Thursday, September 30, 2004

Getting facts into play

As the debates draw closer, one of my major concerns is that the Democrats haven't yet established a few key facts in voters' minds. This is something we could've accomplished during the convention if we weren't so concerned about being positive. But we didn't, so now we have to go into the debates with lots of undecided voters being aware of the following two facts in particular:

-The weapons inspectors were on the ground in Iraq, successfully getting Saddam to destroy some minor banned weapons, when Bush went ahead and started war. (My guess is that most Americans believe Saddam hadn't caved and allowed the inspectors at that time. If they knew inspections were going on, Bush's line about defending America vs. taking the word of a madman would be revealed as empty.)

-We had Osama pinned down in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, when Bush shifted military planners away from catching him and towards preparing for the Iraq war. (My guess is that most Americans think we never had any idea where Osama was in Afghanistan, and don't know that focus on Saddam made it harder to get him. If people were aware that the relation between capturing Osama and deposing Saddam was closer to an exclusive disjunction than a biconditional, they'd see how the Iraq war was a distraction from fighting terrorism.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Reading Gallup

The Gallup Poll has Bush's 55-42 lead narrowing to a 52-44 lead in national polls. Still bad for Kerry? Not if you look at Party ID:
Likely Voter Sample Party IDs – Poll of September 13-15
Reflected Bush Winning by 55%-42%

Total Sample: 767
GOP: 305 (40%)
Dem: 253 (33%)
Ind: 208 (28%)

Likely Voter Sample Party IDs – Poll of September 24-26
Reflected Bush Winning by 52%-44%

Total Sample: 758
GOP: 328 (43%)
Dem: 236 (31%)
Ind: 189 (25%)
Bush went from a 13% advantage, when the sample went Republican by a 7% margin, to a 8% advantage when the sample went Republican by a 12% margin! Given that the 2000 turnout figures were 39D-35R, there's cause for rejoicing here.

Election Protection

Many posts ago I promised to mention an exciting Democratic volunteer opportunity. With the Election Protection program, you can go to polling places where Republican operatives have pulled dirty tricks in the past like posting flyers that advertise the wrong day for the election, intimidating voters at the polls, and exaggerating the requirements for voting. Your job is to notify the proper authorities if these things happen. Since suppressing minority votes through trickery is an important part of how Republicans win elections, this is a really important way to help the Democrats.

Unfortunately for my Texas readers, the program is only running in nine battleground states (well, eight plus Illinois). Michigan is one of them, so I'll be doing it up here.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Ten cuidado del nombre "Bush"

More from the New Democrat Network. I've had the song stuck in my head for a while. It's just an internet ad and not a TV one, but it's crazy fun.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Read the Book

You might have heard about how the RNC is sending out scare mailings claiming that Democrats want to ban the Bible. Michigan grad student Josh Brown opines that Republicans wouldn't be affected if such a thing were to happen, since they clearly haven't bothered to read the part about not bearing false witness.

(Admittedly, the joke has some paradoxical character. In the deeply counterfactual world where Bibles are banned, the GOP's claims would not be false.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Only with the Democratic plan...

...will we have a better life.

So goes the last line of the New Democratic Network's ads, which are aired in Florida and target Hispanics. You might want to watch their Spanish ad about the minimum wage before you see the English one. Excellent stuff.

Update with spoiler (read only after you've seen the ad): There is a whole lot I like about this ad. It has a simple but powerful plot twist, it makes you feel the travails of a minimum-wage worker no matter how much money you make, and in endorsing the Democrats in general, it promises to help a whole bunch of Democratic candidates of the present and future. The beginning -- a man and a woman seemingly about to go to bed -- makes you wonder if something sexy is going to happen, which draws your attention. And then you see that nothing like that can happen, since the guy has to go off and work his second job. The plight of poor people is made sexually tangible. Wow.

Theoretical Taxonomy: Wussy and Badass

Via Jeremy Alder comes a taxonomy of philosophical views as Wussy or Badass. I agree with the comments about the wussiness of semantic tricks and win-win situations. I agree about the badassness of bullet-biting and Buffy (at least, in seasons 1-3). But this, surely, is false: "whenever a view compromises metaphysical commitments for epistemological reasons, it's totally wussing out."

