Wednesday, December 20, 2006

At Eazy-E's Crib

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

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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Iodized Salt Makes You Smarter Than Borat

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

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

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

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

Johnny And The Golden Eggs

I'll start with this from Rick Perlstein, a year ago:
These programs make life in America fundamentally better... these gooses, Social Security, Medicare, lay golden eggs. They manufacture Democrats.
It is the duty of every generation of Democrats to produce new geese to lay 70 years of golden eggs. It is the only way our party has grown—as Bill Kristol puts it, by reviving the reputation of the Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests.
There's a sizable and increasing chance that 2009 will present the Democratic Party with a historic opportunity. The Senate calendar favors Democratic gains, and our House majority is large. Congressional investigations will degrade the Republican Party's brand identity further. If we can get a progressive Democrat into the White House, we'll be able to do things that make American life fundamentally better, and which voters remember for decades to come.

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

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

Meanwhile, we've got Edwards polling ahead of McCain 43-41, while Hillary loses to McCain 47-43 and Obama loses 43-38. As I've argued many a time before, Edwards is uniquely suited to beat McCain in a general election. I like the way Petey put it once -- "We're through the looking glass here, people!" This is the year where the hard data keeps showing the candidate of the left to be more likely to win than the moderate alternatives. It's also important to remember that popularity doesn't lose all its value once you're elected -- a president's poll numbers help legislators decide whether they want to align themselves with his ideas. We'll need that to get ambitious economic proposals through.
If you wonder why Edwards has sort of been an idee fixe for me ever since I started blogging, that's a big part of it. We have the means to our greatest ends at our fingertips, and I'll do whatever I can to make sure we don't throw away this historic opportunity.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fine-Tuning: The New Creationist Strategy

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Obscene Sexual Expressions

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Intelligence Is As Intelligence Does

I agree with Matt -- it's important that the chair of the Intelligence Committee be someone who was right about the biggest intelligence issue of our time. And that's why Nancy Pelosi will be right to replace Jane Harman, preferably with Rush Holt or Silvestre Reyes.

I have nothing against Reyes, but I'm drawn to Holt by the sort of identity politics that I'm the most susceptible to. He's the former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, giving rise to "My Congressman is a Rocket Scientist" bumper stickers in his New Jersey district. I have an immediate trust in skilled academics from rigorous fields of study. There's also the point that he's a really smart guy.

It would also be cool for Pelosi to make the point that doing your job well -- that is, being right about which countries have WMD and which don't -- can trump seniority in making you a committee chair.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Jesus Camp

A few nights ago I and a bunch of Michigan grad students went to see Jesus Camp, a documentary about a summer camp that trains 9 and 10 year old children, many of them home-schooled, to become good young religious fundamentalists. The subjects of the documentary, with only one exception, were happy about how they were portrayed, and that didn't surprise me. The film wasn't heavy-handed with its view of the events, and the participants are probably the proudest of some of the events that struck me as the most dangerous. (The one exception is disgraced megachurch pastor Ted Haggard, filmed long before his scandal broke. He and the anti-abortion activist who comes to speak to the kids are probably the two creepiest characters in the film.)

Many of the movie's most striking moments involve its central character, children's pastor Becky Fischer, who runs the camp and is open about the fact that she's trying to create a new generation of voters and activists who will increase Christian dominance of our country. She warns the children away from Harry Potter, telling them how in the Old Testament, warlocks would be put to death. There's a scene where an adult leads a bunch of kids in a strange version of the Pledge of Allegiance -- not to the American flag, but to the "Christian Flag". In another scene, churchgoers worship a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush.

To me, the most memorable characters in the movie are the kids. Jesus Camp shows us the beginnings of lots of stories -- the rat-tailed boy whom the camp is grooming for a job as an evangelical leader someday, the 10-year-old girl into Christian heavy metal who talks about how she tries to dance for Jesus and not for "the flesh", and the small boy who tearfully admits in front of everyone that it's hard to believe in God because there isn't any real evidence of his existence. Since the camp only lasts a summer, and the movie ends somewhat abruptly, we really can't get a good idea of how these stories play out. Perhaps they'll make a sequel in twenty years and we'll know the answer.

In the meantime, I'm going to be including the argument from design and the problem of evil in the introductory philosophy classes I teach. The philosophy classroom is a unique place in the world, a place where reason and open discussion have the opportunity to dissolve indoctrination of all kinds. Becky Fischer has made her move, and it's my turn.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Chart

Here's an updated chart on how the candidates from my ActBlue page did in the election. Democratic leads are in blue, Republican leads are in red. For a full analysis, go here.

Democrat GOP Win?Office $ We Gave % Margin Vote Margin
Jim Webb George Allen Yes! Senate, VA $645 50-49 7,261
Victoria Wulsin Jean Schmidt unlikely House, OH-2 $1,865 51-49 2,856
Darcy Burner David Reichert No
House, WA-8 $1,320 51-49 2,736
Gary Trauner Barbara Cubin No House, WY $835 48-48 970
Larry Grant Bill Sali No House, ID-1 $715 50-45 11,982
Larry Kissell Robin Hayes recount House, NC-8 $535 50-50 465
Jennifer Brunner Greg Hartmann Yes! OH SecState $155 55-41 ~500K
Ross Miller Danny Tarkanian Yes! NV SecState $130 49-41 ~47K
Mark Ritchie Mary Kiffmeyer Yes! MN SecState $130 49-45 ~100K

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hooray for Shakespeare's Sister!

I'm overjoyed that you're seriously thinking about joining us, and very proud of my role in (potentially) bringing you onto the team. May universal health care, judges who respect people's rights, a humane foreign policy, and the end of poverty in America be the fruits of our efforts.

Stuff I should've posted here

The post describing how all of the Werewolf Political Strategy candidates did in the 2006 elections. (I'm very proud, even if some of the results are just maddening.)

A discussion of how to run a better field campaign.

A farewell to Russ Feingold, who declared his non-candidacy, and whom I hope will take a leading role in the new Senate's investigations of Bush

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Glad he's on our side

He's the same guy who first asked George Allen if he'd ever used the word "nigger". Mike Stark is a weapon.

Tomorrow I leave for Southern Ohio.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Do not adjust your monitor

When you click on the permalink to an individual post, a bunch of names of Republicans should appear at the bottom of the page. That's because I've changed my template for a week, to participate in the MyDD Googlebombing campaign. If you have a blog, feel free to join the team! I have a post at Ezra's on other effective ways to get involved in the election.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Experiments In Sexism

Says Kevin Drum, on single-sex public high schools:

As with so many issues in education, my first reaction is that experimentation is a good thing. Give it a try and see how it works. If it turns out as badly as Brad suggests, we can always kill it later.

I'm concerned that Brad Plumer is right, and that the goal of the experiment isn't going to be test scores going up or girls becoming scientists. What the authorities in some parts of Louisiana seem to want from single-sex education is character education designed to generate aggressive boys and meek, submissive girls. The Happy Feminist had the goods on this issue a while ago, when she described the theorizing behind some of their single-sex education proposals.

As Amanda said, "the guidelines are so ludicriously opposed to actually educating girls that they suggest that junior high school girls “learn” math by counting petals on flowers, while boys are being taught actual algebra."

47. Mr. Murphy explained that the approaches the Southside Junior High School would utilize were based on the work of Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian, two popular writers on gender differences...

58. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that because of sex differences in the brain, girls need real world applications to understand math, while boys naturally understand math theory. For instance, girls understand number theory better when they can count flower petals or segments of artichokes to make the theory concrete.

This part filled me with a special horror:

62. In Why Gender Matters, Dr. Sax explains that "anomalous males" -- boys who like to read, who don't enjoy competitive sports or rough-and-tumble play, and who don't have a lot of close male friends -- should be firmly disciplined, should spend as much time as possible with "normal males," and should be made to play competitive sports.

And so they will make high school an absolute hell for the smart nerdy boys who will write the software and develop the medicines of the future. Apart from the fact that I had a lot of close male friends with whom I played Magic a lot, I was more or less a paradigm "anomalous male." So was my friend Peter, now a physics grad student at MIT who has been awarded patents on photonic crystals. (I designed a really good blue-white Meekstone deck for him, I'll have you know.) The same for a lot of my male friends at Harvard, who are now populating the math, physics, and computer science graduate departments of the world. Plans like this would be a disaster for smart people of both genders.

