Friday, May 27, 2005

An American Werewolf at Ezra's

The highly regarded Ezra Klein emailed me last night to ask, "I'm going to be away for a few days, and I need a werewolf for my guestblogging team. Can you do it?" So I wrote back, "ARRROOOOOO!" Or something like that.

So all I'll be doing here from Saturday until Wednesday is updating this post with links to the stuff I post at Ezra's place. Hope to see you there!

The People's Money - Democrats have been the party of deficit reduction for 16 years now, and we need to let people know that.
Primary Qualities - Why the current primary system is suboptimal and some ideas for reforming it.
Free Trade Here Now! - Our protectionism hurts poor people in poor countries. There are nice ways to change this.
Humanity - Silly Tacitus! Your anti-choice argument is based on an equivocation.
What Rights There Are - Libertarians have to admit that respecting rights involves claims on the assets of third parties.
Fast - I mock Robby Gordon.
Boosting the Brand - We should have more ads promoting the Democratic Party, not just individual candidates.
A Plan for Social Security - What Democrats should say when Republicans ask about our plan for Social Security.
Gulag - It appears that some Guantanamo detainees were sold into captivity.
Secondary Primary Post - STV, caucuses, and more on how we should restructure primaries.
Why Everybody Should Love John Edwards - He's the best hope for health care reform and changing the way we think about poverty. Also he had dinner with Ezra.
Friends and Foes in India - A very brief introduction to the contemporary Indian political scene.

Caesar's bath

Making this blog a sudden meme transmission nexus, Dennis passes me the Caesar's Bath meme, under which I am assigned to list five things that people in my circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but which I can't really understand the fuss over.

1. Lakoff. How did so many people get behind this strict father / nurturant parent thing as an account of what's at the root of the differences between the parties? Lakoff doesn't marshal nearly enough evidence from actual political debate, which is his area of analysis. Mostly in Moral Politics he's got the Dobson parenting book, which is about... parenting. Sure, it's interesting, but it's not a data set from which you're allowed to infer the conclusion that family-related frames constrain political discourse. If either of his books were abundant with good frames, that'd be cool, but they're not. Well, at least he's getting Democrats to think more about more effective rhetoric, which is one of the 20 or so things we need to do to win more elections. And I do like "right to marry" over "gay marriage." (Dennis, your Elephant will be returned to you at Tom's house.)

2. Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Under the direction of the Wittgenstein mystery cult at Harvard, I tried so hard to love this book. But now I've come to think that the quasi-mystical style does much more to obfuscate than to clarify. My dark suspicion is that when Wittgenstein "makes philosophical problems go away" he really just gets people so wrapped up in his mysticism that they want to think he dissolved the problems, and they become more interested in being Wittgensteinians than in solving problems. I have no idea how a sound private language argument can be brought out of the text. The stuff on family-resemblance terms was genuinely useful. though.

3. Jazz. It doesn't hold my attention. Don't know what more to say.

4. James Wolcott. Wampum voters and lots of people on Kos love him, but I don't think either his writing or his political observations are especially brilliant. Mostly I see him angrily saying obvious things. His occasional obscene metaphors are more likely to induce annoyance than amusement in me. Not that I have any objections to dirty talk -- I could read Wonkette or Amanda Marcotte's anal sex references all day, and not just because they're pretty girls. Wolcott just seems more bitter, which makes it less fun.

5. The White Stripes. It's not that I dislike them, and I enjoy a few of their songs -- "Little Room" in particular amuses me. But the basic guitar-and-drums thing is something I just don't have much of an appreciation for. Maybe I started listening to electric-guitar-driven rock too late to really develop an appreciation.

I repay baton-debt to Ezra (though if he can't get to it for a while, I'll understand), seek the cultural insights of Brandon Butler, and give dadahead his chance to say whatever disembodied wooden heads say.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Who cares about Bill Frist?

In the aftermath of the filibuster deal, I heard lots of people crowing about how it was trouble for Frist's presidential chances. It's obvious that this hurts him as a Senate leader, but I'm willing to take Dobson's pro-Frist language at face value, and say that some on the theocratic right will see Frist as their man in opposition to the traitorous McCain.

But the real question is, who cares about Frist? Why do people want to hurt his chances of getting the nomination? I don't like him, but I don't see why we should be happy about pushing him aside and helping, say, George Allen get it instead. I'm happy about damaging McCain, because his media profile makes him a fearsome opponent and he signed up to be a tool of evil, but I don't see that Frist was necessarily our most dangerous foe.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


What's with the overapplication of the term "Martini"? Here's what goes into a martini -- at least enough vermouth to coat the container, and then some gin. Maybe some olives or lemon peel. You leave out the vermouth entirely, and you're drinking gin. The phrase "vodka martini" is to be understood like "toy gun", "counterfeit money", or "nonalcoholic beer." Random fluids do not become martinis by being poured into a Y-shaped glass. (They may still be good to drink.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The conventional option

I have to say that my reaction here is pretty much the same as Matt's. They get their three awful judges and we don't get to send the GOP legislative agenda to a nuclear winter wonderland. Reid's proposals for how we'd force votes on lots of stuff we liked that the GOP wouldn't swallow would've been fun to watch. In retrospect, I would've liked to see the Democrats make the substantive case against the judges themselves more. Why didn't we hear more about how Priscilla Owen let poor Willie Searcy die? Or about how Janice Brown more or less thought the New Deal was unconstitutional? Making the substantive case against the nominees probably would've done more to rally public opinion than institutionalist arguments about Senate procedure.