What's more wussy than a view that gains all its resources by begging them off of an overly permissive epistemology? What's more wussy than the self-indulgence that refuses to do without even the most theoretically expensive metaphysical comfort? The badassness of epistemically rigorous, ontologically simple theories is the badassness of MacGyver. Remember MacGyver, who would outwit his enemies by building a bazooka out of a toaster, a 9-volt battery, and some dental floss? Deny him all but the weirdest, most unlikely resources, and he'd still defeat you. Such is the badassness of David Hume, the Logical Positivists, and Nietzsche. They charged into battle naked as woad-painted Celts, and the bards will sing of their boldness forevermore. While David Lewis loses big points for epistemic rigor, he gains them back by resourcefulness and a strange sort of simplicity. Here's a man who built accounts of modality, value, and the mind using nothing but concrete objects. Sure, he used way more concrete objects than anyone had ever seen fit to use before, but he didn't help himself to any abstracta or any irreducible properties of the normative or mental kind. It's quite an exercise in bazooka-building!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Kerry on the warpath

Kerry finally gets serious about criticizing Bush's foreign policy. I wish this had started at the convention or before. But I don't think it's too late now.

Go Alan Go!

At first, I thought this was parody. Then I realized that it was just Alan Keyes being himself.
CHICAGO - (KRT) - Declaring that his campaign strategy is dependent on controversy, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes told the state's top GOP donors at a recent closed-door meeting that he plans to make "inflammatory" comments "every day, every week" until the election, according to several sources at the session.
This will be really fun to watch!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Charter school disaster

It hadn't occurred to me that something like this was even possible.

The tragedy of coherentism

According to coherentist theories of justification, a belief is justified if it is consistent with the other things you believe. An unfortunate characteristic of these theories is that an entirely false set of beliefs can come out justified, if the beliefs are consistent with each other. Here's an illustration from a National Guard member who heard Kerry criticize Bush for misleading America about Iraqi WMDs:

"What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on Iraq - I just don't believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so I guess I couldn't believe what Kerry was saying."

That's why stories about the absence of Iraqi WMDs are still worth printing.


-I saw a band called Saturday Looks Good to Me that wasn't especially good. There's a good guitarist who is a very bad vocalist. While the female lead singer was cute and had shiny black hair close to her eyes, which promised something Yeah Yeah Yeahsy, she didn't have the Karen O supersquealysexy thing going on, or any other attitude that would make it cool.

-At the bar, I met an undergrad who had taken a class in the Michigan philosophy department, and he could say some basic things about Hume, like when he was alive and what some of his basic ideas were! He even knew some basic stuff about G.E. Moore and some of the H20/Water Putnam cases. He even seemed to share my intuition about the Putnam case -- water could still be multiply realizable, if XYZ actually exists! I hope my students come out of school with this kind of ability. He's going into urban planning and I wish him well.

-I need to relearn my favorite song, "Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile." I sang a lot of it to Dustin on the way back from the bar, but I forgot the last verse. Must listen to the Clancy Brothers recording of it a few more times.

-I smiled at a hot girl briefly, and she smiled back. You've got to start somewhere.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Edwards and experience

Matt Yglesias asks: who'd be a better candidate than Kerry?

John Edwards, clearly, has the raw material there, but I think it's pretty clear that such an inexperienced guy would've gotten slammed in the first post-9/11 election.

When the "you're too inexperienced" argument runs up against the "you've screwed everything up" argument, I think the latter wins. It's doubtful that the American public puts very much weight on experience when voting for president. And if Bush wanted to emphasize his greater experience, he'd be on weird territory. The public image of Bush as resolute and determined is pretty well ingrained, while he has no reputation for being an experienced and competent leader.

Not to mention, Edwards would blow Bush away on domestic issues.