Read Happy for more of this stuff. The idea of the states as laboratories in which you should conduct a bunch of experiments, from which wise leaders will pick the strategies that work and set aside the ones that don't, requires the leaders to be right about what counts as successful experiments. But if people out in the states see the perpetuation of ancient and terrible gender roles as a criterion of success, they may evaluate educational policies on that basis, and not on whether they turn out more capable students.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Werewolf Strategy Update

I want to give a big thank you to everybody who's sent money to deserving Democrats through the Werewolf Political Strategy ActBlue page, or through other channels. First, I'll tell you the good news about the Congressional races we've been focusing on. Then I'll tell you about the crazy exciting race of the week.

Victoria Wulsin, the top recipient of our readers' largesse to date, just saw her race upgraded from "Safe Republican" to "Republican Favored" to "Leans Republican" by Congressional Quarterly in one week. She outraised Jean Schmidt in the third quarter to form a $263K to $224K cash advantage at the end of September -- and that's before the money from Emily's List started coming in! Further help from a werewolf volunteer will arrive on the last week of the campaign. Republican operatives are hereby warned: Sunday, November 5 is the night of the full moon. Any posting of deceptive flyers about the requirements for voting in minority neighborhoods on that date will result in your being eaten.

There's been exciting progress out West, too. In Idaho, Larry Grant won a big newspaper endorsement, and GOP maniac Bill Sali has proven sufficiently unelectable that national Republicans have had to blow $400K to defend the seat. Yeah. In Idaho. Grant is only down $113K to $73K in the money race. In Wyoming, Gary Trauner finished September with a slight financial lead over Barbara Cubin, with both candidates having a little over $300K on hand. Popular Governor Gary Freudenthal has agreed to come out and campaign for him, and we'll get to see Dean's 50 State Project in action with GOTV help. Whether it's burning Republican money (as with Grant) or pushing Democrats in cheap races to financial leads (as with Wulsin and Trauner) donations from good folks like you have been really helpful. Additionally, Washington's Darcy Burner has been hanging tough in a super-tight race, trailing by exactly the margin of error in the last three polls. The national party has started pumping big money into the race.

All of the above candidates are worthy of any extra cash you'd be willing to help them with, as are Virginia's Jim Webb and the three Secretary of State candidates I've listed who are going to keep the 2008 elections fair. But if you're interested in a hot new target for your money, I've got just the man for you.

His name is Larry Kissell, and he's running in North Carolina's 8th district against conservative Republican Robin Hayes, who let the GOP leadership arm-twist him into voting for CAFTA. Hayes won his last election 56-44, so it's not a district that's totally out of reach. Larry has run a brilliant campaign -- take a look at this news segment from August where he protested high gas prices by buying hundreds of people gas at $1.22 a gallon. That's the price of gas when his opponent was first elected in 1998. The voters are saying some wonderful things -- "He's getting a statement made, and we need something done, bad!" They feature the lifelong Republican who owns the gas station, and who plans to vote for Kissell -- "I vote for the man, I don't vote for the party".
As for his views on issues, it's really special to see something like this from a rural North Carolina candidate:
I am a pro-privacy candidate for Congress. The concept of "privacy" means that neither our government, nor any others, can make our most personal decisions for us. I therefore recognize all the prevailing laws of our land as derived from the Constitution, including the reproductive sovereignty of women, the right to bear arms and the fundamental right of religious freedom, including the traditional value of seperation of church and state. We must not legislate any ideology that intrudes on our individual freedoms as Americans.
It's hard to get a read on exactly what the dynamics of the race are. The lone independent poll had Kissell leading by 51-44, the only poll (including Kissell internals) to show him in the lead. Soon afterwards, Hayes released a very small internal poll (400 voters) showing a 49-33 GOP lead. Hayes may have conducted several simultaneous polls of that small size, and released the one that showed him leading by the most. Still, I'd be surprised if Kissell actually has a lead here, and my wild guess is that he's down by a little, maybe 5.

Now for the money situation. You guys know that cheap races and underfunded candidates are our specialty here at Werewolf Political Strategy, largely because of the diminishing returns of campaign cash. Taking candidates from $100K to $200K does a lot more for their competitiveness than taking them from $900K to a million. (Another part of our specialty is the astonishment that fundraising staff must feel when they see where the money came in from. "We got $500 from Werewolf Political Strategy? WTF? Did you make campaign promises to any werewolves?") Anyway, if you're addicted to underfunded candidates, let me just tell you that a little bit of Kissell will get you higher than anything you've tried before. Kissell has been outraised $1917K to $317K over the course of the campaign, and he finished the last quarter with $88 in the bank. No, I don't mean $88K. I mean eighty-eight dollars. He's sort of a long shot, but it's hard to imagine a place where your money will so powerfully affect a race. I'm making my first contribution to him (and dropping an additional $20 on the heroic Victoria Wulsin). As always, your support for Kissell, Wulsin, or any other candidate who strikes your fancy is greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Wild Blue Yonder

I've got travel plans!

On November 1, I leave for Southern Ohio to help the wonderful Victoria Wulsin with her Congressional race. About a week afterwards, I'll depart for Ann Arbor. I'll be up there for much of November, doing the Michigan philosophy thing and getting my dissertation into fighting shape. Then back to Texas sometime around Thanksgiving. When exactly? Nobody knows.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Green Bay Love Stories

Usually when politicians are running for office and the details of their sex lives come out, it's somebody else who's spilling the details. Not so in Wisconsin. If she weren't a Republican, I'd be rooting for Sandy Sullivan.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Secretary of State Project

For election reform advocates, people who remember Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, and those who are capable of delaying gratification, I'd like to point out one of the neatest Democratic fundraising efforts out there this year -- the Secretary of State Project. These folks are raising money for Democratic Secretary of State candidates in seven important 2008 presidential battlegrounds. With Democrats controlling these offices, we'll have a lot less to worry about in terms of Republicans trying to intimidate poor voters and impose burdensome requirements on registration and voting, at the time when it'll matter the most.
Consider Ohio, where Jennifer Brunner is pitted against Greg Hartmann. Brunner supports a more equal distribution of voting machines, which would prevent poor black voters for having to wait hours in line to vote. She's a very qualified candidate too, having served as Deputy Director of the Secretary of State's office and spent over 10 years working on election law. Hartmann, who ran the Bush-Cheney re-election effort in his county, has pledged to "do more" than Blackwell in restricting voting. Polls have Brunner ahead by 36-28 and 35-32 margins, but Hartmann has more money.

There's also Minnesota, where progressive leader Mark Ritchie is trying to unseat partisan incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer. Ritchie was the leader of a major voter-registration effort in 2004 that coordinated the work of over a thousand different groups who registered more than 5 million new voters. I'll just copy the SoS project's description of Kiffmeyer for your perusal:
Mary Kiffmeyer was first elected in November 1998, and was re-elected in November 2002. In 2004 Kiffmeyer issued election rules that would have prevented Native Americans who lived outside of Minnesota's reservations using tribal ID cards to vote in the general elections. Federal law states that tribal ID cards are an acceptable form of identification.
Some of Kiffmeyer's other controversial actions include using the Secretary of State office as a sponsor for an evangelical event, allowing her office to run out of voter registration forms in the month before the 2004 election, and challenging the right of absentee voters to change their vote in 2002 after Senator Wellstone was killed in a plane accident ten days before the election. She has even opposed Minnesota's election day registration rule, complaining that it made running elections like planning a party without knowing how many people have RSVP'd.
Kiffmeyer is a hard-core religious conservative, having 'told the attendees of a 2004 National Day of Prayer event in Minnesota that the "five words" that are "probably most destructive" in America today are "separation of church and state."' It's important to remember that 2008 will be the year when Norm Coleman, who won the Minnesota Senate seat only after Wellstone's death, comes up for re-election. Kiffmeyer only won re-election by 3 percent in 2002, so the seat isn't out of reach.

Another tight race is in Nevada, where Ross Miller is facing off against Danny Tarkanian. Miller supports a centralized vote-by-mail system, an extension of voter registration deadlines, and felony penalties for people who intimidate voters or interfere with voter registration. Tarkanian's website, meanwhile, trumpets the support from Michelle Malkin and Bill O'Reilly for his proposed requirement of voter ID and proof of citizenship at the polls. Tarkanian has high name recognition due to being the son of basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who won a national championship at UNLV (and was sanctioned for NCAA violations at every university where he coached). Polls are weird, with Miller leading Tarkanian 42-33 in one poll and trailing 44-32 in another.

