Friday, August 27, 2004

We here to vote

Nice GOTV ad from Moveon. There's probably a lot of shows on which this one could be quite effectively targeted. [2019 update: link broken :( ]

Thursday, August 26, 2004

How to hurt yourself with math

Two conservative researchers present a paper that tries to explain away global warming. There is great rejoicing among those who want political inaction on climate change issues. Then Tim Lambert checks the analysis and finds that the researchers put in angle measurements in degrees when the software package expected radians. For those who aren't very mathy, 360 degrees equals ~6.28 radians. Ouch.

Via John Quiggin.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Crime control

This strikes me as simple and right.

Coherence? Derrida??

This comes at the end of a post from Marginal Revolution about a Heidegger movie:

Ross [the filmmaker] was concerned that it be intellectually coherent.

"In the back of his mind was, 'What if Jacques Derrida sees this?"' Barison says.

I've read a bit of Derrida, and I suspect he'd like an intellectually incoherent movie better. It'd be less phallogocentric that way, or something like that.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Badass war stories

William Rood at the Chicago Tribune, captain of another Swift Boat, breaks 35 years of silence on the issue to defend John Kerry. His story about Kerry's leadership as a swift boat captain is pretty awesome:

The difference was that Kerry, who had tactical command of that particular operation, had talked to Droz and me beforehand about not responding the way the boats usually did to an ambush.

We agreed that if we were not crippled by the initial volley and had a clear fix on the location of the ambush, we would turn directly into it, focusing the boats' twin .50-caliber machine guns on the attackers and beaching the boats. We told our crews about the plan.

The Viet Cong in the area had come to expect that the heavily loaded boats would lumber on past an ambush, firing at the entrenched attackers, beaching upstream and putting troops ashore to sweep back down on the ambush site. Often, they were long gone by the time the troops got there.

The first time we took fire—the usual rockets and automatic weapons—Kerry ordered a "turn 90" and the three boats roared in on the ambush. It worked. We routed the ambush, killing three of the attackers. The troops, led by an Army adviser, jumped off the boats and began a sweep, which killed another half dozen VC, wounded or captured others and found weapons, blast masks and other supplies used to stage ambushes.

Meanwhile, Kerry ordered our boat to head upstream with his, leaving Droz's boat at the first site.

It happened again, another ambush. And again, Kerry ordered the turn maneuver, and again it worked. As we headed for the riverbank, I remember seeing a loaded B-40 launcher pointed at the boats. It wasn't fired as two men jumped up from their spider holes.

I don't think this war-hero stuff should bear that much weight in our voting decisions. But it is pretty exciting!

Update: Just gave a little grad-student-sized contribution to America Coming Together... as I said on Matt Yglesias' site, Kerry has ordered a "turn 90", and we can all be gunners on this boat.

Swift Boat liars and intentional contexts

What did John Kerry actually say about bad things that went on in Vietnam? Here's the section of his 1971 testimony that the Swift Boat liars quote from:
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago, in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit--the emotions in the room, and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told stories that, at times, they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
Here's the text of the ad:
John Kerry: “They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads. . .”

Joe Ponder: “The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.”

John Kerry: “. . . randomly shot at civilians. . .”

Joe Ponder: “It hurt me more than any physical wounds I had.”

John Kerry: “. . . cut off limbs, blown up bodies. . .”

Ken Cordier: “That was part of the torture, was, uh, to sign a statement that you had committed war crimes.”

John Kerry: “. . . razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan. . .”

Paul Gallanti: “John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I, and many of my, uh, comrades in North Vietnam, in the prison camps, uh, took torture to avoid saying. It demoralized us.”

John Kerry: “. . . crimes committed on a day to day basis. . . ”

Ken Cordier: “He betrayed us in the past, how could we be loyal to him now?”

John Kerry: “. . . ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.”

Paul Gallanti: “He dishonored his country, and, uh, more, more importantly the people he served with. He just sold them out.”