Becoming an ethical werewolf

Suppose I had the opportunity to drink a potion that would change me into a different kind of creature. I'd lose any cognitive capacities above those of a dog, my linguistic capacity and most of my conceptual capacities, and my higher-order desires. But my desire to do things that caused pleasure to other beings would be greatly strengthened, and my aversion to events that caused pain to other beings would also be strengthened. I would also gain amazing physical powers. And when I was turned loose on the world, I would be even more successful in maximizing aggregate utility than I would have been in my human form. I would rescue people in distress, intimidate villains, and do amazing works for the world.

First, would I be morally justified in drinking the potion? Second, would the creature I became count as a morally good agent?

I think the answer to both questions is yes. The first one is simple, if you're a utilitarian. As to the second one, my intuitions support reducing morally good agency to desiring the good. Being a morally bad agent is desiring the bad. For a utilitarian, pleasure is the good while pain is the bad, but I imagine that someone who accepted some other ethical theory could replace pain and pleasure with the things valued under that theory.

As per David Sosa's distinction, I evaluate the moral worth of agents separately from the goodness of the events that are their acts. If you live in a bizarre world where you are thoroughly deluded about the effects of your actions, you can be a good person and do only bad acts, or vice versa. So the stuff above about morally good agency being reduced to some desire-state shouldn't be taken as a denial of consequentialism about the goodness of everything else.

Note: The notion of ethical werewolfhood employed in this post is different from the notion employed in my first post.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


I think the following is more than 50% likely to be true:

The most memorable event of election 2004 hasn't happened yet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Matt Yglesias explains how the Bush administration is making us more likely to get hit by Nuclear bombs.

At this point, one would be unjustified in believing that the Killian memos are authentic. If this is true, we can conclude that CBS News is a bunch of idiots. If the case that Bush went AWOL depended on that document, Democrats would have reason to worry. Of course, the case can be constructed on other documents entirely.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Making the rounds on Monday

Kerry takes Bush to task over North Korea. This should've happened long ago, but it's good that it's happening now.

PCmag compares the IBM Selectric's type to Times New Roman. Can you tell which is which? The Killian memo could still be a forgery, but at this point one isn't justified in believing that...

...and even if one were, US News can show that Bush didn't fulfill his obligations, without relying on the Killian memo.

What Gore could've done

I agree with Matt that the Bush-AWOL story isn't likely to matter very much in the election. Lindsay's distinctions are the right ones to draw, but I think her analysis would be better applied to the 2000 election. (Also, I'm not entirely happy with the way she relativizes 'should' to the beliefs and desires of each voter, but let's leave that aside for now.)

I didn't know anything about the Bush-AWOL story until this year, and I was following politics quite closely in 2000. If it had been dumped on Bush through some media leaks shortly after he became the de facto nominee, I think it would've been fairly effective. Combined with the drunk-driving dirt that Chris Lehane dug up (dumped too late to shape perceptions of Bush), it could've defined Bush in such a way that the cocaine rumors would've seemed plausible enough for the mainstream media to give serious attention to. And if people heard about this stuff before they heard Bush's born-again personal bullshit narrative, many would regard that story as his shifty way of not taking responsibility for his past. The resulting picture of Bush would be of an unreliable reprobate whom nobody should trust with the responsibilities of the presidency. Gore could then run as the opposite kind of character -- the smart, reliable guy who could be depended on to continue the Clinton economic/budgetary magic.

It's good when you can define yourself and your opponent in directly opposing terms. Once you've done that, when you say "I have good quality X!" everybody feels the implicature that your opponent has bad quality not-X. Bush has done that in this election -- when he says that he'll be steadfast against terrorism, the implied contrast to the supposedly flipflopping Kerry is palpable. Gore could've done that to Bush in 2000 when Bush was new on the scene and definable, but for some reason Gore didn't. Maybe it has to do with the greater reluctance of Democratic candidates to go negative, or maybe it has to do with general incompetence in the Gore 2000 campaign. The current sentiment among many Democrats that Kerry should be emphasizing his competence (sure it's complicated to tell this story, but can't somebody manage it?) against Bush's policy incompetence (effects of which include a bad economy, high deficits, Medicare premiums going huge, Osama running free, North Korea with nukes, and the Iraq quagmire) seems exactly right to me -- it gives us a great opposition to work with, and one that matters more to voters than the Vietnam-AWOL opposition.