There are a whole bunch of different issues where the Secretary of State's office matters, from requiring a paper trail for electronic voting machines, to distributing voting resources equally, to making sure that poor people aren't required to provide identification that's difficult for them to attain. All of these issues are important for helping Democrats take the White House in 2008, and in general for preventing gruesome offenses against democracy. If you want to look at more of the candidates that the Secretary of State project is promoting, go to their website. Or if you'd like to follow me in donating to Jennifer Brunner, Mark Ritchie, and Ross Miller, you can do so at the Werewolf Political Strategy ActBlue page.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Happy Thoughts

-The latest Newsweek poll looks wonderful. Bush's approval rating has fallen to 33%. By a 44-37 margin, Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to fight the war on terror. By a 42-36 margin, Democrats are better on moral values. And we do even better than that on everything else. I'm guessing that this poll overstates our strength somewhat -- the Bush approvals are such a sharp drop from other polls -- but it's definitely heartening.

-What happens if Republicans lose Congress by a big margin, Hastert has to resign, and lots of GOP moderates get taken out? Does the Mike Pence wing of the GOP rise to power by claiming that Republicans lost because they went astray from their entitlement-slashing roots? Let's hope so, because if there's anything Democrats have always been able to fight effectively on, it's defending popular entitlement programs. I'd love to see the GOP spend the next several years replicating the failures of Newt Gingrich in '95-96 and Bush's Social Security privatization initiative.

-It's been a good couple weeks for werewolf-endorsed candidates. (Thanks to everyone who donated! Together we sent well over $2000 to the races where Democrats most need your money.) At the end of September, Gary Trauner and Victoria Wulsin made their first appearances on the National Journal's list of the 50 most competitive House races. Darcy Burner's race moved from "Leans Republican" to "Toss-up" in the Cook Political Report. Larry Grant won a newspaper endorsement in Idaho. Make no mistake, Grant will look sort of like a House version of Ben Nelson. But that's a lot better than Sali, who will look like a House version of Rick Santorum. And every conservative Idaho Democrat in the house is one step closer to John Conyers running the Judiciary Committee, Henry Waxman wielding subpoena power, and Speaker Pelosi passing 100 hours of very popular Democratic legislation.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Werewolves Support Victoria Wulsin

Last week I posted the results of some Congressional shopping I've been doing. I've been looking for competitive Congressional races that aren't awash in money, so my meager donations will have more of an impact. I'd rather give to House races than Senate races, because we're a lot closer to taking over the House in 2006 and controlling a chamber allows all sorts of awesomeness like committee control and subpoena power. Trouble is, you have to look hard to find competitive liberals in inexpensive House races.

On that note, let me introduce you to Dr. Victoria Wulsin. I've always wanted to give money to candidates who would someday guide the distribution of humanitarian aid to poor countries, and that's Victoria's specialty. Before running for Congress, she directed a 5-year, $30 million program to improve women's health in five countries in Asia and Africa. She has also helped USAID with reconstruction in Rwanda after the genocide. Most recently, she founded an organization to fight AIDS in Africa.


She's very impressive on issues closer to home, too. It's rare that I see something that really strikes me on a candidate's issues page (mostly, people have boilerplate rhetoric that I could recite in my sleep), but here's what Victoria has to say about abortion:

I have practiced medicine in countries such as El Salvador, Venezuela, and Kenya, where abortion is not legal, and I have witnessed the death of women – and girls – who I could not save because their self-inflicted bleeding or infections were too far-advanced. Criminalizing abortion will not stop it but does endanger the lives of both mother and child.

Throughout my career I have worked to reduce abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies through the proven methods of education and family planning. As the mother of four sons, I know the decision to have a child is the biggest decision a woman ever makes. That’s why it should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, not by the government.

Now, if you're like me, you're thinking "Okay, I definitely want this woman in Congress. But can she win?"

I know of two polls in this race -- a Wulsin internal poll that had the candidates tied, and now an independent SUSA poll that has Jean Schmidt leading her 45-42. I've emailed a Wulsin staffer I know who says they haven't done any other internals, so it's not like there's some bad poll with Schmidt up 18 that's not being released. On Wednesday, the Swing State Project had a rundown on all the trouble Schmidt has got herself into over the last couple months. (Since then, a mini-scandal has broken about Schmidt plagiarizing a press release by Rep. Deborah Pryce to write an editorial. See for yourself -- here's the Pryce press release from July 10, here's the Schmidt editorial from Sept. 13.)

I was originally worried about this race -- if Paul Hackett couldn't win on OH-2, who could? But back when she was running against Hackett, Schmidt hadn't damaged herself by insulting John Murtha on the House floor and getting in all sorts of other trouble. And as always, any tactical theories I have are subject to the mercies of the polls, which show Wulsin doing surprisingly well. When Markos came to Austin on Thursday, his explanation was that Hackett's aggressive promotion of the Democratic brand had paid off. Back when I gave money to Hackett, that was one of my hopes, but I didn't expect things to go so well so fast.

The fundraising data we have is pretty stale -- it's from the end of June -- but it shows Wulsin at $25K and Schmidt at $18K. This blew me away. A race with ten times that money at the end of June is cheap! This is a US House race that's priced like a state House race. I'm sort of rubbing my eyes to see if this is real. But I've already given a little money, and if things look the same a couple mornings hence, I'll realize that I wasn't dreaming and drop more cash into this one. You, as always, are warmly invited to piggyback on my race-shopping efforts and contribute through my werewolf-themed ActBlue page.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Iowa Poll: More Reasons To Pick Edwards

There's some interesting new 2008 presidential polling today. All the data comes from a sample of Iowa voters, so take it with a grain of whatever seasoning you like on corn.

The pollsters took 4 Democratic candidates (Hillary, Edwards, Vilsack, and Kerry) and 4 Republican candidates (Giuliani, McCain, Frist, and Romney), and asked voters who they would choose in each of the 16 possible head-to-head matchups. Unsurprisingly, Giuliani came out as the most electable Republican candidate, beating Edwards by 8 and beating all the other Democrats by 13 or more. McCain was next -- he leads Edwards by a mere 1% margin, and no other Democrat is anywhere close. Kerry falls to McCain by 14, Vilsack by 15, and Hillary by 17. Overall, Edwards is easily the best Democratic candidate against all Republicans, beating Romney and Frist by double-digit margins. The other Democrats have single-digit leads at best. Hillary loses to everybody.

They also asked people which candidates they had favorable impressions of. This is one of the rare polls where any Democrat has a higher net favorability rating than Edwards, but here it's just a matter of home-field advantage -- Iowa Governor Vilsack's favorable-unfavorables run at 63-35, while Edwards runs at 54-30. Edwards does top all Democrats in the "Very Favorable" category, with 22% of all voters professing intense Johnny love. Favorability numbers were collected for lesser-known candidates too -- Feingold stands at 19-14, Bayh at 17-11, and Warner at 15-7.

On the Republican side, Giuliani is destroying everybody at 71-18. McCain sits pretty at 59-24. But not that pretty -- his 59% are divided between 14% with "Very Favorable" impressions and a whopping 45% with "Mostly Favorable" impressions.

If you want to see the raw results yourself, they're tucked away at the bottom left of the page under a lot of other stuff.

What George Allen Feared

Ever since Mark Schmitt first told me about him, George Allen has always seemed to me like a man with a deep understanding of exactly one thing -- the power of a good-ol-boy image in winning political office. From the football metaphors to the chewing tobacco to the cowboy boots, he's built himself exactly the kind of persona that's been winning elections in America from William Henry Harrison's "Log Cabin" campaign of 1840 to Bush's two recent election victories. Of course, all of these identities were largely fabricated. Harrison was born on a plantation, not in a log cabin. Bush was a president's son and a Senator's grandson who only bought his ranch in 1999 as a backdrop for his presidential campaign. Allen himself was born and raised in California, not in the rural South.

Allen's awareness of the importance of his persona, I think, is what explains Allen's furious response to the bizarre question that he was asked in this week's debate with Jim Webb. Confronted with his Jewish ancestry, Allen angrily attacked the questioner for "making aspersions" about his ethnic background.