Everyone is talking about how this hurts Bill Frist. Here's what I'm thinking: it's time to declare an end to John McCain's hopes of ever becoming the GOP nominee. If you think Dobson's going to be mad at Frist for not delivering the goods, think how he'll feel about McCain robbing the train. This is one of the rare days when it's more fun to read the right-wing blogs than the left-wing ones:
So go ahead and bask in the praise, Lindsey Graham. Soak in the applause, John McCain. And all the rest of you turncoats...

Enjoy it now. We’re not going to forget this. Not now. Not ever.
And there goes your most electable future candidate. Conventional weapons are good for circular firing squads. I wonder if any of those northeastern GOP moderates will seek political asylum from Harry Reid. I leave you with words from Dobson himself:
This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The five book game

Ezra says it's my turn to name the five books I really need to read. I hope it's not cheating to include two of his books on my list, since I've only read the parts I needed for doing my TA work here at Texas, and I need to read more of them...

The first thing I need to read is Rawls' Theory of Justice. Now, I'm not much into stuff that calls itself political philosophy, because I think you just need to find the correct general theory of value (I think it's utilitarianism) and apply that directly to public policy without worrying about any stereotypically political-philosophy considerations. But this is the biggest political philosophy book of the last century, and I'm told that it calls the method I've described above into question. Some of it is also really fun to teach! Showing Texas undergrads with strong libertarian intuitions the argument for why we only deserve what we'd be apportioned behind the Veil of Ignorance was a wondrous experience. It was one of the moments when the kids are like, "I can't figure out why this is wrong, but if it's right, my world is upside-down!" The whole class stayed for a few minutes after the bell to keep arguing it out. I need to read the rest of the book to do this thing properly as a professor.

Then there's Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, another victim of my disregard of political philosophy and another thing I've only read for teaching. I spend enough time arguing with libertarians that I really need to read their book. I've heard that it's an easy read, unlike Rawls, and I'll try to get to it this summer. (BTW, I've got a funny personal story about Nozick which will be shared in a future post.)

The third and final entry on the "I've taught some and I need to read the rest" is the Bible. I want to know more about Jesus, who seems to have been a pretty cool guy. Since I enjoy mythology, I'll enjoy the stuff I don't believe. I also like talking philosophy with religious people, and this'll make those conversations more fruitful. Philosophy of Religion was another great teaching experience, and this will set me up nicely to do that again.

I took an excellent normative ethics class with Left2Right's Liz Anderson last fall, and now I want to read her Value in Ethics and Economics. I've heard (from people sympathetic to economics) that the criticisms of the discipline in there are good.

Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons, which I really need to finish, will end up being one of the most-remembered philosophy books of the 20th century. The stuff on personal identity in section 3 (what makes me the same person today as I was yesterday?) will be a part of any intro-philosophy class I teach to sufficiently smart kids. One of the most beautiful moments I've ever found in analytic philosophy arrives after Parfit has established his reductionist theory of personal identity, on which the connection making someone the same person at two moments is surprisingly slight:

When I believed that my existence was such a further fact [like a soul or something existing separately from one's experiences], I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

Now, whose reading preferences am I the most curious about? I pass the baton to battlepanda, Bunny McIntosh, and Fafnir.

(I restricted myself to relatively nontechnical stuff in this list. Some more technical books that I really need to read are Maudmarie Clark's Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy since I'm a Nietzsche scholar, Michael Bratman's Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason because I've got a sweet counterexample to the closure of rational intending under conjunction and I need to know if it hits him, Frank Jackson's From Metaphysics to Ethics because I won't give up on analyticity, and Jonathan Dancy's Practical Reality -- he's on my dissertation committee because he's the opponent I've always wanted.)

Saturday, May 21, 2005


I mishear lyrics worse than anybody else. Here's the chorus of Rilo Kiley's "Portions for Foxes".

And it's bad news
Baby it's bad news
It's just bad news, bad news, bad news

The first time I heard this song, it was at their show in Austin. And what did I hear? "bathrooms, bathrooms, bathrooms." I was kind of into the song though I had no idea what it was about, so I googled ""Rilo Kiley" bathrooms" to find the lyrics. Of course, I didn't find anything. (Actually, there are a full 1,460 hits for that search string, but none of them are what I was looking for.)

In mishearing-unrelated news, I rather like the title lyrics. People talking about their deaths in terms of becoming food for scavengers always seemed really powerful to me.

In lyrics-unrelated news, lead singer Jenny Lewis is really cute.