Announcer : “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement.”
See how the "They told stories that..." is completely dropped? The ad makes it look like John Kerry was the original source of the claims about people's ears being cut off, rape, beheading, etc. But Kerry was merely repeating the testimony of 150 other veterans, and conveying it to Congress. Furthermore, the charges that Kerry repeated were true. (At least, accounts of My Lai cover the raping, randomly shooting civilians, and Genghis-Khan-like razing. I can't vouch for ear removal or genital zapping.) I can imagine how a shoot-the-messenger irrational hatred of Kerry could have developed in the Swift Boat Liars. But there's nothing here for which he can be blamed, and the Swift Boat Liars' decision to express their irrational hatred by distorting his words is contemptible.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Among the IRC chat quotes is this gem:

Pahalial: "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" - Charles Darwin

kionix: wtf? begets isn't a word. quit trying to make up words, fuckface.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Brian ranks things

On a post congratulating Jessica Berry and Matt Evans, two recent Texas Ph.Ds whom I had the pleasure of knowing, Brian Leiter says:
It is one of the two or three best things about my job to have the chance to work with such exceptionally talented young philosophers and scholars.
The sentence struck me as a little odd when I first read it -- most people would say "It is one of the best things" and leave the "two or three" out. Now I have this suspicion that Brian has taken the time to rank the top 25 things about his job, and "Working with talented young scholars" tied with something else for the #2 slot. This is what one expects from the author of the PGR!

PS - Does anybody know what Jessica and Matt are to be congratulated for?

Drunker than the average bear

36 beers is a lot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Where do I vote?

I have four choices about where to register:
--Pennsylvania. This is where my family lives. There's a Senate race (Hoeffel/Specter), a very good House challenger (Lois Murphy), and the state is semi-battlegroundish.
--North Carolina. This is where I'm currently registered. It's hard to gauge whether Congressman Brad Miller is in any danger. There's a close Senate race (Bowles/Burr), and this state is polling the closest among the 4 for the presidential.
--Michigan. This is where I'll be on election day. No Senate race, but it'll probably be close in the national.
--Texas. Hopeless for anything statewide, so I guess I won't be able to pick this one and help out my unfortunately redistricted Democratic congressman.

Right now it's Pennsylvania vs. NC. Any advice?

Homework assignments

Can I get a free trader to present some counterarguments to Jessica Wilson's anti-globalization excerpt? There's some powerful correlations cited there, but someone with more knowledge than me might find another explanation of them.

Or can someone tell me what's wrong with Hugo Chavez? Pan y ladrillos sounds pretty good to this Benthamite! Since a lot of his country's big media criticizes him, it's hard to argue that he's done the dissent-crushing thing that would have me worried.

These are two issues on which my mind is fairly open, so you might actually convince someone.

Just read Matt Yglesias

I thought about writing this when I saw Matt bring the Mill against libertarians, analyze the problems in Iraq (just read Matt's post, don't worry about the links), and write this piece in the American Prospect about character. But I didn't, so I'll write it now: if I had to read only one political blogger, it'd be Matthew Yglesias.

It's not surprising that I agree with him on most things. He's a solid consequentialist with many of the same empirical beliefs that I hold, and that goes a long ways in terms of getting us to the same substantive positions. When you know that someone shares the same values and policy motivations as you do, and that his occupation requires him to spend more time learning about the issues, you can almost regard his head as an extension of yours -- it'll process information the way yours would and come to the conclusions you would if you learned about the issues. We are all part of one freakish utilitarian hive mind! Bzzz! (okay, now I'm joking).

Of the left-wing bloggers, I used to read Josh Marshall more often, but he tends to get focused on a single issue for days at a time. It's great if you're interested in that issue, but not if you're not. The Pandaguys always have something cool to say, but they aren't at the top in terms of sheer knowledge. Mark Schmitt has an amazing amount of policy insight (this may have something to do with why his posts get more trackbacks then comments, usually) but he doesn't post that often. Daily Kos is chock full of stuff, but it's of varying quality. I don't read Atrios often because I think other sites have more original analysis. Kevin Drum is so widely read that if he says anything cool, someone will link to it and I'll get it that way. Oh, and Tapped is one sweet magazine.