Ought we have a politics where these ways of painting someone's character determine the course of elections? I don't think so -- I'd like it if everyone were a boring policy wonk and didn't care about these kinds of issues. But it seems we do have a politics like this, and if you don't play these dumb character-assassination games right, fools will run the country into the ground.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Mark Schmitt has done some good work pointing out how the Bush Administration uses anonymous quotes to generate the spin it wants. The anonymous sources get to say ridiculous and/or self-serving things without being held accountable, and sometimes their excuses for anonymity are quite silly. If the White House were half as good at running Iraq as it is at playing the media, parts of Baghdad would not be exploding right now.

(PS - I'm proud to be the sender of the email mentioned at the beginning of the post.)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Reports and thoughts

-Philosophical blogging will probably increase from hereon, since the number of philosophy classes I'm in has jumped from 0 to 4. There are 2 metaethics classes (Gibbard and Velleman), 1 normative ethics class (Anderson), and 1 phil. of science class (Sklar). They are going well.

-I'm going to talk with Peter Railton about his 1986 paper "Moral Realism" sometime next week. This will be a big event, since Railton is probably my favorite contemporary metaethics guy. He's also, by all accounts, a wonderful person to talk to.

-I've been offered a chance to participate in a really cool volunteer activity for Democrats on election day -- more details forthcoming.

-Whenever I arrive for the first week at a state college, I'm always taken aback by the sight of so many pretty girls in short skirts. I regard them with more wistfulness than lust.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

This isn't Willkietime

Max's post calls for some response. One of the reasons Willkie should be admired for not attacking FDR on national security is that FDR's policies during WWII were generally good ones. FDR saw that Hitler and Hirohito were our main enemies, and his foreign policy was focused on defeating them. If FDR's foreign policy had been worse (suppose he had lost focus and decided to open up a new front by attacking Franco's Spain) Willkie ought to have criticized FDR for this and made national security a partisan issue. If the incumbent has a bad war strategy, this is the kind of thing that needs to come up during a campaign.

This is how I and many other people on the left see the Iraq War. While Bush went blundering into Iraq, spending around $200 billion and a thousand lives to eliminate weapons that weren't there, North Korea got a nuclear missile and Osama Bin Laden got away. Sure, Saddam was an evil dictator, but he had no WMD, no allies, no support from al-Qaeda, and a decrepit army. Attacking him was a bad move. Under these circumstances, Kerry would be blameworthy for not pointing up Bush's national security failures. (If things keep going the way they are, he is to be blamed for not making Bush's national security incompetence his central foreign policy issue in the campaign.)

The Instapundit Fun Page!

Glenn Reynolds quoted Matt Yglesias as saying "The situation, clearly, can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya." He mocked Matt's for trying to accommodate terrorism, leaving off the next two sentences which dramatically qualify Matt's claim: "At the same time, in the wake of this sort of outrage there will not only be no mood for concessions, but an amply justified fear that such concessions would only encourage further attacks and a further escalation of demands. I don't see any way out for Russian policymakers nor any particularly good options for US policymakers." Matt was trying to point out the things that make the situation so tricky, and Glenn faulted Matt for ignoring one of the things he was actually trying to point out.

Glenn stands by what he wrote, saying that his quoting was merely "done via cut-and-paste." What do you get when you quote Glenn the same way? Let's see...

Glenn's disappointment with the GOP Convention!
"I'm just sad that the Republican Convention became such a hatefest"

Glenn Supports Kerry on Sudan!
"Just noticed that John Kerry is calling for strong action on Darfur. That's good."

Glenn wants you to keep pushing the down button without actually reading!
"Just keep scrolling."

None of the above involve passing off someone else's views as his own (though one involves ignoring sarcasm). If you're willing to work "via cut-and-paste" with those, you can make this and worse:

"Bush sucks."

