Friday, February 29, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

Thursday, February 28, 2008

We Awesome Ones.

From a scholarly piece recently read, i think this doesn't even need contextualization:

"...should be deeply troubling to all liberal free-thinking people who value democratic pluralism and the toleration of differences and who care about the accuracy of cultural representations"

That's a lot to get out in one sentence.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Texas wind and the voice of the people

This Times article about Texas wind power is informative, but it doesn't mention the fact that in '96 and '98 Texas utility companies polled their customers to ask about energy alternatives. There were also several Deliberative Polls, sponsored by the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford and headed by Professor Jim Fishkin of the Communications dept. I have taken a seminar with Fishkin on "models of democracy" and found the Deliberative Poll idea very interesting. Basically, it pays a scientifically selected microcosm of citizens to attend a town hall meeting where they're presented with relevant factual information on an issue and allowed to debate and question field experts. Their decisions are then supposed to reflect "informed" public opinion. In the Texas case, customers' eventual preference for wind baffled pollsters, who had expected a typical preference for natural gas. Pretty neat, and something to keep an eye out for in the news. (For example, there was a Deliberative Poll in China last week.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

One for Lawyers, One for Diplomats

1. Why, if the 14th amendment to the US Constitution grants citizenship to all those "born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," do you need a separate amendment (the 15th) to establish voting rights for all men? What exactly does "citizenship" mean, legally, if not the right to vote? Was the idea to grant citizenship to women but not grant them the vote? What rights, then, did citizenship grant women?

2. Do you support the current American policy of recognizing the independent nation of Kosovo?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Golfing Alone

Americans are sick of golf. It's beautiful to imagine forests encroaching on the weird, grassy/sandy islands we've built all over this continent. We could, I suppose, look at the downside, i.e. Americans are giving up another social activity. But this is one societal ill that I'm willing to suffer in order to satisfy my aesthetic preferences.
Besides all that, it's just surprising. I thought they were still building golf courses constantly. In any case, in the context of the housing decline, this might be the end of those awful golf communities.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Preemptive strike for me but not for thee (in which I passive-aggressively call out the much missed Curry King) (*Updated*)

I'm a good liberal (sort of). I certainly read Think Progress most days. 'Tis a fine source for right-wing goofs and hypocrisy. But recently, with the whole Obama vs. McCain on Pakistan thing, I mean come the fuck on.

First (well, probably not actually first, but the first thing I read), there was "McCain: I could send US troops 'anywhere' for 'a long period of time.'" Ooh, McCain, that warmonger! He'll send us to war again! Worse, he'll create more "long term occupations" (as if this particular long-term occupation is the only thing that's made this war not-so-peachy-keen). But look at what he said: does any US presidential candidate deny this basic philosophy? We already do have a military presence in many places of the world. There are currently soldiers in South Korea. Maybe some of them will be transferred to Oman tomorrow. Others to Colombia the day after that. Maybe they'll bomb Mogadishu while they're at it. The man speaks the truth! What're you gonna do about it?

Ugh, but then: "Would McCain Have Authorized the Strike that Killed a Senior Al-Qaeda Commander Last Month?" Don't be naive. Of course John McCain would approve. Of course he's just trying to score little political victories. But should this be met with "ra-ra Commander-in-Chief Obama!" militarism, the sort of blind faith in "actionable intelligence" and CIA and Pentagon "models" that Think Progress itself has mocked, for example with respect to military planning against Iran?

Who would see this "actionable intelligence"? The good, noble President Obama and his stouthearted Cabinet, who, being Democrats, could never make the sorts of secretive decisions later to be called deceptive and disastrous by the public? Is this not a recycled form of the "ticking time bomb" scenario justification for torture, so vigorously attacked by liberals when Republicans (Republicans alone, of course) utilize it to legitimize torturing Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, but apparently hunky dory when multiple civilians can be killed (not tortured -- killed) by an airstrike in such a scenario? Who, in fact, are killed in shameful numbers as it is?

Oh, and then there's this: "Obama's Pakistan position endorsed by Bush in '06." I give up. I just don't know what to do with this. What is the point here? "Obama is as wise as Bush once was, if only Bush would admit it"?