Friday, August 13, 2004

To Hume it may concern

In the comments at Brian Weatherson's blog, I ventured the view that David Hume might be the greatest philosopher ever, and met with some opposition. I'll move my discussion here since it's not really topical over there. Just want to go through some of Hume's greatest hits:

The reduction of causation to constant conjunction is, for all its problems, probably the classic reductive move in the history of metaphysics. The epistemic considerations motivating it don't look so hot now that Logical Positivism's over, but they were influential for a long time (and I still find them pretty powerful). There's the antirealism about moral properties and the projectivist explanation that underlies it, which still inspires people like Simon Blackburn today. There's the attack on rationalist theories of motivation -- it's no accident that the field of practical rationality is divided between 'rationalists' and 'Humeans.' Hume's comments about the move from 'is' to 'ought' is the earliest clear statement of the naturalistic fallacy that I know of.

I mean, there's plenty of options for "greatest philosopher ever." I can see how you go with Kant if you like elaborate systems that save lots of our intuitions, or Aristotle if you're into the ancients and like logic, or Plato if you're into the ancients and don't like logic, or Kripke if you're an antirealist about the past and don't believe that the history of philosophy exists. But if you like reductive approaches and ontological simplicity, it's hard to beat Hume.

Ohio polls are Favorable

Take a look at the latest poll from Ohio. The top number, which has Kerry over Bush 48-45, is nice but not spectacular for Democrats. The real beauty is in the poll internals. Bush's Favorable-Unfavorables are at 41-50. Kerry's Favorable-Unfavorables are at 51-42. Sure, the Republicans have a convention coming up, but with their candidate at -9 and ours at +9 they have a lot of ground to make up. And it's really hard for Bush to win without Ohio, which he carried in '00.

Oh, and if you haven't yet, you might want to bookmark the Electoral Vote calculator. We're also doing well in Florida, though I'm kind of worried about Jeb Bush disenfranchising black people and Diebold screwing with the voting machines.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

How to win the War on Terror

Matt Yglesias makes the point that all of us on the left know: Killing 1 terrorist but generating >1 more in the process is a losing strategy. This is why this brilliant Wesley Clark piece from a few months ago should define our Middle East policy for the next several decades. In the short term, you work with your allies to contain the terrorist threat and foil their plots. Don't go invading any countries unless absolutely necessary (i.e., invade Afghanistan but not Iraq). In the long term, you slowly bring Arab moderates over to your side, decreasing the base of angry young Muslim men that al-Qaeda draws from. This takes decades, but when you're fighting an enemy that doesn't need government cover and whose numbers increase when you shoot them, it's the only strategy that can work. Let me just quote portions of the last 2 paragraphs from Clark:

Among our greatest assets during the Cold War were immigrants and refugees from the captive nations of the Soviet Union. Tapping their patriotism toward America and love of their homelands, we tasked them with communicating on our behalf with their repressed countrymen in ways both overt and covert, nursing hopes for freedom and helping to organize resistance. America's growing community of patriotic Muslim immigrants can play a similar role. They can help us establish broader, deeper relationships with Muslim countries through student and cultural exchange programs and organizational business development.

We can't know precisely how the desire for freedom among the peoples of the Middle East will grow and evolve into movements that result in stable democratic governments. Different countries may take different paths. Progress may come from a beneficent king, from enlightened mullahs, from a secular military, from a women's movement, from workers returning from years spent as immigrants in Western Europe, from privileged sons of oil barons raised on MTV, or from an increasingly educated urban intelligentsia, such as the nascent one in Iran. But if the events of the last year tell us anything, it is that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of our gun.

Update: Clark's mostly talking about generating democracy while I'm talking about fighting terrorism -- two things that have been illicitly conflated by lots of people. But since his strategy aims at improving America's image abroad, which is helpful in both pursuits, I think the conflation is legitimate here.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Bentham on bestiality

The Old Master's view strikes me as unusually sensible for his times. For more common sense, read "Burning the Animal", the next section, as well.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Deal with the devil

Red Adair, a prolific 89-year-old oil well firefighter, died today. Even at age 76 during the first Gulf War, he was working to put out fires in Kuwaiti oil wells caused by retreating Iraqi troops. I relish this line from his obituary:

"I've done made a deal with the devil," Adair said. "He said he's going to give me an air-conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won't put all the fires out."

Friday, August 06, 2004

The magic of refrigeration

I feel strange questioning the household practices of respected economists, but Dr. Tabarrok, are you putting your organic bread in the fridge? My mother does this and I'm surprised that many people don't. Sure, it's cold when it comes out, but the toaster or the microwave will take care of that.