[Links are dead as of 2019.]

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Get well soon, Bill

The big guy's in the hospital with some heart trouble. I thought this would be a good time to thank him for the greatest legislative achievement of my lifetime -- his 1993 budget. See those blue bars going down and down until they become negative? That's his tax increases at work, turning the deficit into a surplus. And in case you're thinking to credit the GOP congress, please note that they don't seem to have had any significant effect on the rate of deficit reduction when they appear in '94. It's hard to see how they could, after Bill shut down Newt Gingrich's revolution. The red bars on the far right, by the way, show you what's happened to the deficit under W's watch. The data comes from the CBO.

Unfortunately, my side axis got blacked out and I don't know how to fix that. Well, I've got to get to sleep soon... leaving for MI in ~9 hours, which may cause posting to be light for a few days.

Last SBVT post (I hope)

I posted the following in the comments to the last post, but I like it enough that I think I'll put it up here too:

For a nicely footnoted rundown of the SBVT claims and the evidence, go here.

To summarize:

-Schachte claims to have been the 4th man on the skimmer when Kerry got his Bronze Star, and says Kerry hurt himself with a grenade. Runyon and Zaladonis, two other men who everyone agrees were on the skimmer, deny that Schachte was there and say Kerry never used a grenade. (This story, by the way, was the one that Michelle Malkin tried to spread on Hardball.)

-Thurlow claims that Kerry wasn't under fire when he pulled Rassmann out of the water. He is contradicted by everyone on Kerry's boat, a guy on his own boat, well-corroborated military records, and intelligence reports that show 1 VC killed and 5 wounded in the battle. While Thurlow claims that some of the reports were written by Kerry, not all of them could have been.

-Elliott now claims that Kerry merely shot down a fleeing defenseless wounded enemy and doesn't deserve his Silver Star. This fits ill with Elliott's intense praise for Kerry during the war, and is contradicted by Kerry's crewmates and William Rood, who say the enemy had a rocket launcher and could have blown up Kerry's boat.

-The one thing I will concede is that Kerry wasn't in Cambodia during Christmas. He was there later though, and I think the experiences that he described as 'seared into' his memory (a winter holiday, allies celebrating and firing weapons, Nixon being president) are from Tet rather than Christmas.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Swift Boat endgame?

If this is right, a lot of their supposed membership is made up of people who never wanted to be members. Yikes.

Zell Miller, 2001

From Zell's own web site:
My job tonight is an easy one: to present to you one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders – and a good friend.

He was once a lieutenant governor – but he didn't stay in that office 16 years, like someone else I know. It just took two years before the people of Massachusetts moved him into the United States Senate in 1984.

In his 16 years in the Senate, John Kerry has fought against government waste and worked hard to bring some accountability to Washington.

Early in his Senate career in 1986, John signed on to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Bill, and he fought for balanced budgets before it was considered politically correct for Democrats to do so.

John has worked to strengthen our military, reform public education, boost the economy and protect the environment. Business Week magazine named him one of the top pro-technology legislators and made him a member of its "Digital Dozen."

John was re-elected in 1990 and again in 1996 – when he defeated popular Republican Governor William Weld in the most closely watched Senate race in the country.

John is a graduate of Yale University and was a gunboat officer in the Navy. He received a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three awards of the Purple Heart for combat duty in Vietnam. He later co-founded the Vietnam Veterans of America.

He is married to Teresa Heinz and they have two daughters.

As many of you know, I have great affection – some might say an obsession – for my two Labrador retrievers, Gus and Woodrow. It turns out John is a fellow dog lover, too, and he better be. His German Shepherd, Kim, is about to have puppies. And I just want him to know … Gus and Woodrow had nothing to do with that.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Senator John Kerry.
"Strengthen our military..." Now who's the flip-flopper?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Don't nominate crazy people

When you nominate crazy people to run for Senate, you've got to worry about the weird things they'll do. For example, they might go after your Vice-President's lesbian daughter. They might even do it while you're running a convention and trying to present your party as being moderate. You don't want that.