Monday, April 30, 2012

Score one for Constructivist theory?

My thoughts on Obama and Democrats playing up the Osama bin Laden killing for the campaign very closely mirrors these by Digby:

I get why the Democrats are doing it. I'm sure it's extremely satisfying to land those punches on the right wing blowhards after all the years of taunting and jeering about liberal cowardice. To be able to say they killed the evil mastermind where the swaggering codpiece failed is probably too much of a temptation for them to pass up. I get it.

But I hate it. I hated it when the Republicans did it and I hate it now. I don't believe the most powerful nation on earth should be running its democracy via schoolyard power plays. This is how we ended up stuck in Vietnam and how we have found ourselves floundering about in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It's why we can't stop spending trillions on useless weapons systems, why we "have" to continue to fund ridiculous programs like Star Wars and why everyone in the political establishment assumes that the only answer to budget problems is to cut the so-called "entitlements."

I know we live in a dangerous world. But this nation is extremely rich and extremely powerful and its most important assets are morality and mystique. I'm not going to argue about the morality of killing Osama bin laden, but it should be remembered that our unilateral wars, torture regimes and insistence on imperial prerogatives have already taken a toll on America's reputation for moral behavior.

I'll take a quick shot at the question of the morality of killing bin Laden. It wasn't justice. It was vengeance. And as Rachel Dawes pointed out to Bruce Wayne, they aren't the same thing. But the US constantly conflates them and Obama/Democrats are playing into the feeling people get when they think justice has been served.

The question I ask in the title is in regards to International Relations theory. While I don't think the Obama administration pursued and killed bin Laden for purely cultural reasons relating to our society's need for vengeance, I would bet it played a part in their decision to go through with it. And it's absolutely the reason why they are playing it up in the campaign. I don't think realist theory does a great job at explaining this, mostly because one of the actors isn't a state actor and it doesn't account for terrorists very well in regard to power politics. Also, not to mention I don't think realists would predict spending the resources we have trying to fight a bunch of terrorist groups that don't threaten our sovereignty. And I'm not seeing much from liberal theory that would explain Obama's actions in regard to invading sovereign airspace in order to kill someone without a lot of due process.

What's odd is that I would have thought constructivist theory, or one sect under that large umbrella, would have predicted the Bush administration being more aggressive in trying to find and kill bin Laden. As Digby points out, the whole masculine vengeance thing is really their bread and butter. And they would have been doing the same sort of chest-beating that Obama is doing. Perhaps they had exhausted their animal desires on Iraq and Afghanistan and didn't have enough testosterone left for bin Laden. Anyway, I just wanted to go poli sci nerd on you as an excuse to call out Obama and Dems for this ploy and give some props to constructivists.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grizzlies blow huge lead, lose game 1

I can't stand when this happens in the NBA. No matter how much you are down you can always make a run. But you don't have to help the other team out like the Grizzlies did. It's one thing if the other team is just making a lot of tough shots. You can't control that. But you can control the shots you take. And this team has a tendency to get lazy on offense and shot low % shots early in the shot clock.

When you are up by 20 in the 2nd half you should be running down the shot clock all the way every possession. And you should probably only shoot 3s when they come through the flow of the offense and are very open. But for some reason we don't do this and let games get close even when we've far outplayed the other team. As much as I can't stand Chris Paul (he's a punk), he's too good to not only get lazy defensively, but offensively as I just talked about. And I'm not sure what's off with Zach Randolph, but I hope he fixes it soon because he is way too good to not get more production out of him.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The rest of the Miami Dolphins' draft

They addressed a lot of the positions I thought were needs. They went with Jonathan Martin, the offensive tackle from Stanford in the second round. I like this pick since it should solve the problem at RT. Now we have a healthy Jake Long at LT, Incognito at LG, Pouncey at C, IDK at RG, and Martin at RT. The offensive line is pretty set and hopefully improved over last season. Offensively that left WR as the biggest need. But they didn't choose to address it until the 6th round. So I think it's fairly obvious at this point that they just don't think WR is a big need.

You don't trade Brandon Marshall, not sign a free agent, and then not take a WR (BJ Cunningham) until the 6th round unless you don't think the position is a big need. The reason I believe they think that is because Brian Hartline and Devone Bess are decent players. And they just don't value the position as highly as other teams. Green Bay has good receivers. But they don't run their offense through the stereotypical #1 WR. It's more of a spread/west coast offense where they just throw it to whoever is open. They don't force it to Greg Jennings simply because he is the best receiver. Jordy Nelson had a great year because he simply got open. And I think Philbin plans on running a similar offense.