Friday, May 20, 2005

As the moon gets big

I turn into one of my role models:

Social Security never dies

Could someone tell me why we're allowing the GOP to claim that Social Security will pay smaller benefits in 2041 or whenever the money in the trust fund runs out? (If it ever does run out.)

I'm thinking that if the trust fund runs out, Social Security keeps paying out benefits just as it used to. It just becomes a drain on the rest of the budget. The program is too loved for us to stop paying the benefits. I mean, there isn't any requirement that we send only payroll tax receipts to the old folks, is there? We can send them income tax receipts and T-bond sale proceeds too. So we don't have a localized Social Security problem. We just have a general budget problem.

Ahead in the red

Ed Kilgore has data on the surprising popularity of red-state Democratic governors. It's a good thing for the present, and I wonder how many Senators we eventually get out of this!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The worst thing in Hume's Treatise

I've defended the view that David Hume was the greatest philosopher ever, and I become slowly more convinced of it as time wears on. But now I write about the worst bit of his writing I've ever read.

It comes in Book III, Part II of his Treatise of Human Nature. In the final section of Part II, he offers a justification of why chastity is praised as a virtue for women. The explanation is as follows: It's of great social importance that men be able to confidently believe that they are the biological fathers of their wives' offspring. If they're not confident in this, they won't expend enough effort in providing for children, and future generations will be worse for it. If wives are unchaste, men won't know whether their wives' offspring are their children are not, and this will prevent men from caring for future generations. Despite the fact that it takes two to have extramarital sex, Hume claims that men's moral obligation to be chaste is not as strong. Nowhere is there any explicit mention of the immorality a man engages in when he has sex with another man's wife. The point that an emphasis on male chastity would be as effective as an emphasis on female chastity is totally lost on him. (Hume describes in detail, but refrains from criticizing, the extension of chastity norms to cover women beyond childbearing age.)

And now I come to the part that is a total betrayal of Hume's genius. I quote the last two sentences:

'Tis contrary to the interest of human society, that men should have an entire liberty of indulging their appetites in venereal enjoyment: But as this interest is weaker than in the case of the female sex, the moral obligation, arising from it, must be proportionably weaker. And to prove this we need only appeal to the practice and sentiments of all nations and ages.

But when did the practice and sentiments of all nations and ages ever matter to you? David, you were the one who argued (against the most deeply held beliefs of all ages!) that causes don't necessitate their effects. You offered a reduction of causation to constant conjunction which eliminated the causal necessity that everyone believed in. In doing so, you offered an error theory of causal necessity -- do you think that causal necessity is less fundamental than the moral belief in chastity as a virtue? If you do, you're blind. You know that unfortunate features of our psychology dispose us to make false judgments on so many things. And what could've made you forget that here? Despite your hours in the brothels of Edinburgh, did you not regard the whores as unfortunate creatures unfairly condemned? If you failed to do so, natural sympathy is lacking in you, and in that you are vicious.

One might try an excuse for Hume here -- he lived in a time before feminism, so he didn't know how the interests of powerful men could've led accepted views about sexual morality into error. But if we respect Hume's capacity to identify processes that lead us into error, there's not much we can feel here but disappointment. Maybe we could accept it from somone who worked to codify all his intuitions into philosophy. But among Hume's gifts were his willingness to tell everyone that they were wrong, and his skill in finding psychological explanations of error. Where we see that these gifts failed him, there is cause for disappointment and sadness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

incipit Calvinball

Since the Republicans have their finger on the trigger as we speak, let's get clear on exactly what the nuclear option is. Matt explains:

the nuclear option isn't just ending judicial filibusters, it's ending them by breaking the rules of the Senate. That's unacceptable.

Or, to be more specific about how the rules of the Senate will be broken, here's The Hill:

A Congressional Research Service report on the subject, updated this month, leaves little doubt that moves being contemplated by Republicans — specifically a ruling that a supermajority requirement to cut off debate is not in order — would not be based on previous precedents of the Senate.

The rules say you need 60 votes to cut off debate. So the Chair will claim, over the objections of the parliamentarian, that the rules actually say you need 50. That's the point where you've abandoned the idea of a fixed system of rules. You're making them up as you go along. Basically, you're playing Calvinball.

If you're wondering who came up with the term "nuclear option", the answer is: Trent Lott. The current GOP term -- "constitutional option" was arrived at when the Republicans discovered that "nuclear option" didn't poll well. I'm not sure who first pointed out the similarity to Calvinball, but "Calvinball option" would've been a much more accurate term.


I got seriously interested in politics again about the time of the Iowa primaries, so I didn't really have time to get caught up in the Howard Dean excitement. But after watching the George Galloway video -- however much I'd disagree with Galloway on other things -- I get a sense of how the Deaniacs must've felt when their man was hammering Bush on Iraq.

Via Bunny McIntosh.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Cartoon of the day

Actually, it was on I Drew This a couple weeks ago, but I got it from Occultatio today.


When dadahead attacks

I believe that blogs should be tools for reasoned political debate and discussion rather than weapons with which to inflict devastation. On this, dadahead and I have some difference of opinion.

