moment it's interesting to look at Ezra's Sitemeter. Google searches for "Harriet Miers" fill the first page and a half of referring links. She was, after all, nominated to the Supreme Court. But what's the very first among all of the Harriet Miers searches?

That's right. "Harriet Miers naked". Harry Reid, I know that you're trying to find incriminating evidence on Bush's nominees, but this is going too far.

[Update] Looking closely at the Kentucky address on the Sitemeter page, and at the horror on Redstate, one wonders -- is it actually Mitch McConnell at the keyboard?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Ancient Wisdom of Refundable Tax Credits

If you want to learn some really important stuff about tax policy, I recommend this post I've put up at Ezra's place.