So, to sum up: (1) McCain made a factual claim, the basis of which will never be questioned by any candidate, (R) or (D), but which we should consider a call for expanded (Republican) war; (2) Obama made a claim for expanded (Democratic) war, which John McCain is all of the sudden too unintelligent to endorse (it's CIA-approved, after all!); (3) if McCain and Bush weren't so busy "deceiving" people, they would see that Obama and Bush share a common goal of bombing sovereign nations against their will. (Which McCain is too stupid to endorse -- except when he does! But he's a Republican!)

If this is the petty point-scoring game we can expect from liberals this campaign season, where "actionable intelligence" is good when the person pondering it with the American war machine at his fingertips has a little (D) next to his name, but bad when he's a Republican, you can count me out. If the game is such that we're all supposed to line up and cheer when a Democrat rains down missiles on another country, simply because it has the supremely bad luck of being where Bush didn't lead us to war ("He's diverted us from the true war front!" "What happened to the good war?"), then the game is seriously rigged towards ignorance and injustice.

Everyone think for your fucking self.

UPDATE: I see from the quickest of glances around the net that sophistry is alive and well on the left. Media Matters, always the humorless blunt object, is perhaps the most laugh/cringe-inducing. Behold the hair-splitting:

"Contrary to McCain's assertion [that Obama would "bomb" Pakistan - scantron], Obama did not say he would take action against Pakistan -- he made any action against 'high-value terrorist targets' inside Pakistan conditional -- and he did not specify what the action would be."

McCain said "bomb." Obama said "action." Who's to say what that action would be? It could be any number of things, such as inviting the high-value terrorist targets to a tea party, or to his daughter's soccer game, for example.

Oh, wait:

"Tapper wrote that Cordesman 'told me that Obama is correct, what he's talking about militarily would not be considered an 'invasion' .'"

So it is military. But it's a bombing, not an invasion! A bombing-not-invasion-conditional-on-actionable-intelligence action. A distinction sure to be appreciated by Pakistani civilians should President Obama bomb-not-invade them.

As if Media Matters needed to look even dumber, let's nonetheless turn to Obama's own words, and the words of his website's "fact checker":
But relying on Pakistan while we fight the wrong war in Iraq has not worked. Because of that policy, bin Laden and members of his inner circle who bear direct responsibility for the murder of 3,000 Americans are plotting new attacks. If Pakistan cannot or will not take out these high-level terrorist targets and we have actionable intelligence about where they are, then I would take action to protect the American people.

I firmly believe that if we know the whereabouts of bin Laden and his deputies and we have exhausted all other options, we must take them out [this could still mean anything! we could take them out to a movie - scantron].

I have never called for an invasion of Pakistan. You don’t need thousands of American troops to take out a meeting of high-level terrorists. Any student of the American military knows that we have many options to target terrorists with limited force, many of which involve no American boots on the ground. To suggest that targeting terrorists in Pakistan would be tantamount to an invasion is to misunderstand the capabilities of the U.S. military or to misrepresent my position.
Because if Cuban war planes bombed America for harboring people accused of terrorism against it, the American military would readily acknowledge the distinction between "invasion" and "bombing."

From the fact checker:
The Pentagon Favors the Obama Approach: The Pentagon is very concerned about the sanctuary. According to the New York Times, "the Pakistanis are still years away from fielding an effective counterinsurgency force. And some American officials, including Defense Secretary Gates, have said the United States may have to take direct action against militants in the tribal areas."
I'm sorry if I'm getting all Chomskyite all the sudden, but the semantic tricks played above are patent bullshit and need to be called out. That Obama was talking about military action is painfully obvious to anyone not intentionally trying to turn plain English into Linear B.

As for the invasion/bombing Humpty Dumpty logic, there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two when you're on the receiving end, especially if your country just voted out Musharraf's party and his special "relationship" with the U.S. in the "war on terror." Over a thousand civilians have died in terrorism-related deaths this year in Pakistan, yet strangely the Pakistanis seem to want nothing to do with a U.S. military presence in their country -- in fact the number is something like 9 percent. How interesting that when U.S. citizens don't experience nearly the same level of terrorist violence (in fact the level is non-existent), the automatic response of the government is expanded war-making, yet those most affected by al Qaeda in Pakistan reject such notions. Perhaps this sort of arrogance is what Democrats feel entitled to, but until the debate changes to reflect the reality of the desires of the Pakistani people, not to mention basic ideas of national sovereignty, I consider it a sham.