It's still fun to watch, though.

I prefer eoboks

If you've got a lot of weird emails linking to German websites in the last day or so, they're probably from a neo-Nazi group that's trying to influence a regional election by circulating a virus that spams people with anti-immigrant magazine articles. I haven't been affected, probably because I don't use an address book.

Personally, I'll take ads for Sceert eoboks over neo-Nazi spam. While the eobok featured in my ad was about how to have a great sex instantly, I see that eoboks on such exotic topics as "g-sopt" and "wonems pleasure map" are also available.

The Hillary obsession

Brendan Nyhan ventures into the Townhall abyss and returns us this bit of Novak:

Members of the inner circle of high-ranking House Republicans privately agree that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is an absolute lock for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and will not be easy to defeat in the general election.

I know that conservatives obsess over Hillary Clinton and Michael Moore while the real liberal heroes are Barack Obama and Jon Stewart, but I didn't know that the House GOP leadership had gone that crazy. I mean, "absolute lock"? Maybe Novak is making things up, but I don't see what would motivate that. Personally, I think Hillary's chances of winning the nomination, especially given uncertainty about whether she's running, are behind those of Kerry, Edwards, and Clark. (I was thinking Feingold too, but I'm guessing that Hillary has lots more fundraising power.)

Why are the House Republicans so confused? I think it's sort of like what happened to us back when we lost the election and some flimsy exit polling data got everyone thinking that gay marriage did it. My theory on that was that we were quick to blame the enemies who most haunt our thoughts -- theocratic conservatives -- for our defeat. All the things that cause conservatives to hate Hillary, from feminism to universal health care to transferred Bill Clinton hatred, cause them to think about her way too much and see her in all sorts of unlikely places. There might be some wishful thinking too -- the operative wish being to get another crack at Bill Clinton and finally beat him in an election.

Does the thought of a Jeb '08 candidacy arise the same way? I don't know, but if we couldn't beat George, wouldn't it be great to beat his brother? Oh...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Please don't call him dumb

Mark Schmitt on Virginia senator and GOP presidential hopeful George Allen:

there's something fascinating about Allen: He does not speak English. I mean that almost literally, in that he does not construct sentences made up of commonplace English words. Rather, he speaks entirely in a patois constructed of football metaphors. Absolutely everything is second down or third down, or five yards or ten yards or a Hail Mary. If you were unfamiliar with the basic jargon of American football (as many people are), his every word would be incomprehensible.

In the comments, a Neil who isn't me says:

He's as dumb as a bag of rocks, and I expect America to pick up on that.


Please don't do this again. We attack the dumb guy for being dumb, he out-good-ol'-boys us, we look like effete elitists, and we lose. We've been through a world of hurt trying this strategy before, and I don't want to see it again. If we had defined Bush as a spoiled rich kid who never amounted to anything beyond what his daddy bought him, just as he was emerging in 2000, we would've been much better off. Of course, we couldn't have, because Al Gore had the wrong life story for that kind of thing.

It's probably easier to run the spoiled-rich-kid critique against the son of a president than the son of a football coach. Maybe not impossible, though. Is there a strong enough trope about the coaches' son who gets to be starting quarterback out of nepotism rather than talent? Inquiring effete elitists want to know.

(The original draft of this post contained the line, "When you go on about the dumbness of a GOP nominee, you're throwing into triple coverage, and the Republicans are going to run it back for a touchdown." While there's a temptation to follow up the mentions of football metaphor by using one, I felt that I should resist. Thoughts?)

Marist poll

The May 6 Marist poll has a few bits of interesting data. One that I like is as follows:

For the Democrats, it’s John Edwards, not either of the two marquis names of Kerry or Clinton who runs strongest against the top Republicans. Edwards is numerically three points ahead of Rudy Giuliani and three points behind John McCain. Statistically both contests are a tossup.

Unless the two Senators have acquired titles of nobility, that should be "marquee names," but you get the picture.

In other news, Clark gets 4% support in the Democratic primary, but I know it's higher than that among activist types. Clinton gets 40%, which is way above what you'll find if you poll the activists, and the Kerry/Edwards 18/16 are a bit inflated too.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Sure, it'd be nice if George Voinovich had a spine and voted against John Bolton. But, like Ezra, I'm willing to give some credit to the guy for having the third of a spine that it took to speak up, unlike some of the other unhappy Republicans on the committee. He's more or less pulled a Lieberman, and it'll help us win the Bolton media battle.

Joe Lieberman has a fairly liberal voting record, but often says nasty (and worse, inaccurate) things about the Democratic party, making life hard for us as he makes the Republicans' points for them with more authority than any Republican could. In addition to the direct impact of his attacks, he helps the GOP get generally favorable media coverage. The media tends to say nice things about one side in a debate when voices from both parties are on that side. That side isn't being motivated by mere partisan ire -- they're really considering the issues and being good conscientious bipartisan people!