Two faces I could see, as you shook my money tree

Beside all the well-known evils of the Bush administration, some of the more boring evils go underreported. This is an old story, but it's one you might not have heard of.

To put it simply: The nation's top Medicare actuary figures out that the Bush Medicare plan will cost about $550 billion, not under $400 billion like the administration says. He wants to go tell Congress about this. His boss says that if he does, he'll lose his job. Two months later, after the Bush plan passes, the White House comes out and says that the cost really will be a lot closer to $550 billion. It's not like unforeseen events proved the actuary right -- there's a mere two months between the passage of the bill and the 35% increase in cost. Even if they didn't tell the boss to threaten the actuary (maybe they did, no one can establish it), the White House clearly knew that the plan would cost over $500 billion, and they saw to it that Congress voted using faulty numbers.

Is there anything you can trust these people about?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Werewolf battle strategy

Over at Fake Barn Country, they're trying to figure out what's wrong with this argument. I thought it was cool so I'll post it here too:

Premise 1: Either we will win the battle, or we will lose the battle.
Premise 2: If we will win the battle, then we ought to attack with a small force.
Premise 3: If we will lose the battle, then we ought to attack with a small force.
Conclusion: We ought to attack with a small force.

Here was the comment I left them:

I recommend that you reject premise 3: "If we will lose the battle, then we ought to attack with a small force."
Suppose the antecedent is true: We're going to lose the battle. There are many reasons why this might be the case. One of them is that we aren't going to bring a large enough force. Then it's the case that we ought to bring a large force including many werewolves and some hippogriffs. In this case, the ought-claim that is the consequent of the conditional -- "we ought to attack with a small force" is false. Since the antecedent is true and the consequent is false, the conditional is false.

(I get kind of overexcited when people are talking about battle and I have a chance to adopt a werewolf identity. Dennis might understand why.)

Right now I'm thinking that there's an ambiguity in how to interpret the conditional in 3: Is it a material or a counterfactual conditional? In my comment, I regard it as the material conditional. For the counterfactual conditional, you're supposed to consider all the possible worlds where we lose the battle, and figure out which are the best. The best of those are the ones where we bring a small force and lose. Maybe this explains why 3 seems so appealing. But I don't think the argument is valid if you use the counterfactual conditional all the way through -- the fact that the best winning-world and the best losing-world have us bringing small forces does not tell us what to do. Hmm, I think I'll go back to Fake Barn Country and mention this to them.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Trouble with direct democracy

The populace of Missouri just voted to ban gay marriage. This illustrates one of the disadvantages of direct democracy -- it's worse at preserving minority rights.

Suppose a minority is seriously harmed by some proposal, while the majority is unaffected and supports it. If you're a representative, it's often smart to vote against the proposal. Sure, you go against what most of the people think, but most of the people will forgive you. You can still win their votes on other grounds. The minority, however, will get mobilized and organized against you. No matter what stances you take on other things, you've lost their vote.

Direct democracy is different. A bunch of people with vague feelings of unease about gay people getting married -- people like my dad, for whom this would never be a make-or-break issue -- can swing the vote dramatically.

Now, my guess is that the amendment would have easily passed a representative body as well. But I'd be surprised if it got 72% of the vote there.


I've always liked acoustic over electric, folk over punk, vocables over screeches. But even on these little iMac internal speakers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are now showing me what the point of all that other stuff is.

(Sudden realization that Athenians and others with musical tastes far beyond mine might read this soon. Oh well.)

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Keeping politics in perspective

I guess the life of a campaign photographer gets boring sometimes. So you start to take pictures like this.

Feel free to suggest captions!

This plan is completely insane

Matt Yglesias reports to us on a memo apparently authored by Douglas Feith on September 20, 2001:

According to the commission, "the author expressed disappointment at the limited options immediately available in Afghanistan and the lack of ground options. The author suggested instead hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al Qaeda target like Iraq. Since U.S. attacks were expected in Afghanistan, an American attack in South America or Southeast Asia might be a surprise to the terrorists." If Feith really wrote such a memo, how is it possible that he is still in his job?

We'd been attacked by al-Qaeda, and this guy wanted us to surprise the enemy by attacking a non-al-Qaeda target? In South America??? Was Doug Feith sitting there with a random-number generator and a digitized map of the world? I guess that would explain how we got into the whole Iraq mess.