I don't see this as evidence that Allen was ashamed to be descended from Tunisian Jews. What Allen saw in the question, I think, was a threat to his carefully cultivated good-ol-boy persona. Jewish stereotypes and rural Southern stereotypes are about as far apart as any pair of stereotypes in America, and it's hard to fit them together in any sort of natural-looking way. (Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman has a Jewish cowboy shtick, complete with Lone Star flags where the star is the Star of David. That's comedy, and its effect relies on how unnatural the fusion is.) If your political career depends on out-good-ol-boying other people, you're going to be really worried when someone presents you with information that disrupts that persona or threatens to reveal how artificial it is.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Power of Kindness

I really liked this letter to Andrew Sullivan from a Gulf War veteran who remembers how Iraqi soldiers gave up without firing any shots. They knew that if you surrendered to Americans, you'd be fed well, treated kindly, and not tortured.

Looking back, I think that one of the main drivers in these men's heads was that they knew, absolutely, that they'd get fair treatment from us, the Americans. We were the good guys. The Iraqis on the lineknew they had an out, they had hope, so they could just walk away. (A few did piss themselves when someone told them we were Marines. Go figure.) Still, they knew Americans would be fair, and we were.

Thinking hard on what I now know of history, psychology, and the meanness of politics, that reputation for fairness was damn near unique in world history. Can you tell me of any major military power that had it? Ever? France? No. Think Algeria. The UK? Sorry, Northern Ireland, the Boxer Rebellion in China... China or Russia. I don't think so. But America had it. If those men had even put up token resistance, some of us would not have come back. But they didn't even bother, and surrendered at least in part because of our reputation. Our two hundred year old reputation for being fair and humane and decent. All the way back to George Washington, and from President George H.W. Bush all the way down to a lance-corporal jarhead at the front.

Its gone now, even from me. I can't get past that image of the Iraqi, in the hood with the wires and I'm not what you'd call a sensitive type. You know the picture. And now we have a total bust-out in the White House, and a bunch of rubber-stamps in the House, trying to make it so that half-drowning people isn't torture. That hypothermia isn't torture. That degradation isn't torture. We don't have that reputation for fairness anymore. Just the opposite, I think. And the next real enemy we face will fight like only the cornered and desperate fight. How many Marines' lives will be lost in the war ahead just because of this asshole who never once risked anything for this country?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Werewolf Picks 2006

With the 2006 elections approaching, I thought I'd lay out the Democratic House campaigns I've been giving money to. So far this year I've only given money in House races, partly because Million Buck Chuck has won us a huge fundraising advantage in the Senate. If you'd like to donate through my humorously named ActBlue page, I'd be quite pleased!

The candidate I've given the most money to is Gary Trauner, who's running for the at-large seat in Wyoming against Barbara Cubin. Now I can see you're thinking -- Wyoming? The second-reddest state in the country? Yeah, but the thing is that Cubin is actually quite vulnerable. In 2004, she won the state with 55% of the vote while Bush got 69%. And that was against a candidate she outspent 945K to 373K. She only got 60% of the vote in the GOP primary this year against a dude whom she outraised 25 to 1. Gary's close in the money race -- at last check, he was only down 233K to 206K in cash on hand. Very popular governor Dave Freudenthal (D), who is up for re-election this year, may also have coattails. CQ has recently changed their rating on the race to "Leans Republican", two notches from their previous "Safe Republican" rating. In May polling, Cubin led only 47-43, with a 47% disapproval rating.

Gary's views on issues are pretty good, especially given what you'd expect in Wyoming -- he's pro-choice, and his support of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is admirable. There are two additional things that I like about funding a Wyoming race. First, these are cheap races, so your dollar will go a long way. Second, since there's only one House seat, Congressmen have little competition to move up when a Senate seat becomes open. Gary's only 47, so if Freudenthal takes the first shot, we may still have two Democratic Senators from Wyoming in the future.

The other Mountain West Democrat I'm giving to is Larry Grant of Idaho. (Yes, the third-reddest state by 2006 standards.) His opponent, Bill Sali, seems to have some problems. Sali won the primary with 26% of the vote in a 6-way race. To quote the Republican Speaker of the House in Idaho, "That idiot is just an absolute idiot. He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole fricking body. And you can put that in the paper." I've read other accounts in which his fellow Idaho legislators argue about how high a window they'd like to throw him out of. I really don't know what's at the root of all this, but it's resulted in a bizarre little poll where Grant is ahead 22-14, with a big majority of voters undecided. Lots of the West-specific arguments I've made for Trauner apply here too -- it's a cheap race in a state with two Congressmen. The only real reason I'm reluctant to give more money here is that it might not be so bad for us if Bill Sali were loosed on the House GOP caucus. Maybe he'd give them as much trouble as he gave Idaho Republicans.

The third person I've donated to is the one with the best shot at winning -- Darcy Burner from Washington. Recent polling has her leading 49-46. She's a solid progressive from a district that went 51% for Kerry in 2004. This is probably going to be a more expensive race than the other two, though, so your money may not have as big an impact.

But part of me is absolutely thrilled at the idea of having Darcy Burner in Congress -- specifically, that part of me that gets all big and strong and hairy during the full moon. You see, she was a co-chair of the Harvard-Radciffe Science Fiction Association a couple years before I came to campus. Those are the same good folks with whom I watched Buffy and played roleplaying games and ran around campus smeared in blue body paint and howling like a wolf as a modern re-imagining of an ancient pagan ritual.* So I hope you'll understand if I send a little of my money that way.

*note to Reichert oppo researchers: I have absolutely no evidence that Darcy herself did any of these things.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Read Reagan's Lips: Not Much New Revenue

Jonah Goldberg quotes an emailer responding to Ezra's article on big-government conservatism:
Revenues undoubtedly increased in the 80's... whether the Reagan Tax Cuts maximized revenues or not is a question I suppose, but his conclusion that deficits skyrocketed and inequality shot up as a result of the tax cuts is simply not substantiated and his claim revenues did not increase dramatically is not true.
Kevin Drum had the answer to all this a while ago. Once you account for inflation and population growth (a larger population will naturally generate more revenue) you can see that revenues didn't increase dramatically in the 1980s. In the 1970s, the per capita increase in revenue over the decade was 25%. In the 1980s, it was 18%. And in Clinton's 1990s, we got a whopping 40%. Meanwhile, the deficit nearly tripled in the 3-year period surrounding Reagan's huge 1981 tax cuts, running from $74 billion in 1980 to $208 billion in 1983, while Clinton's tax increases ensured falling deficits for every year of his term.
[Cross posted at Ezra's]

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Today's terrorism posts

Today's output consists of this post on how the "Path to 9/11" documentary could be fixed, and this one on Al-Qaeda's recruiting tactics.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Me too

Mark Schmitt: "my general attitude is that if a fight breaks out involving Ezra Klein, I'm on Team Ezra."

James River blues

So I thought I'd come on out and post the lyrics to the other Old Crow Medicine Show song that I've been going nuts over. None of the online lyrics sites seem to have the lyrics right, so I suppose this is some sort of service to the community. The song is relatively fiddle-rich, which I greatly enjoy.

James River blues
I just heard the awful news
I could steer around the rocks
But they're bustin' down the docks

James River blues
that train came on through
and the work's gotten slow
now where's a boatman to go?

I think I'll float on down
to Richmond town

They don't need us anymore
haulin' freight from shore to shore
that big iron hauls much more
than we ever could before

I seen good men going wrong
I've seen bad ones get it right
As that river rolls along
I'll be steppin' out tonight
on the cool flow
floatin' down, down below
the bridge to the water's edge
from the ridge to the ledge
from the hills to the sea
I'll become a memory

James River blues
James River blues
James River blues

The album, I should say, isn't perfect. There's a couple songs on there -- mostly the low-key, boringly bluesy numbers like "God's Got It" and "Down Home Girl" that don't really do much for me. But there's also a whole bunch of stuff on there that I've listened to over and over again in the last couple weeks. Listen to "New Virginia Creeper" and tell me if you can stop bouncing around to the sheer infectious silliness of the song. Or hear "My Good Gal" and tell me if your jaw doesn't drop early in the fourth minute.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

More On Minds

I've got my rebuttal to Ponnuru here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Doing what they do best

Matthew Yglesias calls bullshit on Iran alarmists.

Ezra Klein takes on libertarians who like small expensive government better than big cheap government.