Voinovich has given us some Joementum in the Bolton debate, and we should be thankful. Now our concerns can't be dismissed as just a bunch of Bush-hating Democrats complaining about Bolton. To some extent, it'll help us in the debate about judges as well. The media will be more likely to say that we're responding to serious problems with the nominees themselves, not just playing silly obstruction games. The way this sets Voinovich up as a pro-nuclear-option player is worrisome, though.

Bush's FDA rapist

The president has nominated a lot of bad people to government positions. There's the mining lobbyist who got nominated to be a federal judge, and now the incompetent jerk who's nominated to be our UN ambassador.

But this is worst of all -- a marital rapist was nominated to a FDA panel on women's health issues.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mattombo at the United Center

Tabarrok goes to the hoop: United Airlines shows how risky big pension programs like Social Security are!

(If he was aiming to support any of the Bush plans, he would've missed anyway, since United's pension program invests in the stock market just like a privatized system does.)

Yglesias with the block: Social Security lets you diversify away from the private sector, and diversification into another asset class reduces your total risk.

(Feel free to indulge in a finger-wag.)

Horse sex blogging

Not that I've been having sex with horses (or humans, for that matter). But in the course of berating a crazy right-wing horsefucker, dadahead approvingly cites Kant's injunctions against bestiality. If the disease and animal-welfare considerations can be handled, bestiality is far more comical than morally outrageous. I've linked to Bentham's writings on sexual morality before, and I reproduce them here:


An abomination which meets with as little quarter as any of the preceding is that where a human creature makes use in this way of a beast or other sensitive creature of a different species. A legislator who should take Sanchez for his guide might / here repeat the same string of distinctions about the vas proprium and improprium, the imaginations and the simultaneity and so forth. Accidents of this sort will sometimes happen; for distress will force a man upon strange expedients. But one might venture to affirm that if all the sovereigns in Europe were to join in issuing proclamations inviting their subjects to this exercise in the warmest terms, it would never get to such a heighth as to be productive of the smallest degree of political mischief. The more of these sorts of prosecutions are permitted the more scope there is given for malice or extortion to make use of them to effect its purpose upon the innocent, and the more public they are the more of that mischief is incurred which consists in shocking the imaginations of persons of delicacy with a very painful sentiment.

Burning the animal

Some persons have been for burning the poor animal with great ceremony under the notion of burning the remembrance of the affair. (See Puffendorf, Bks. 2, Ch. 3, 5. 3. Bacon's Abridg. Title Sodomy. J.B.) A more simple and as it should seem a more effectual course to take would be not to meddle or make smoke about the matter.

It's good sensible utilitarianism, and I love it.

Dog preserve us

From the happy story about the dog that rescued the baby:

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said authorities were investigating the rescue story.

"This is a very interesting development and the government is looking into it because if it happened the way it has been relayed, it is one of those amazing things that happens in life that defies human explanation," he said. "It indicates that there is somebody out there watching over us."

He's right! Here's a picture of that somebody.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Curse you Jeff Mangum!

My love of two Neutral Milk Hotel songs -- "Holland, 1945" and "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" -- has reached the level of addiction. I've played them each at least a dozen times each since Monday morning. When I listen to other music, I do so restlessly and without enjoyment. After Nadia closed her computer yesterday, taking them out of the shared music pool, I stole things to get my fix. Is there a rehab program or something for this? The songs are truly wonderful, but I can't live the rest of my life this way.

How fun can golf be?

Via Matt comes strange news of House GOP scandal:

In February 2002, Abramoff and Scanlon signed up the tribe as a client, trading in part on their close ties to DeLay and on Abramoff's claim that he would work for free to win the tribe's business later. By March, Abramoff had enlisted the Ohio congressman. As he told Scanlon in an e-mail: "Just met with Ney!!! We're f'ing gold!!! He's going to do Tigua." A week later, Abramoff wrote to Texas-based lobbyist Marc Schwartz, explaining that the tribe needed to contribute to Ney's campaign and political action committees -- and tribal leaders soon forked over $32,000. By April, Scanlon indicated to Schwartz that Dodd was on board, too.

Soon, however, the congressman required still more favors. In June, Abramoff wrote to Schwartz again: "Our friend [Ney] asked if we could … cover a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff … and members in August," just like the trip DeLay had taken two years earlier.

Maybe golf is way, way more fun than I ever imagined. But I just can't wrap my mind around a representative asking for such a frivolous favor as payment for supporting legislation. Campaign contributions, sure. But golf money?

I guess that's why I'm in philosophy grad school, and other people are chasing the dollars on Wall Street.

Monday, May 09, 2005

31 flavors of sweet liberalism

Ezra has noticed that there are more books tracing the intellectual evolution of conservatism than that of liberalism, and he's curious why "conservative ideology is treated as a topic more worthy of study than its liberal counterpart." He then asks liberal philosophers in the blogosphere to explain why! This clearly justifies putting off my other ways of putting off dissertation work.