As the Western sun sets over warm waters, do the red chrysanthemums, hardy in easter(n) soil, make special preparations for its inevitable rise over their petals?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Red baiting over at NRO

Shorter Lisa Schiffren: For a white person to marry a black person was only cool after we right-wingers could no longer automatically tar them as Communists.

This really is one of the most shameless things I've read this campaign season. Consider: "Political correctness was invented precisely to prevent the mainstream liberal media from persuing [sic] the questions which might arise about how Senator Obama's mother, from Kansas, came to marry an African graduate student. Love? Sure, why not? But what else was going on around them that made it feasible?"

Well, it certainly wasn't any letup in the brutal racism your political forebears hurled at interracial couples, Lisa!

"The notion of a large group of mixed race Americans became an issue during and after the Vietnam War. Even the civil-rights movement kept this culturally explosive matter at arm's distance. ... It was, of course, an explicit tactic of the Communist party to stir up discontent among American blacks, with an eye toward using them as the leading edge of the revolution. ... To their credit, of course, most black Americans didn't buy the commie line."

Hmm, it appears from the sequence of your thoughts (sic) that you are setting up a logical argument such that the only people who could have possibly wanted to marry interracially were Communists! After all, it was such a "culturally explosive matter," in the face of which we should expect only cowardice and self-hating internal suppression on the part of interracial couples, at least until such time as Dixiecrats and right-wing rags (*cough*NationalReview*cough*) were no longer able to terrorize them.

You know, it's at least conceivable that systematic opposition to people trying to exercise their right to marry who they love is a historical blight to the immense detriment of conservatives and to the credit of the American Communist movement. But according to Schiffren's ass-backwards thinking, interracial marriage was suspect because it could only have been part of an insidious Commie plot.

Professor Chad Kroeger, African American Studies

What the hell is this?

In an effort to be more like Scantron, I decided to brush up on my music knowledge and watch some MTV this morning. What I saw shocked and awed me: Dr. Cornel West has a music video, and it was getting serious airtime on MTV. That is so... odd.

Sometimes I wonder if Dr. West would be considered so hip/smart/popular if he didn't have his cool glasses/beard/fro/suit/vest combo. I don't think he would be.

That guy sure knows how to market himself. A video on MTV? Unbelievable...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Unintentionally telling comparison of the year

There's a point in there somewhere, but I'll be damned if first I wasn't tickled pink by Bill Kristol's latest column:
Browsing through a used-book store Friday — in the Milwaukee airport, of all places — I came across a 1981 paperback collection of George Orwell’s essays. That’s how I happened to reread his 1942 essay on Rudyard Kipling. Given Orwell’s perpetual ability to elucidate, one shouldn’t be surprised that its argument would shed light— or so it seems to me — on contemporary American politics.

Orwell offers a highly qualified appreciation of the then (and still) politically incorrect Kipling. He insists that one must admit that Kipling is “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.” Still, he says, Kipling “survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.” One reason for this is that Kipling “identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition.”

“In a gifted writer,” Orwell remarks, “this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality.” Kipling “at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.” For, Orwell explains, “The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you do?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.” Furthermore, “where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly.”

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell’s argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

Oh, do go on! I don't really care about Kristol's weird extended metaphor (the Democrats certainly are "capable of governing"--the name "Bill Clinton" might have surfaced somewhat obviously in this context), but to have Kristol (wittingly or not) equate the Republican party with racist imperialism warmed the cockles of my heart for a brief moment. "The 2007 Congressional Democrats showed what it means to be an opposition party that takes no responsibility for the consequences of the choices involved in governing." Yes, yes, Democrats -- when will you learn to take up the white man's burden?