Amanda Marcotte goes off on virginity fetishism.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Big Iron World

I just bought Old Crow Medicine Show's Big Iron World, and it's really good. I was awaiting this album for months because of "I Hear Them All", which I heard once at SXSW in March. The song wasn't available anywhere until yesterday when the album came out, so I was going nuts trying to figure out where I could get it:

I hear the crying of the hungry
in the deserts where they're wandering
hear them crying out for heaven's
own benevolence upon them
hear destructive power prevailing
I hear fools falsely hailing
To the crooked wits of tyrants when they call
I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all

I hear the sounds of tearing pages
and the roar of burning paper
All the crimes in acquisition
turn to air and ash and vapor
And the rattle of the shackle
far beyond emancipators
and the loneliest who gather in their stalls
I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all

So while you sit and whistle Dixie
with your money and your power
I can hear the flowers a-growin'
in the rubble of the towers
I hear leaders quit their lying
I hear babies quit their crying
I hear soldiers quit their dying, one and all
I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all

I hear the tender words from Zion
I hear Noah's waterfall
hear the gentle lamb of Judah
sleeping at the feet of Buddha
and the prophets from Elijah
to the old Paiute Wovoca
Take their places at the table when they're called
I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all
I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all
I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all

Old Crow is a string band from North Carolina. At SXSW they had two banjos, a fiddle, a stand-up bass, and a guitar. I've gone sort of anti-drum over the last few months -- to put it strongly, what's the big deal about this instrument that contributes nothing to melody and can't make any actual notes? So the fact that drums only appear on four tracks, and most of the rhythm always comes from the strings makes me happy. Their cover of Woody Guthrie's Union Maid is particularly energetic. On the other side of things, "James River Blues" is the loveliest song about being an out-of work boatman that I'm ever likely to hear.

Well, it's time to get to sleep so I can write more dissertation tomorrow and hopefully respond to Ponnuru's response to my review. If I can tear myself away from this...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My review is up!

I've written what I think is the first liberal review of Ramesh Ponnuru's "The Party of Death." It's up right now at The American Prospect.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Write-in candidates with long names

With Tom DeLay dropping out of the race and no Republican on the ballot, the GOP is going to have a really hard time retaining DeLay's district. Especially since their write-in candidate has the long name of "Shelley Sekula-Gibbs" and voters will have to enter it with a funny little tracking wheel.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Snakes on a Senate

The DSCC (the official Democratic group trying to win back the Senate this year) has this thing for setting up goofy webpages. Snakes on a Senate is their most recent attempt. It's not all that impressive, but I will give them points for trying.

Their page on Tom Kean's plan to cut gas prices was really good, though.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I love me my Kung Fu Monkey

His post on terrorism is a joy to read.

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

How Did You Think It Would End?

The cease-fire isn't making right-wing bloggers very happy. Andy McCarthy titles his post "Hezbollah wins" and K-Lo agrees. Paul from Powerline isn't happy either. They're right to be displeased. Hezbollah comes out stronger now than it was three months ago. Says McCarthy: "How hard must Ahmadinejad, Assad and Nasrallah be laughing at all this?"
This is a bad outcome that you could've predicted after reading hilzoy. Israel couldn't stop Hezbollah even with an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, and they aren't going to do it with anything short of that. There really aren't any productive military solutions available here -- read her excellent post for a more in-depth discussion. She tells us what will work:
Personally, I think (as I've said before) that in the long run, the solution to this problem will have to involve the creation of a strong and stable Lebanese state with a monopoly of force within its territory. This is not the sort of solution that one brings about by striking decisive blows
The Cedar Revolution showed us that there was hope for Lebanon eventually getting things under control. Maybe not in the short term, but over time a strengthened Lebanese state might be able to break free of Syrian influence and disarm Hezbollah. But instead of supporting the Lebanese, Israel dropped bombs all over them and drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. How do you think these people will feel about Israel when they return to their blown-up houses and dead friends? That's the kind of thing that encourages somebody to join Hezbollah and take up arms against Israel.
Michael Totten's Lebanese friend, to be sure, isn't doing that. He was reasonably pro-Israel and solidly anti-Hezbollah before Israel started bombing his country. In other words, he's exactly the kind of guy that we need to achieve our objectives in the Middle East. But reading what he wrote in July gives you some idea how the bombing has affected the political situation:
You've made this country unliveable for the people fighting to disarm Hezbollah.
Guess what? I'm leaving. Yep. Me.
Where am I going? Syria. Didn't want to, but I have to. The people we marched against are the ones you sent us begging to. The people who assassinated our leaders, kept us from having an operating democracy, and who armed Hezbollah are laughing it up because they've won the game because of you.
Bashar Assad said Lebanon would be destroyed if he left. I didn't know the Israelis would play into his game. It's not surprising that Syrian-allied Hezbollah started the mess, but you guys are just vicious.
All my Hezbollah supporting friends are sticking around. They call the rest of us cowards. I guess we are. We want to do scientific research. We want our children to learn how to play the piano. We want to watch our stock porfolios burgeon. We can't do that here any more.
I tried to sympathize with you. I didn't support Hezbollah, and if you look at the posts before this conflict began, I was maligning the political parties that oppose Hezbollah for not doing enough.
I even gave you guys the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of this, as did most Lebanese. Even the Shia, Christians, and Druze in South Lebanon understood your position. Not any more.
Oh, well. I'm a refugee.
This isn't what I want, and it isn't what the folks at the National Review want either. I wish they knew that it's what dropping bombs on civilians will get you.

Friday, August 11, 2006

You're Invited to Our Party! Bring Friends!

In my travels through the blogosphere, I've encountered lots of people who have some interest in third parties. This includes jedmunds (wherever he is) and some people at Shakes' place -- though perhaps not Shakes herself. Especially after the exciting events of this week, I'd like to offer them some advice and an invitation.
Any movement big enough to make a third-party candidate remotely competitive in a general election can easily win a Democratic primary. This is mostly because there are far fewer Democratic primary voters. 283,055 people voted in Tuesday's primary; 1,253,571 people voted in Lieberman's 2000 general election victory. Democratic primary voters, furthermore, are more accepting of left-wing views than general election voters are. So if you have a movement that's big enough to be competitive in a general election, you can easily swing through the Democratic primary and pick up the nomination on your way. When the general election comes, you'll get the votes of all the straight-ticket Democratic voters, and you'll be the clear choice for every left-of-center voter. It's a lot easier to take over the Democratic Party and win elections that way than it is to build a successful third party.
Look at how it happened in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont is going to be the Democratic nominee. He'll most likely win the election. Over the last half-century, 24 incumbent Senators have been denied renomination in primaries. None have gone on to win the general election, which bodes pretty badly for Lieberman. The only one who tried to keep campaigning all the way to November got 11% of the vote. Instead of sending your third-party candidate into the general election, go for the Democratic nomination, and make these numbers work for you.
There's an important flip side to this. If a left-wing candidate can't win a Democratic primary, that candidate clearly doesn't have a movement big enough to win a general election. Then there's no point in running a third-party candidate in the general. The Democrats won't move left to prevent a third-party candidate from stealing their votes -- for them to break even with this strategy, they have to win 2 votes on the left for every one that they lose in the center. (Losing a centrist voter to the Republicans means they need one left-wing voter to make up the loss and then another left-wing voter to match the Republican gain.) And while moving left will turn out Democratic base voters in larger numbers, it may turn out the Republican base in larger numbers as well, and Democratic incumbents know that.
Running third-party candidates in general elections, then, won't substantially change Democrats' behavior. But especially with Lieberman's defeat fresh in their minds, the possibility of a primary challenge will. Take a look at this post from mcjoan, where she talks about how Jane Harman came out against war with Iran and warrantless wiretapping after Marcy Winograd challenged her from the left in a primary. That's a strategy that can succeed in several different ways, and it's one that I invite progressives who are unhappy with the Democrats to try.

The Trend Is Your Friend

At this point, there's no doubting that the Iraq War is an issue that helps Democrats and hurts Republicans in the 2006 elections. You can see it in the polling on which party people trust to do better on the war -- the last year's polls show people consistently picking the Democrats. September 2004 was the last time a majority of Americans thought the war was worth fighting. Probably the neatest piece of polling comes from New Jersey -- when you mention Iraq, the Democratic candidate's advantage goes from one point to eight points!

Things have, in their slow and steady way, changed a lot between 2003 and now. It's reasonable to extrapolate these trends forward to 2008, because the mechanism that drives them will most likely remain intact. Iraq is deteriorating and Americans are slowly becoming aware of that. I'm pretty confident that in two years, whether it was right to go to war in Iraq will be a more divisive issue within the Republican Party than among Democrats. Already Michael Steele has been talking down the Iraq War under a bizarre veil of faux-anonymity.

