Wednesday, December 20, 2006

At Eazy-E's Crib

Yesterday Ezra was taking the day off, which resulted in me posting hot sweaty John Edwards Spring Break pictures, and also linking to John Derbyshire's recent discovery about the horrors of the health insurance system.

Perhaps in rewards for my services, Ezra has tagged me with a meme, which I will participate in shortly on his blog.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Iodized Salt Makes You Smarter Than Borat

There's a neat article in the NYT about efforts to iodize salt in Kazakhstan. Iodization is cheap and prevents many health problems. The PR battle is the hard part, and the iodizers rose to the challenge:

One female volunteer went to a bus company and rerecorded its “next-stop” announcements interspersed with short plugs for iodized salt. “She had a very sexy voice, and men would tell the drivers to play it again,” Ms. Sivryukova said.

Even the former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, who is a hero throughout the former Soviet Union for his years as champion, joined the fight. “Eat iodized salt,” he advised schoolchildren in a television appearance, “and you will grow up to be grandmasters like me.”

Mr. Karpov, in particular, handled hostile journalists adeptly, Mr. Zouev said, deflecting inquiries as to why he did not advocate letting people choose iodized or plain salt by comparing it to the right to have two taps in every home, one for clean water and one for dirty.

Johnny And The Golden Eggs

I'll start with this from Rick Perlstein, a year ago:

These programs make life in America fundamentally better... these gooses, Social Security, Medicare, lay golden eggs. They manufacture Democrats.

It is the duty of every generation of Democrats to produce new geese to lay 70 years of golden eggs. It is the only way our party has grown—as Bill Kristol puts it, by reviving the reputation of the Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests.

There's a sizable and increasing chance that 2009 will present the Democratic Party with a historic opportunity. The Senate calendar favors Democratic gains, and our House majority is large. Congressional investigations will degrade the Republican Party's brand identity further. If we can get a progressive Democrat into the White House, we'll be able to do things that make American life fundamentally better, and which voters remember for decades to come.

It's this opportunity that makes the John Edwards campaign so exciting. He's got the ambitious antipoverty program, and all indications are that a whole bunch of similarly progressive economic proposals on issues like health care are on the way. While other candidates -- including both Obama and Clinton -- try to maintain moderate reputations by publicly distancing themselves from bold economic proposals like single-payer health care, Edwards doesn't. I don't know for sure what sort of plan he'll come out with, but the policy guys working with him are solid progressives. All this and his base in the labor movement make him the one candidate who can absolutely be relied on to do his best for the economic left.

I recall Hilzoy's excellent post on Barack Obama's legislative accomplishments. He has, in fact, done a lot of good stuff in the Senate, and proven himself to be a very able legislator. He's worked across party lines with moderates like Richard Lugar and conservatives like Tom Coburn to get some useful stuff done. (I had no idea that anybody had done so much good stuff in the expiring session of Congress until I read Hilzoy's post.) But it doesn't go far enough in answering the really pressing question for the next presidential election -- will Obama be able to capitalize on a historic opportunity to put solidly left-wing ideas into effect? Obama strikes me as better suited for 2000 than 2008. Obviously, his past legislative performance isn't a good sign that he won't capitalize on the historic opportunity, because he was working under conditions where nothing like that was possible. But his unwillingness to commit to left-wing proposals makes me worry that he's trying to play some kind of triangulation game. It's still possible that he could be the guy we're looking for. But he'll have to come out and prove it.

Meanwhile, we've got Edwards polling ahead of McCain 43-41, while Hillary loses to McCain 47-43 and Obama loses 43-38. As I've argued many a time before, Edwards is uniquely suited to beat McCain in a general election. I like the way Petey put it once -- "We're through the looking glass here, people!" This is the year where the hard data keeps showing the candidate of the left to be more likely to win than the moderate alternatives. It's also important to remember that popularity doesn't lose all its value once you're elected -- a president's poll numbers help legislators decide whether they want to align themselves with his ideas. We'll need that to get ambitious economic proposals through.

If you wonder why Edwards has sort of been an idee fixe for me ever since I started blogging, that's a big part of it. We have the means to our greatest ends at our fingertips, and I'll do whatever I can to make sure we don't throw away this historic opportunity.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fine-Tuning: The New Creationist Strategy

That's the topic of my latest post at Ezra's blog. The occasion is Sahotra Sarkar's article in the American Prospect on the move towards fine-tuning arguments. The second half of the post is the following argument, which uses the possibility of dualism against fine-tuning. I'm curious whether I've presented it in a way that non-philosophers will be able to understand.

In this response I'm assuming that what really strikes us as miraculous about our universe and provides the force behind fine-tuning arguments is the presence of minds. A universe with mindless life (maybe, a bunch of bacteria) wouldn't count as especially different from a universe with no life at all.

Now suppose dualism -- the view that minds are non-physical -- might have been true. I'm not asking you to suppose that dualism actually is true, but only that there's an alternate way things could've been, perhaps very different from the way things actually are, in which dualism is true. If the non-physical minds that dualists talk about might have existed, there's a variety of different possible psychophysical laws (laws governing how minds are attached to physical objects) which could have obtained. Even if we had different physical laws which don't allow for the large-scale physical phenomena that support minds in our universe, we could've also had different psychophysical laws which allow other sorts of physical matter to have minds.

The resulting picture makes the existence of minds seem like a far less miraculous thing, and eliminates the impulse to posit a Creator who set things up just right. Sure, it's kind of interesting that our universe is one in which the physical laws do so much work in making minds possible. But there's a huge variety of other possible arrangements of laws -- in particular, arrangements involving psychophysical laws which allow for an abundance of minds -- that would do the same thing. So there's no reason to think our universe really is fine-tuned by a divine creator after all.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Obscene Sexual Expressions

I'm rather proud of this post I just put up at Ezra's blog, describing the unusual way in which I hear obscene sexual expressions, and why I don't use many of these expressions. It was fun to write, and I hope it'll be fun to read.