There really isn't a unified liberal tradition of political philosophy, in any sense that connects with the way 'liberal' is used in politics today. There have been Marxists, feminists, social critics from various ethnic groups, libertarians when they aren't talking economics, Rawlsians, my utilitarian homeys, pacifists, sexual nonconformists, environmental mystics, and people who have mixed a bunch of these views together. Writing an intellectual history of liberals would be like writing about the history of purple things. The topic is too diverse for a unified characterization.

So how did all of us get lumped together under one term? Well, we all want some deep changes in the cultural practices around here -- in particular, we generally want to fight prejudice and help poor people. (Who are our greatest heroes of the 20th century? I'd say MLK and FDR. Civil Rights and the New Deal are what we're all about.) But despite the fact that we all want to go in the same direction right now, our views about the best possible society and our ways of arguing for it are different, which again is why writing the intellectual history is so hard. While Rawls and I would probably agree about everything in contemporary politics, we're radically opposed in our views about why those conclusions are justified, and given a very different world, we'd be political opponents.

Conservatives, on the other hand, commit themselves to defending the status quo or something close to it. While we're all over the map in terms of our social goals, they're clustered pretty close together. As a result, their range of possible views is smaller and admits of a more unified characterization. And to come from the other side on the point I made before, they're committed to defending a wacky set of prejudices and institutions from which all of us are pulling away in the same direction. So it's no wonder that it's all of our views against theirs.

The take-home message for anyone worried about the lack of a unified liberal political philosophy is this: don't worry. We've got plenty of flavors for you to choose from, and lots of them are yummier than anything conservatives can hope for.

Good dog!

After reading about the stray dog that rescued the abandoned baby, I was reminded of one of my many odd philosophical views -- the view that animals can be morally praiseworthy. In my view, what makes one an appropriate object for moral praise is an intrinsic desire to help others. (Intrinsic desires are to be contrasted with instrumental desires. If you want to help others only because someone promises you a bone for helping others, you have an instrumental desire and that's not morally praiseworthy.) So any creature that can be motivated by feelings of sympathy or benevolence is a candidate for moral praise.

As it often happens, my big enemy here is Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that motivations rooted in our desires and not in reason itself couldn't be moral. I agree that animals don't have the capacity that's necessary for moral esteem on Kant's view -- they can't consider their reasons for acting, look for reasons why those are good reasons, and discover the foundation of all their reasons in their own nature as free and rational agents. Kant expressed a common belief that some kind of reflection or deliberation which animals probably can't do is necessary for moral praise, and that's the belief I don't have.

Earth to GM

I've been following GM stock for a while now, and I occasionally came close to buying it, but a mix of social concerns about their contribution to SUV madness and financial worries about their sensitivity to rising oil costs kept me away. (I also tend to stay away from companies with gigantic debt.) Reading this story where they dismiss rumors that they're going to buy Toyota's hybrid-vehicle technology certainly didn't get me any more excited. I'm staying away from the stock, even with the 6.5% dividend, until I see them getting serious about hybrid vehicles.

They claim that they're only making cars the public wants. Maybe this is a ploy to sell more Chevy S-10 pickups -- you'll need a big truck to haul that much bullshit. The Japanese hybrids have been selling very well in this country, and the hybrid market would only grow larger if any significant chunk of GM's advertising budget were spent on them. (How big do you think the market for the Hummer is? And how many dozen times have you seen a Hummer ad? I think I've seen more Hummer ads than Hummers.) It's hard for me to figure out what GM is thinking here. Do they think that promoting and selling hybrids will make everyone more fuel-conscious and damage their beloved SUV market? Do they think oil will go back to $20/barrel? Are they afraid to expand a market where the Japanese have a head start? Are they just so used to selling gas guzzlers that they don't know how to do anything else?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

You won't believe what I just saw

As I was walking down Guadalupe Street, I was passed by a car flying American flags and pulling this float in which a papier-mache Uncle Sam was bending Tom DeLay over his knee and spanking him. It was a reasonably big float -- Uncle Sam was about as tall as a car is long, and it was motorized so that Uncle Sam's hand had real spanking action. Large posters listing DeLay's ethics violations were also attached to the float. Good to see this stuff around.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I've got your populism right here

Despite having given over my soul to Matt Yglesias evangelism, I have to take issue with his assertion that left-populism doesn't have a serious constituency within the Democratic Party. His view of the Edwards campaign differs sharply from mine:
Dean eventually collapsed basically over "electability" concerns, and we wound up with Kerry versus Edwards. Here Edwards tried to play the populist card against Kerry a bit, but didn't go too hard at it (because he wanted to be Vice President), and his own DLC associations made this a rather unlikely move anyway.
Certainly, Edwards didn't hit Kerry or any other Democrat too hard, but there was very good reason not to do that. If you use your massive populist cred to obliterate your eventual nominee's populist cred, you've given the election to the Republicans. I can't think of an Presidential election in my lifetime when the candidate coded by the media as the more populist choice lost. As it turned out, Kerry was no good at looking all populist anyway, but Edwards was right to not shoot him in the ass from the beginning. Don't attribute a weird desire for second-bananahood to Edwards when you can attribute the much more reasonable belief that gigantic risks are involved in playing hardball.