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Slightly more on superdelegates

Yglesias says (pardon the long quotation):

I don't think I buy the argument that the Democratic Party's superdelegates have some kind of categorical ethical obligation to obey the dictates of the pledged delegate count. Indeed, one of the best things you can say about superdelegates is that it's fairly easy to imagine scenarios in which giving the nomination to the pledged delegates leader would have a perverse result. For example, suppose Candidate A cleans up in early primaries and jumps out to a big lead. But just when the pundits were ready to declare it "essentially impossible" for Candidate B to catch up, he unveils a very appealing new message and sweeps the remainder of the states. Thanks to the proportional allocation rules, though, it's not enough to catch Candidate A, who winds up with 52 percent of pledged delegates. But since many of those delegates came from states that voted months ago, and lots of former Candidate A supporters feel buyer's remorse; national polling shows convincingly that 59 percent of registered Democrats prefer Candidate B, who also has a lead in head-to-head polling matchups with the GOP nominee and a fundraising advantage.

Would it really be so absurd for the superdelegates to overrule the "will of the people" and instead give the people what they tell pollsters they want? I don't think so. The superdelegates have both an opportunity and an obligation to take seriously their obligation to do the best thing for the party and the country.

This is an interesting argument. Specifically, the whole "time-delay," "buyer's remorse" theme deserves attention. Now, the obvious but for the moment untenable solution seems to me to abolish superdelegation and have a national popular primary on a specific day, with attendant time- and opportunity-cost-saving resources for voters, like a national holiday (this should also apply to the national election).

This would force candidates to develop and test their campaign promises early on, rather than constantly try to one-up one another following the results of various early and well-funded state primary campaigns. As it stands now, serious political inequality is at work, since Iowa's caucuses and New Hampshire's primary voters enjoy major (and majorly arbitrary) privileges over other states. (In effect, their votes "count more.")

This argument is made often, but here I'm connecting it to Yglesias' thoughts. The idea of "buyer's remorse" seems strange to me: What is this, in fact, other than "If I knew then what I know now, I would vote for X"? But the changes in campaign strategy and rhetoric which precipitate such changes of preference seem to be purely cynical ("tactical" if you like) on the part of the candidates. The interdependent shifts in strategy and preference are then interminable, at least until the last state holds its primary. But again, this brings up questions of serious political inequality.

Yglesias' argument seems to be: when opinion polls change, let the elites respond to the public. But then the spiral of polling and voting potentially goes on ad infinitum: the "moment of choice" has to come some time, and I would much rather it be a matter of the rank-and-file party membership's judgment, not the superdelegates'. To push it to the extreme, according to Yglesias' logic, anything could happen even after the last state has cast its votes. Why should we expect changes of preference to cease just because the states have all voted? There might as well not be any primaries at all, just polling. To cut through this confusion, I think it would be best to do the one-day national poll as detailed above. But as things stand now, this "appealing new message" <=> "new opinion poll" symbiotic relationship is unworkable and undesirable. There is perhaps a democratic argument to be made here on the grounds of initiative and recall, in order to best reflect voter preferences. But during a primary this can easily be hijacked by either/any of the competing candidates at what they consider the "right moment."

The one serious point here is that it may turn out, for whatever reason, that a different candidate does end up with a "lead in head-to-head polls against the GOP candidate." Since American elections are so marginally close and the importance of winning in order to effect any changes is so high, this carries some (unfortunately rather undemocratic) weight. But again, I think this train of thought leads to an eclipse of the meaningfulness of state primaries. Why not give the superdelegates the power to pick the "most winnable" candidate no matter what? Whatever the drawbacks of the current setup, it's best to make the primary voters responsible for their votes and for the superdelegates to follow their general lead, if they must be involved.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Photo Time


A Bold Move:

Mississippi Legislature House Bill #282...the way of the future?

"Should this pass, scales will appear at the door of restaurants, people with BMIs of 30 or higher won’t be allowed to be served. And to comply with government regulations, restaurants will have to keep records of patrons' BMIs." --from Junkfood Science

Apparently building narrow doorways through which patrons will have to pass in order to be served is another option in the works. This will surely reshape the metaphor of the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sirota on Obama and class

David Sirota has an interesting column out that explores certain seeming paradoxes that I myself have pondered, mainly having to do with class and race in the current Democratic primary.

While Edwards was always my pick for the nomination, I have tried to remain clearheaded on why his campaign took its own particularly populist direction. In short, I guessed, but could not prove, that his more radical, anti-corporate rhetoric was largely a function of his position as a white man. Clinton and Obama, as a woman and a black man, respectively, could not "afford" to partake in similar class-based politicking lest they risk alienating large portions of the electorate. Due to the sexist and racist ideologies of America, which persist to this day, a populist white woman would appear a "nagging feminist" and a black man a "pandering race-baiter."

