Monday, March 26, 2007

This weekend's stuff

Over at Ezra's blog, I've got a tribute to Elizabeth Edwards (complete with pretty photo) and a little post on the unfortunate incentives for nonpartisanship in the media, which relates to 24.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Thanks to Paul the Spud for posting this.

Spreading the gospel of spreading aid

Or at least, I'm defending it both at Ezra's site and on Daily Kos. Here's the Kos version from today, which comes with an amusing poll. The Ezra version currently has a longer comment thread.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I'm everywhere!

One of my recent posts got linked by these respectable people who are famous and advise campaigns and write books and stuff.

About two years ago, fellow philosopher Jonathan Ichikawa saw me give my "Possible Girls" paper, which I'm currently submitting for publication. He has a webcomic discussing this significant issue, in a somewhat ontological-argument related context.

My friend Warren made avatars of a bunch of us. I like mine a lot -- it's the 4th from the top.

[2019 edit: Warren's avatars are the last link still standing; I've removed the others.]

Monday, March 12, 2007

Miroslav the War Criminal Slayer

Via LGM, the news:
Serbian vampire hunters have acted to prevent the very remote possibility that former dictator Slobodan Milosevic might stage a come-back - by driving a three-foot stake through his heart...

Miroslav Milosevic said "he and his fellow vampire hunters acted to stop the former dictator returning from the dead to haunt the country". His team explained that the wooden stake had been "driven into the ground and through the late president's heart".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mysterious Character

The result of this poll is a sad truth that I long ago made my peace with -- voters care more about a candidate's character than the candidate's issue positions, and least of all about experience and other leadership qualities. Character, unfortunately, is something that voters are in a very weak position to judge. Our information about the personal qualities of candidates is subject to much more media distortion than our information about the candidates' issue positions. For the latter, we have more hard data to fall back on. But getting yourself portrayed as a person of honesty and integrity is largely a matter of being able to effectively manipulate the more touchy-feely side of media coverage. Being a difficult target for negative ads, which is quite far from being a good person, helps too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fox Loses, Democrats Win

In 2004, New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley described Fox as "the conservative cable network", and Fox immediately called for a retraction. If you want the money, power, and influence that comes from being a network with a broad audience, you can't let yourself be regarded as the provider of a niche product, and a politically biased niche product at that.
In addition to the immediate benefits of cancelling the Fox News debate in Nevada -- we won't have to deal with conservatives immediately framing the Democratic candidates' views in a negative light -- I'm hoping that this will be the beginning of the marginalization of Fox News. If Fox keeps getting this kind of treatment from Democratic leaders like John Edwards, whose decision not to participate was instrumental to the debate's collapse, it'll be a lot easier for reporters to rightly tag Fox as conservative. I hope for a situation where even the most politically tuned-out viewers are on guard against Fox's conservative bias, and people choosing channels for a TV in a public area will see picking Fox News as a strong political statement that they probably don't want to make.

(Searching for "conservative cable network" on Google News gives some interesting results. At this writing, four almost identical stories turn up about Edwards' decision not to do the Fox News debate. In three of them, the word 'conservative' has been removed. I don't know who oversees these decisions, but thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle for printing the article as it stood.)
Anyone hoping for the marginalization of Fox News has to be happy about the Edwards campaign's statement following the collapse of the debate, which attacked "Fox's long history of spreading Republican propaganda at the expense of Democratic leaders," and specifically criticized its "blatant lies about Senator Obama's background." I'm very happy about seeing Edwards come to Obama's side -- defending a good Democrat against ridiculous right-wing smears costs you little and will win you friends.
As for whether Edwards made a smart political move in rejecting the Fox debate, I'm closer to Garance's position (Edwards made a smart call and will win bloggers' hearts) than Ezra's (Edwards took one for the team; Fox will come after him with a vengeance). Democratic primary voters aren't going to take Fox's word for it when they come out with ridiculous anti-Edwards smears. But I'm not sure, because if some of the Fox smears get play in other media outlets it could still be quite damaging. We'll have to see how this plays out, and I'm hoping for an outcome where Democrats work together to degrade Fox's position by the time the general election begins. In the meantime, I'm going be proud that my guy hit back hard against one of the most vicious forces in the media. Let's have more of that.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Anti-Palestinian lobby

This post by Matt reminds me of something he'd probably want me to say -- we've got to come up with a better term for people who want to push Israel into violent conflict with its neighbors than the "Israel lobby." The strange use of the phrase "Pro-Israel" is especially problematic. I want the folks who live in Israel now to stay there and live happy lives untroubled by violence. I think that peace agreements, like the agreement of the late 1970s that has ended war between Israel and Egypt, are the only way to achieve this. Compare me to the Texas megachurch pastor who endorses Israeli military action as the best means for covering the region in a "sea of human blood drained from the veins of those who have followed Satan." The term "pro-Israel" should not be applied to his view. Yet NPR bestows the "pro-Israel" appellation on him, even while noting that most Israelis reject his position. Suggestions for reforming the discourse are welcome.

"War is not the instrument he thought it was"

Hilzoy has a long and beautiful post on why using war to set up democracy in other countries is so hard. There are lots of reasons for this, but the reason she discusses hadn't really occurred to me before.
we should never forget how astonishing it is that people vying for power are willing to concede even when they believe that the rules have been broken, out of respect for the rule of law and for courts they believe to be profoundly in error.

In many countries, there are no established procedures for resolving conflicts, and certainly none that command the kind of allegiance that would lead people to yield even when they believe that they deserve to have won. In those countries it will always be tempting to think: well, this election was stolen from us, and this year-old Constitution is unfair; why not fight for a better one? Wouldn't our opponents do the same?

This is especially likely in a country in which the price of losing a political struggle has always been not just being in the minority party in Congress, but death or subjugation. And it takes a long time to learn to trust that losing power will not cost you your life or your freedom, when all your experience to date has taught you the opposite.

When you use force to liberate a country, like Kuwait, that has only been occupied for a short time, you can hope that its people will accept their previous government, and that whatever made that government function in the past will have survived. But when you liberate a country like Iraq, a country whose people have been brutalized, you risk loosing Hobbes' "war of all against all" on its people. You remove the sovereign who has kept that war in check, without thereby creating any of the political virtues that allow alternate forms of government, like democracy, to function.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thank you ma'am

Elizabeth Edwards has a nice post on the whole Ann Coulter brouhaha. I'm happy that she's using this as a way of attacking homophobia:

Although her words did not hurt us, they may have hurt some in the gay community. We are all sick and tired of anyone supporting or applauding or introducing hate words into the national dialogue, tired of people thinking that words that cause others pain are fair game. And we are sick and tired of people like Miss Coulter thinking that her use of loaded words about the homosexual community in this country is remotely humorous or appropriate.

In general, this is how people should respond to homophobic or racist language -- hit back against the speakers for being prejudiced. Enough progress has been made on the more crude variety of racial slurs that even outside polite society, they do more to damage the speaker than to humiliate the target of the language. It won't be long until antigay slurs work the same way, and every bit of scorn that we throw at people who use the slurs brings that time closer.