Edwards spent the late months of his primary campaign playing the hell out of the populist card -- he just didn't target any Democrats. I know you've read this before, but since people are forgetting it, I'm putting it out there again:
“Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life. One America -- middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a President.”
Populism? Check. Revived a moribund candidacy? Check. It's this populist message that made him the last to fall. And when he fell, it was to the same electability considerations that took out Dean. As Will Saletan couldn't stop telling us, the Kerry campaign achieved victory on the backs of fools who thought the muddlemouthed Yankee who'd done something in a long-ago war was more electable than the poor boy with the best stump speech Carville had ever seen:
In Oklahoma, both Clark and Edwards beat Kerry by 13 points among "agrees with you" voters, but Kerry got away with a competitive finish by thumping them among "can defeat Bush" voters. In South Carolina, Kerry lost "agrees with you" voters to Edwards by a 2-to-1 margin but escaped with a respectable second thanks to "can defeat Bush" voters.
This isn't a rejection of populism. Even the most committed populist could vote against the populist candidate, given sufficient confusion about the electability situation. That's what took out the Edwards campaign.

When you look at the story of the Edwards run, it's a story about how left-populism remains healthy and strong.

Erectile duplication

Ezra tells us what ails the drug industry:

drug company R&D is rarely spent on the life-saving, critical medicines that we imagine.

So assume one company brings out a new, powerful, statin drug. The others will rush it back to the labs, figure out how to change a few [functional groups] in order to call it to evade the patent while retaining the effect, put it in for testing and, so long as it works better than the placebo, the FDA will approve it. That, of course, is where the marketing comes in. Since they've all got the same drugs -- and if R&D were truly on such shaky grounds, this would be the problem, not drug reimportation -- they have to use advertising strategies to get a leg up in the market.

Viagra, Levitra, Cialis. It was fun to giggle at the ad about the 4-hour erection that requires immediate medical attention, but resources spent slicing a piece of the ED market are not being used in the socially optimal way. I'm reminded of a rueful comment from someone at Glaxo Wellcome back when I interned there -- "We're a second-to-market company." Somebody else proves that you can make the drug, our chemists reinvent the wheel, and we get our piece of the pie.

I don't know if this duplication results in price cuts, but even if it does, it'd be better to achieve those price cuts through reimportation or collective bargaining in a universal health care system than through a process where companies spend big money fighting out zero-sum games.

Lots of other good stuff in Ezra's post, too, so go read it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Do you want it to be a rule?"

Read how Bitch, Ph.D negotiated her open marriage. One big thing that comes through here for me is the maturity of both parties. And I'd tell my conservative readers that marriage is a flexible institution, not a brittle one that will somehow shatter when gay people or polyamorous folk engage in it.

The people's money

I never bought into the Lakoff framing mysticism (he doesn't offer nearly enough empirical data, the whole strict father / nurturant marsupial thing is way overplayed, and he isn't that good at frame development himself), but I'll recognize the value of having useful phrases that efficiently express our points. And I think it'd be good to refer to federal funds as "the people's money." This contains an implicit response to anyone who has the libertarian taxation-is-theft intuition, reminding them that money in the federal kitty is money that is going to be spent on making you better off. And since we're the party of fiscal responsibility nowadays, we can criticize the Republicans for giving away the people's money in big corporate subsidies. It also has a nice proletarian feel, which Edwardsfolk like myself can appreciate.

Liveblogging: Steel Reserve

There's this new beer at the gas station called Steel Reserve. It's pretty cheap ($1.19 for 24 oz.), and it has an 8.1% alcohol content, which you usually only find in exotic Belgian ales brewed by monks. I've heard nothing about it before, so I'm going to pop it open and see whether it's any good. I am just a guinea pig, dear reader, for your cheap beer edification.
[opens beer, pours into glass]
It smells and looks like a standard American cheap lager. Maybe the tiniest bit darker, though that could be the lighting. Head goes away pretty fast.
Okay, not too bad. It mostly has the flavorlessness of cheap American lager, except that you can feel some of the extra alcohol content, and it's a bit... sweet? Yeah, sweet. Well.
[10 minutes later]
Did I just get tired or something? This is coming on fast. The sweetness is somewhat cloying, but it's fairly drinkable.
[25 minutes later]
Sometimes when I sip this stuff, it seems to have an oddly meaty taste. Meaty? that can't be right, but I've tasted it twice. Now I'm listening to Liz Phair's "Dance of the Seven Veils" and liking it even more than usual. At this point I read the ratings and discover that it's a malt liquor. Can someone explain to me what differentiates malt liquor from other beers?
[40 minutes later]
I'm looking for the meaty, which I can't find again, but that's good because it distracts me from the sweet. My final verdict: this would be a fine beer for when it's been a bad day and you just want to drink something cheap and put everything behind you. If I did the numbers right, one 24 oz can of this is like more than 3 regular beers. For $1.19, not a bad deal. Neil out.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The view from a Go Big Red state