However, there are complications with this view. While it is tempting to suppose that Clinton and Obama, should they win the nomination and, ultimately, the Presidency, would cast off their "timid" facades and support more progressive legislation, there is the undeniable reality that they accept large amounts of corporate donations. Their actions thus might not point to a "hidden agenda" but simply to a different ideology, if not a cynical pro-business friendliness that they don't care to mask: they really are more conservative than Edwards.

Thus, it may not be, pace Sirota, that Obama refuses to exploit Hillary's role as "corporate America's preferred candidate" because "he relies on corporate donations" and "he'd be stigmatized as a candidate mobilizing race." It may be that he just doesn't care about the same things as David Sirota. The latter finds it incredible that Obama wouldn't attack NAFTA, free trade, and financial deregulation. For Sirota, these measures are obvious instances of a "class war" that systematically disadvantages the working and middle classes. Obama's connections with "blue-collar joblessness," Cesar Chavez, and the South Side of Chicago should automatically entail a class-centric viewpoint. This may or may not be true: perhaps Obama never actually cared about those issues as ends in themselves, or perhaps whatever sympathy he had for them was washed away by the "sensible" tide of electability concerns and lucrative campaign finance. Perhaps Obama has his own reasoned ideological views that preclude talk of "class struggle" and "class conflict." Obama is, of course, the "most liberal Senator" according to the National Journal, but American liberalism has often been a curiously un-radical beast.

These questions might largely be solved if there were some reliable, programmatic statement of principles from Obama, preferably one formulated before his current bid for the Presidency, when principles run up against reality. Does anyone know of such a source?

I will also add that while I always enjoy reading David Sirota, I have sometimes sensed a certain disengenuousness on his part. Sirota's populism leads him to say that the majority of Americans agree with his views, but that their voices are silenced by corporate interests. He presents his positions as the "true general will" and mostly "mainstream" (if only they would be recognized by the "corporate media") and eschews the label "radical," but even in this column he cites Manning Marable, a self-avowed radical academic scheduled to speak at the "Young Democratic Socialists" conference in a few days. Also, rather than use Martin Luther King as an argument from authority, it would be more honest to acknowledge King's interest in radical causes and his flirtation with the idea of democratic socialism. Is Sirota a populist who doesn't understand the lack of enthusiasm in America for radicalism or a socialist who doesn't want to reveal his true colors too much for tactical purposes? Or something else?


This article is about how a 21 year old college junior who "closely follows the Marquette basketball team and has the Golden Eagles' schedule memorized" has been awarded a super delegate to use at convention time. He recently had lunch with Chelsea Clinton who was at the Marquette campus courting him on behalf of her mother. Oh, and he was chosen to be a superdelegate when he was just seventeen.

The average delegate is 10,000 voters. Jason Rae, although you have never voted before, you have attained power you will probably never see again.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Where does it lurk?

It is interesting to note that U.S. Banks are NOT the biggest holders of sub prime securities. The biggest holders are in Asia. Put your raincoat on and prepare yourselves for the second global market storm....hitting land in March.

Friday, February 08, 2008


The New York Times moderates comments on their blog entries, but not too aggressively, which results in some fun reading sometimes. The following comment is a good example. It's from a post about a lawyer who is suing his next-door neighbor for smoking in her apartment:

I bet if the smoke being blown was a true fat skunk blunt, the lawyer would chill.

— Posted by samurai

If only it were that simple.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Super-Delegate Problem

Can someone explain to me the logic of having a super delegate system in a representative democracy? It seems to me that super delegates infringe on the principles of democracy by giving party elders disproportionate power. "One Person, One Vote" goes the old adage and subsequently becomes "one powerful leader, one entire delegate." Even Bill Clinton gets a super delegate.

In an election this close it is worrisome to me. Hillary has 201 of these, which is why she leads the total delegate count. Obama has 110. Hillary would be in second place if not for these super delegates with Obama have approx. 785 and Hilary having 777.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I didn't know who to ask...

...but does anyone here think that Obama is really going to lose any votes based on his middle name?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Saturday Night - And No Money