I like how Mark Schmitt said it:

But consider that at the time of the 2004 primaries, the war was less than one year old! By the time of the first primary votes in 2008, it will be almost five years of war. We’re now in the fourth year of the war; does anyone seriously think that by the sixth, absent some enormous change, that “antiwar activists” won’t be the vast majority of people?

There's more to be said about the passage of time. By the time of the 2008 general election, 9/11 will be more than twice as distant as it was in 2004. The defining foreign policy experience of the past years won't be the stark terror of planes crashing into the World Trade Center, it'll be the slow horror of watching events fall out of our control in Iraq and the Middle East. We won't be looking so much for somebody who can lead us into a glorious head-to-head conflict with the terrorists, but for somebody who can salvage a respectable conclusion out of the bloody mess that 8 years of Bush has left us in. Under these conditions, it's really important that Democrats focus on fighting the next battle and not the last one. The politics of national security in 2008 are going to be substantially different from 2004.

This doesn't mean that we should run to some kind of pacifist foreign policy. But we should recognize that what Americans need to be promised in foreign policy isn't corpses -- it's victory. The key to finding a pro-withdrawal message that Americans will approve of is fitting it within a larger strategy that comes with a credible promise of victory. The model for a Democratic position that I'd recommend to anyone was set out in Wesley Clark's 2004 article, Broken Engagement. America will overcome its foes in the Middle East the same way we overcame Communism -- not by invading other countries, but through a policy of containment and engagement that remakes the Arab world in our own image over a period of several decades. We did it, we won, and we should do it again.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Very Edwards Weekend

Yeah, that's what it was at the Ezra blog. I kicked things off with my lone non-Johnny piece, which was on the successful Democratic filibuster.

Then I posted on how Edwards would beat McCain. I've expressed this view better before, but the new version has some cool stuff in it.

Ezra responded with a post criticizing Edwards' debate performance. So I posted on how Edwards won the Cheney debate.

Finally I quoted the Middle East remarks from his chat transcript at the Edwards blog.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Other weekend Ezra posts

Linked by quotes:

Hey, did you know that Iran's Parliament has a seat reserved for Jews? And by "seat" I mean an actual government position, not some kind of chair that blows up.

"Since 1993, more than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the gay ban, according to the Department of Defense."

If something happens to Justice Stevens, and Roe is on the line, will Joe Lieberman vote to filibuster?

Help a Technical Virgin!

Did you see the classic sex ed parody videos from the now-defunct "Technical Virgin" site a few years ago? Melanie Martinez of Technical Virgin fame indeed went on to a bright future as the host of the "Good Night Show", a PBS Kids program for children 2 to 5 years old. Last week, she was fired for the seven-years-ago indiscretion of having made the video you just saw. PBS' ombudsman said the following in his petition about PBS officials' decision to fire Melanie:
There is probably little doubt that they would have been hammered by a much larger group than wrote in defense of Ms. Martinez had they taken no action, since the videos, which do have a shock effect, are now pretty easy to find on the Web.
I like what one grandparent wrote:
Once again, it appears PBS has preemptively silenced someone based on fear that America’s Right Wing will not like you. I have an important message for you: AMERICA’S RIGHT WING WILL NOT LIKE YOU AS LONG AS YOU EXIST. You can fire hosts like Bill Moyers and Melanie Martinez until the cows come home, and America’s Right Wing will not like you. They fear the truth, and to the extent that your programs reveal the truth, you become the enemy. I suppose if you fill the entire broadcast day with “Antiques Roadshow” and “The New This Old House Hour”, they may find you no longer the enemy. But they still won’t want to see any CPB money flowing your way.
So what can you do about this? At the very least, sign the petition. Probably the best place to go for updates, and advice on further action is
One more thing, on a slightly more personal note. There's very little in the world that makes me as angry as seeing men disparage a woman for having a colorful sexual past. This case involves even less than that -- it's merely that she acted in a few 30-second parody videos dealing with sexual topics. I look forward to the day when people who disdain women with exciting sexual histories are generally shunned, the same way that explicit sexists and racists are shunned today.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

American Jews: Intelligent and Admirable People

It's up at the Ezra blog, with a picture from happier times. I won't post it here, because the opening quasi-joke makes it better for you to read it there.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Religious Left

I was happy to see this article [link broken], mostly for the sake of seeing the media notice these people. If we could somehow watch the media narrative expressed here become dominant -- the religious left is on the rise, challenging the religious right! -- I'd be a very happy man.

Edwards and the Swift Boats

I hadn't seen this before, and I'm mostly posting it here so that I can find it later:

Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, also wanted to take a swipe at the Swifties. Edwards was hardly an attacker in the Dole (or Cheney) tradition of vice presidential hit men; his whole persona and appeal were based on sunny optimism. But as early as Aug. 5, when the Swifties were just getting traction, Edwards wanted to push back, hard. McCain had just told the Associated Press that the Swift Boat ads were "dishonest and dishonorable... the same kind of deal that was pulled on me." Edwards wanted to begin a speech, "I join with Senator McCain in calling on the president to condemn this dishonest and dishonorable ad." But Kerry headquarters said no. Stephanie Cutter, the boss of the Kerry communications shop, explained that the campaign didn't need to give the Swift Boat vets any more attention than they were already getting.

Edwards played along, but his aides were indignant. They warned the veep candidate that the story was already out of control and about to get worse. Historian Douglas Brinkley, author of a wartime biography of Kerry, cautioned that Kerry's diary included mention of a meeting with some North Vietnamese terrorists in Paris. Edwards was flabbergasted. "Let me get this straight," the senator said. "He met with terrorists? Oh, that's good."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

We Don't Mind Hedgers. Just Give Us Partisans!

Says Terence Samuel, with an eye on 2008:

defeating Lieberman will transform the war as a campaign issue. It will move from being an “effectiveness and competence” issue that the President and Republicans must defend and explain to serving as a political litmus test for Democrats.

Suppose Lieberman's position had consistently been "I was right to vote for the war, because I had a reasonable expectation that Bush would do it right, but he turned out to be a total moron who can't be trusted to operate a toaster, let alone rebuild a country, and he totally botched everything." Then he'd have Yglesias and Rosenfeld to argue with, and some grumbling war opponents to placate, but I don't think he'd have Ned Lamont to run against. The widespread criticism of Lieberman isn't that he indulges in the incompetence dodge, it's that he spends his time making other Democrats look like unpatriotic extremists when he should be attacking Republicans. Any strident criticism of Bush will make the partisan base happy, just as any interference with Democrats who are steadfastly bashing Republicans will infuriate them. Hit Bush hard on effectiveness and competence, and the base will cheer.

To address another of Samuel's concerns, we have some solid antiwar positions to choose from among our 2008 candidates. He mentions Feingold, who was right all along. So was Gore, if he's running. Warner has the opportunity to retroactively declare himself into whatever position he wants -- he seems to be playing median voter games and aiming for the center of the American populace. (I'm guessing he'll overshoot to the right -- by 2008, we'll have seen two more years of blood and fire from mismanaging a near-impossible problem, which will create even more antiwar sentiment among everyone.) Edwards admits that he made a mistake and has a clear explanation of what it was -- like everyone else, he got tricked by Bush's WMD deceptions. Hillary, Biden, and Bayh are stuck with suboptimal positions, especially as far as the liberal wing of the party is concerned, but most voters will probably be looking at the future rather than the past. It's hard for me to see how the Lieberman situation changes the game significantly.

Whether the Iraq War represented fundamentally flawed strategy or merely incompetent execution is an important substantive question, since it bears on the foreign policy that our candidates might pursue if they attained power. But many in the base are fairly pragmatic hyper-partisans at heart, and I'm not convinced that the particular position you punch from matters to them. They just want to you to slug some Republicans, the harder the better. And don't you dare mess with a Democrat who's doing some good hitting.