In a post whose title I greatly appreciate, Ezra links to stand-up comic John Rogers, who gives advice to our presidential candidates about the kind of style that will win in the South and Midwest. I think John and Ezra have it right, and I want to repost some interesting stuff that Nebraskan ex-roommate Justin Tiehen wrote shortly after the November elections:

Look, here's what I think that style really needs to address. Red-staters (myself included) have a serious inferiority complex with respect to people on the coasts. Whether easterners consider themselves elite or not is really besides the point. The fact is people in the Midwest (I don't know the South) suspect that easterners think we're just a bunch of ass backwards hicks, and we worry and worry about showing that (i) we're not, and (ii) we don't care what they think anyway. Part of the reason Bush goes over so well in the Midwest is that he's one of "us" -- yeah, yeah, he's privilleged, but he speaks naturally in religious terms, which counts for a lot. Voting for Bush is actually a sort of populist move for many red-staters: it's a way of saying fuck you to the elite easterners who think they know everything and put us down. I actually think the gay marriage results are partly (though certainly not entirely) a reflection of this sentiment.

Somehow, the Democrats have to cut off this push for the Republicans. Maybe the simple fact that Bush won't be running in 2008 will do it. If the Democrats put up any decent candidate, it would be amazing, utterly amazing, if Guiliani, for instance, could keep all the Bush states in 2008 (though he might win previously blue states).

Faithful readers will know who I'm thinking of.

Update: Justin's comment can be read here. And if it's not obvious, he's on our team.

Dispatches from Tar Valon

When I saw this picture, I was like, "They look awesome!" But the conservatives in the comments section were all freaked out. Where I saw the Aes Sedai or maybe the Bene Gesserit, they saw... well, I don't really know what they saw. I guess it's one of those cultural things, but I'll stand by the view that robes like that look a lot better on 60-year-old women than on similarly aged men.

Maybe this is why people on the right were so freaked out by Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn't that demons would tempt kids into Satanism -- it was that priestesses would tempt them into feminism!

For PC and sexy talk

Max does the conservative thing where you criticize politically correct language reforms. Really, I think a lot of the terms he rejects are better than the ones he likes. Take, for instance, "Christian name" versus "given name." If I hadn't heard the terms before, I wouldn't say that anyone in my family ever had a "Christian name," but I'd know what a "given name" was. And then there's his preference for "cleaning lady" over "housecleaner." The specifically feminine connotations of "cleaning lady" are unnecessary. Unless she cleans in a particularly exciting fashion, her gender is irrelevant to the job. Does Max want the notion that cleaning is women's work to gain sanction from our most ready expressions? (If he thinks so, Liz had better do something about that.) Furthermore, I see no reason to prefer "man-made" to "synthetic".

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the trade society has made over the past few decades. I have no desire to use language that perpetuates unwholesome stereotypes. I do, however, like to talk about sex. My sense is that the norms for casual conversation have shifted so that it's more generally permitted to say fun raunchy things. (In particular, the permissions have expanded for women, and both my feminist side and my horny single guy side rejoice at that.) Despite all the occasional excesses of political correctness, we've got a better deal now.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Onward fat girl

Despite the fact that I'm generally freaked out by beauty pagaents, I can see some value in a beauty pagaent for heavy women. But this line just struck me as weird:

The annual contest, which aims to raise awareness and money for Thailand's dwindling elephant population, allows full-sized women weighing over 176 pounds to show weight-conscious Thais that big is beautiful.

Emphasis mine.

Monday, May 02, 2005

For the tireless

If you're still hungering for more of the relativism debate, Majikthise has a nice big post on why relativism isn't all it's cracked up to be. Of course, I think she's right: There's a lot better ways to go than speaker-relativism, and the distinctions between these positions matter.

When you fight dumb wars,

here's what happens:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Army missed its goals for signing up recruits in April and expects to do so again in May, and the Marines also fell short, officials said on Monday, as the Iraq war further strained the all-volunteer U.S. military.
In the past, kids could sign up for the military with a reasonable chance of avoiding any serious danger, and get some money for college. But now they know that they'll be sent off to clean up a bloody mess in Iraq. It's no wonder they're not interested.

Brian thinks there's going to be a draft. After watching Social Security privatization crash and burn, I'm pretty sure Bush won't be able to get anything like that through Congress. More likely we'll just have a weakened military for a while. While this prevents us from doing any of the Bosnia-style interventions that liberals like (Sudan, perhaps?), the silver lining is that Bush won't be able to launch any new dumb wars.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Race and football

In the NFL, the quarterback position is usually played by a white guy, while almost all the running backs are black. My guess at explaining this involves subtle racism at early levels. When a highschool coach sees a good young black athlete, he thinks "running back", while a comparably good white kid is more likely to be put in the more mind-intensive quarterback position. Perhaps the kids themselves have different aspirations for which position to play, though I didn't see any evidence for that on the playground in high school.

It seems to me that there's a less-explicable difference among linemen. I have no real data here, I think I've seen way more blacks on the defensive line and more whites on the offensive line.