Friday, July 14, 2006

How sweet

Lindsay's excerpt about the 76-year-old quilter who was persuaded towards a pro-sex-worker position made me happy.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday mushroom blogging

Sahotra Sarkar went out into the forests of Mexico and discovered this mushroom, which is 13 inches in diameter. Nobody knows what kind of mushroom it is, and he's wondering if it's a new species. (The sapling growing through it is not part of the mushroom.)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Losing Joementum

His continued support of the Iraq War and attacks on the patriotism of its opponents are the main reasons for opposing Joe Lieberman, but his history of attacks on fellow Democrats and liberal ideals is much longer. There was his support of DOMA in 1996, his scolding of Clinton during the impeachment hearings in 1998, his flirtation with private accounts during the early days of the Social Security fight, and his cloture vote on Alito. While his overall voting record isn't bad, it's hard to see Ned Lamont as anything but an upgrade, especially as far as winning media battles is concerned.

What's really exciting about this race is the message it'll send to safe-state Democrats who may occasionally be driven to Liebermania by the siren song of the anti-partisan media: bashing your party for personal gain is unacceptable, and Democrats in safe seats are expected to do their part in moving the country leftward. Betrayals of the party and liberal ideals, whether for reasons pragmatic or psychological, may come with the consequence of a primary defeat.

I generally agree with folks like Petey who think that moderate-seeming Democrats will attract more votes, but Joe Lieberman is the kind of moderate who gives his party a radical image. Garance has a good post on this. Criticizing "extremists" in your party and making opponents of the war look like unpatriotic radicals does nothing to help Claire McCaskill and Harold Ford win their Senate races. By painting a picture of unpatriotic extreme antiwar Democrats, Lieberman damages the party's brand and hurts Democrats everywhere.

Triangulation makes sense as a strategy for individual candidates, but it's not a strategy that an entire party can engage in. In a country with an established two-party system, the media will define the space of moderate opinion relative to the parties themselves. No party will be able to gain a lasting reputation for moderation by compromising and moving towards its opponents. All that'll happen is that the space of moderation will be narrowed, and opinions that previously were considered moderate will be regarded as extreme.

Consider the idea of invading Iraq. Even setting aside the WMD issue, it's hard to imagine that early poll numbers in favor of invading would've been high if we were under a responsible Republican administration that itself rejected the idea of invasion as ridiculous. Support for the war would then fall outside the range of acceptable moderate opinion. This analysis applies better to new issues where minds aren't made up than old ones where most people have come to a firm opinion, but on things like foreign policy proposals and judicial nominations, we need to realize that the battle of public opinion is still out there to be won. Lieberman must not be allowed to sabotage Democrats by narrowing the space of moderation so that our views look extreme.

I don't want my safe-seat Democrats triangulating into moderate positions. I want them to explore new territory on the left, so that when our Arkansas and Nebraska Senators triangulate off of them, they end up in positions that are fairly good, or at least non-destructive. And that's why I have no use for Joe Lieberman. Where Lamont would stretch the field leftward as a moderate personality with progressive views, Lieberman compresses it and perpetuates negative stereotypes of Democrats. It's time to remove him from politics, and threaten anyone who follows his path with a similar fate.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Incumbency Games

I'm going to post an extended denunciation of Joe Lieberman later this weekend, but I thought it'd be good to get this point out of the way first: the fact that Chuck Schumer and a few other national Democratic bigwigs are hemming and hawing about whether to support Ned Lamont if he wins the Democratic primary isn't as troubling as it first appears. Michael Tomasky cites an example from 1980 in which Republican leaders did the same thing -- taking no position on a race for two weeks after their incumbent, Jacob Javits, lost his primary, and then eventually supporting the victorious challenger against Javits' third party bid with $235,000. In comments, Mark Schmitt offers a similar example from Connecticut in 1970.
This is the kind of behavior you'd expect from national party leaders. They're afraid of angering their incumbent by looking unsupportive before the primary ends, seeing him win the primary, and having to deal with a ticked-off senior senator for the next six years. But if the challenger wins, they fear six years of a ticked-off junior colleague who owes them nothing, and rush to his side as kingmakers. Whatever Schumer says now, I'm pretty sure he'll be backing the Democratic nominee at the end of August.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cute mammals, cute together

Not having a cat, I can't participate in the Friday Catblogging that you see on other parts of the internet. But the least I can do is link to Amanda's pictures of the kitten and the monkey.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm back in Austin

...which means that y'all will see some of my blogging on Ezra's site day after tomorrow. Thanks to Dymaxion John in particular for picking up lots of the slack while I was gone.

Among the exciting things I did in DC was squirrel fishing with Tom Lotze and friends. I had more of a hunting-dog role than a fishing role, which suited my canine tendencies quite well. Arf!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The other stuff I posted last weekend

Between getting in fights with other bloggers and traveling to DC, I didn't get around to crossposting stuff this weekend. So here's what I have for you at Ezra's blog:

If You Can't Find a Donkey, Ride the DINO - Sometimes which party a Congresscritter belongs to is more important than what they actually think. Majorities are really strong.
Cantwell: Not So Bad - Maria Cantwell, who was being dissed for some genuinely bad votes, isn't as awful as jedmunds would have you believe.
Who Was David and Who Was Goliath - I link to some excellent quotes about Israel and Palestine that Laura Turner found.
Don't Invest In These Internet Scams - Here's the post about Jerome Armstrong's stock-touting scandals. The 70 comments that follow include Armando from Daily Kos going completely bonkers on me. Later, Ezra would back me up.

There probably won't be any more posting, here or at Ezra's blog, until July 6 when I return to Austin. Until then I'll be hanging out with all sorts of exciting folks in DC.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Oil and Those Western Governors

You hear a lot of talk about the West being a fertile ground for Democratic gains, and a lot of it is connected to the high approval ratings of Democratic governors in the Mountain West. Brian Schweitzer in Montana is the big star here, and Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming figures as well. Less remarked is the fact that Western Republican governors are doing quite well too. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Jon Huntsman of Utah have higher net approval ratings than Schweitzer and Freudenthal. The Republicans leading Idaho, South Dakota, and Nevada are also among the top 20 most-loved governors.

Rumor has it that there's oil out in the hills, and I'm wondering if this is a big explanatory factor in the governor-love that pervades Western states. High oil prices are good for oil-rich states, keeping the treasury flush with money, spending high, and taxes low. What Democrats really need to do is go back to the Cretaceous Period and bury a bunch of dead dinosaurs underneath Michigan and Oregon. That'll get Granholm and Kulungoski out of trouble in no time.

Schaller's Strategy vs. Schaller's Conclusions

When I first read Tom Schaller's piece on how Mudcat Saunders is all wrong and the Democrats can't win in the South, it seemed to me that he had argued against his own conclusion (and spent too much time getting back at Mudcat for being a jerk to him at YearlyKos). He lays out a strategy for how to win in the South -- win the votes of blacks and enlightened urban/suburban whites, and don't go too hard after the rural vote. Matt Yglesias charitably says that we should regard this strategy as the actual message of Schaller's piece, and I guess that's right.

Then Schaller says this:

And it is this model writ large -- winning outside the rural areas and then taking a record of smart, progressive policies to rural voters for their inspection -- which ratifies the strategy of Democrats first building a non-southern majority, governing confidently and successfully, and then appealing to the South, the nation’s most rural, poor, and conservative region.

There are massive differences between winning state and presidential elections (the electoral college, the presence of a regionalist Southern identity) that make me suspicious of this argument. Furthermore, if Schaller's right and you can win with blacks and suburbanites, why not go ahead and try to chip off some Southern states that way from the beginning?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Score one for nurture

Via Lennea, this sheep raised by dogs seems to have taken on doglike behaviors.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

When Intimidation Backfires

You get these right-wingers claiming that the American demonstration of "resolve" is a good consequence of the Iraq War, the idea apparently being that we'll be better able to intimidate bad countries into changing their ways.  If we actually were getting these benefits, I'd be impressed -- there's plenty of ways I'd want to make North Korea and Iran change their behavior.  But look what's actually happened.   North Korea looks to be test-launching long-range missiles, breaking a moratorium on launches that started in 1999, and Iran has moved ahead with its nuclear program.  There's still plenty of hope for diplomacy in Iran's case, but we're in a much worse bargaining position than we were in three years ago. 

Rather than frightening other countries into knuckling under, we scared them into improving their nuclear defenses against future American aggression, making the world a much more dangerous place.  Just one more reason to avoid wanton invasions. 

Saturday, June 17, 2006

In Philly again

Back from North Carolina, where I met with many old friends, smart UNC kids whom my brother knows, the previously mentioned girl who bites, and fellow Edwards fan Bora, who convinced me to crosspost more things from the Ezra-blog to this one. On that note, I thought this was amusing enough to share:

Via Boltgirl.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

In defense of biting

Yesterday afternoon, I met a pretty drunk girl who bit, hit, hugged, and kissed me within five minutes of meeting me, in that order, and without any substantial provocation. It's interesting how an early bite can put me at ease -- once a girl has bitten me, nothing I do in the ordinary course of interacting with her will count as a major faux pas, and it's good to be guaranteed against that possibility. Most guys are probably not like me, so I don't generally recommend this tactic to women, but it has its advantages in some situations.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Telcos and travel plans

I've got a piece on Net Neutrality up at Ezra's blog. He's going to be off at YearlyKos until Sunday, so the weekend officially starts now! At least, for blogging-at-Ezra's-site purposes. The post should also appear at the One America Blog sometime soon, except without minor edits including the "invisible hand" joke that occurred to me after I mailed it off to Edwards' staff people.

In other news, I'm going to North Carolina, where I and my brother Robin will be from this Friday to next Friday or so. Tentative travel plans are to return to Philly at some future point, then visit Charlottesville VA, and then go to Washington DC until July 5, when I fly back to Austin. Readers in these areas who are interested in hanging out are welcome to contact me.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Abstinence suckers

I'd put the over/under on the number of jokes Amanda can get out of this item at 4.5. And yes, the flavor is cherry.

via righteousbabe at DailyKos

[Update]: Amanda comes through.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Jesus is running a little late

My friend John Ku, who was raised in a cult, describes the time that Jesus didn't come [link dead]. (I suppose there are lots of times when Jesus didn't come, but this is the time they were expecting him, and he didn't show up anyway.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Morality is Objective (And People Are Wrong)

(I posted this at Ezra's, but it's philosophical enough to post here.)

A week is an eternity in the political blogosphere, but it's a short time in the world of philosophy. Or at least, that's my excuse for responding now to a couple of Matt Yglesias' week-old posts on the objectivity of morality. Some things Matt says in the course of arguing against the existence of objective moral facts that really don't have much bearing on the question of objectivity. In fact, many of his criticisms apply just as well to areas of inquiry where objective truth is clearly at stake. Let's first consider this:
Sometimes, you face a question that you think has an objective answer like "How much should we care about budget deficits?" What you're supposed to do in those circumstances is look at the evidence in an even-handed and objective way. The big issues of political commitment don't work like that at all. Siegel didn't go learn Arabic fluently, then read the Koran (it says you should only read it in Arabic), then study the works of Sayyid Qutb and other Islamist commentators, and then objectively weigh those arguments against the great names of liberal political thought in an open-minded and unprejudiced way before deciding, "Yes, those Islamists are all wrong!" That would be dumb, and nobody lives their life like that.
Matt's pointing out that the way we usually arrive at moral beliefs is quite different from the way we ought to arrive at beliefs on the empirical questions that drive public policy. That seems right. But it's important to note that very few people -- Matt and Ezra perhaps, but not most of us -- actually arrive at their public policy views in much the same way. Most people don't wonk out on pdfs from Brookings, seek out the best arguments from all sides, and make well-considered decisions. Emotional judgments from gut feelings, sadly, play an outsized role in determining many ordinary people's beliefs on issues where there are objective right and wrong answers. You don't even need to go to normatively laden questions of the "How much should we care" variety to see this. You can just look at ordinary, purely descriptive questions -- "Do tax cuts stimulate the economy more or less than spending increases?" or "Which candidate is more electable?" to find places where many people's emotional attitudes (for example, their feelings about taxation or about the candidates) determine what sorts of beliefs they form.

Does this tear away the objectivity from facts of public policy? I don't think so. All it says is that people are forming their public policy beliefs in an unreliable and untrustworthy way. All the more reason to recognize the possibility of error within ourselves, and dedicate some energy to thinking clearly, considering well-collected empirical data, and listening carefully to all sides. Similarly, the fact that people tend to make emotionally driven moral judgments doesn't mean that morality isn't objective. It just means that we're likely to make mistakes, and so we need to understand that our intuitive moral judgments could be wrong. Objective truth could still be out there -- we're just bad at finding it.

This attitude towards moral belief underlies my own approach to the issue. I think that people very often go wrong in their beliefs about the objective moral facts. How do I separate the true moral beliefs from the false ones? I first try to determine what sorts of processes of belief-formation are generally reliable, considering many examples where morality isn't at stake. Then I look at all the ways that people form their beliefs about which states of affairs are good, and which actions are right. I throw out the beliefs that are generated by unreliable processes. Particularly, I throw out the beliefs formed by having some emotionally-driven attitude towards a state of affairs, and thus coming to believe that there's some objective goodness or badness out there in that state of affairs. All that's left is the goodness of pleasure and the badness of displeasure, which can be discovered without any emotions standing between us and our pleasure or displeasure. You can know that your sensations of black are sensations of darkness without any emotion standing between you and the black, and similarly, you can know that your experiences of pleasure are experiences of goodness without any emotion standing between you and the pleasure. Looking at your experiences and determining what they're like, with no emotional interference, is a reliable way of knowing. So the objective goodness of pleasure and the objective badness of displeasure are all we can know of objective goodness and badness.

Another related point Matt makes:

Islamists do a lot of stuff that seems cruel and repugnant -- sawing off peoples' heads, for example or stoning gay people to death. Is that "really" wrong? Do I need to check? Deduce it from first principles? If I can't come up with an airtight argument against head-sawing within the next fifteen minutes, does that throw everything into doubt? Again, that's silly; nobody thinks that.
The fact that we don't usually require airtight arguments for moral conclusions doesn't really bear much on the question of objectivity. Consider the easier questions of physics -- you don't need to determine the gravitational constant in order to know that when you shoot a basketball, it'll travel in an arc, and eventually come down. But physics is an objective matter, if anything is. So there's nothing incompatible between our being able to get it right on a fair number of the objective questions, and saying that we haven't got a good theory worked out to decide the hard cases and explain everything. (Of course, once we do figure out the gravitational constant and build our theory, we can do all sorts of neat stuff.) My point here shouldn't be taken as a rejection of the idea that we're often wrong, or unjustified, in our moral judgments. All I'm saying is that it's possible to occasionally make correct judgments while lacking any developed theory to explain them.

There's this, from Matt's next post:

When you argue with people, you try to appeal to shared sentiments, point out alleged inconsistencies in the other guy's position, and so on and so forth. What underlies the possibility of discussion isn't objective moral truth but the fact that, say, Jonah and I have a vast stockpile of things we agree about and one tries to resolve controversies with appeals to stuff in that store of previous agreement.
What I want to say to Matt here is that objective moral truth actually underlies the possibility of this kind of discussion. Why is it interesting, in these discussions, to point out "alleged inconsistencies in the other guy's position"? Why would he even care about inconsistencies? Here's one answer: because his position consists of his beliefs, and when you have inconsistent beliefs, at least one of them has to be false. And why is it a problem that one is false? Because our beliefs aspire to objective truth, and when they are false, they fail.

Now, there are sophisticated versions of anti-realism that propose their own answers to these questions, like those offered by Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard (Matt links to one of Blackburn's books in his post). I reject their views because I reject deflationary theories of truth, but that's a fairly technical issue that I won't get into here.

One more thing to quibble with Matt about:

Sometimes you face someone whose disagreements with you are so profound that appeals to shared premises don't get you anywhere. Or you face someone who just doesn't care about doing the right thing. It's precisely because there's no way to decide who's objectively right in a dispute between, say, Adolf Hitler and liberal democracy, that we resolve the biggest moral controversies with force and threats of force rather than moral discourse and appeals to conscience. Debate and deliberation only work for the small stuff.
But this doesn't really have that much to do with objectivity either. It's an objective question whether or not Allah exists. He exists or he doesn't. But people are really set in their beliefs on this issue, some for good reasons and others for bad reasons. And this is the kind of disagreement that could conceivably (and does actually) cause people to start using force against one another. Similarly, you don't have to take morality outside the domain of objectivity to explain why people wouldn't be able to settle their differences through debate. Sometimes people just can't come to agreement on a question with an objective answer, and their desires are such that this lack of agreement seems to them like something worth fighting about.

If there's a single take-home message to all of this, here it is: Don't just throw out the idea that there are objective facts somewhere, just because people keep forming their beliefs in wacky ways, or because there's a lot of disagreement, or because everyone is fighting over stuff. It's still possible that there are objective facts, and the people just aren't being very smart about figuring them out.