Another reason for the Tannehill pick and the TE (Michael Egnew) they picked in the 3rd round is because Mike Sherman ran a similar offense to Philbin's at Texas A&M. If you watched Tannehill on John Gruden's show, you heard him talk about how they ran a west coast style offense that utilized a lot of spread WR formations and two TE formations. Again, think about Green Bay's offense and even New England's offense. New England ran a spread with a lot of two TE sets. I think that's the plan with the TE we drafted. I expect to see a lot of formations with Hartline, Bess, Fasano, and Egnew. And again, they like Tannehill in part because of his familiarity with the offense that Sherman and Philbin will want to run.

The running back (Lamar Miller) in the 4th round was a bit of a surprise. And a lot of Fins fans were mad because we traded up to get the RB out of Miami instead of getting a WR. But the more I think about it the more I'm ok with it. Reggie Bush is only signed through this next season. If he has another good year he could want a lot of money. Daniel Thomas was a 2nd round pick last year. But he wasn't very good and now we will probably be running a different offense. So this pick is probably insurance in case Bush doesn't come back and if Thomas turns out to be a bust.

Defensively with defensive end Olivier Vernon out of Miami in the 3rd and LB Josh Kaddu out of Oregon in the 5th. I thought they might try and take a pass rusher earlier. But I understand the need to take Martin for RT. With Kendall Langford and Philip Merling gone it makes sense to take Vernon for depth. And from I can tell, Kaddu has some pass rushing ability. So hopefully he can give us some depth.

All in all I like what they have done in this draft. The more I read and watch about Tannehill the more comforted I am with his lack of experience. The rest of the picks addressed our needs. Now it's just a matter of getting these guys coached properly. I can't wait for camp to start. I hope we can look back on this draft as the one that turned the corner for the team.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Battlestar Galactica: more thoughts on the finale

A post over at Pajiba.com which touched on the finale got me thinking about it some more. I've narrowed my thoughts down a bit. One thing I'm certain of is that whatever you thought about the answers to some of the big questions, most of the character driven aspects of the episode were powerful and worked for me. I had noted that I wanted some kind of redemption for Baltar. He obviously did some horrible things. But if I'm given the choice of watching him suffer for doing those things or learn from them and try to make up for them, I'll choose the latter. And he finally tried to atone for his decisions.

Roslin came to be a symbol of strength and hope for humanity. She helped save a lot of people right after the bombing of Caprica and put those people on the path towards Earth. She always believed in humanity's salvation. So it was nice to see her get to see it through until the end. And it was nice to see Adama share the moment with her. Adama was part of what kept Roslin and the fleet strong. If Roslin was the spiritual leader, Adama was the physical leader. Those were the main characters. And while the details of what happened with all the other characters escape me at the moment, I think they all were given at least suitable endings.

But the one that is the most controversial is obviously Starbuck. I kind of liked how they ended her character while I was watching it. But the more I think about it the more I don't like it from a larger plot perspective. And part of the reason is because I don't believe in angels, gods, or a God; which is the big reveal about Starbuck and the #6 that Baltar had seen all along.

It's not that the revelation that a supreme being was guiding things all along. The question was there from the very beginning. But I wasn't really expecting a definitive answer like they gave. And while religion was discussed, there wasn't any indication that I can think of that suggested that angels were a thing anyone was aware was possible. I had always thought that the #6 Baltar was seeing was a manifestation of his subconscious related to the guilt he felt for his hand in the destruction of Caprica. And while we are told Starbuck is important early on, she isn't an angel in the sense that Baltar's #6 was. So we are kind of left with more questions than answers.

Though while I don't find the religious aspect of the finale very satisfying, I like how they don't leave it with a completely happy ending. Instead, we get Baltar and #6 in modern time showing how the world has changed and specifically how technology has evolved. Their message, or warning, is that technological development is dangerous. And even though they decided to leave their technology behind when they got to Earth, it was inevitable that humans would evolve to the point where they develop the type of technology that led to robots and eventually cylons. To me, this puts a big damper on the whole part about God or the gods guiding everyone along the whole time.

It turned out that everyone had a destiny. Everything throughout the entire show happened for a reason. And it all led to them finding Earth. But what does it say about God's/gods' plan that the same thing keeps happening with humans? On Caprica and the first Earth the fleet found humans built cylons and the cylons rebelled and destroyed everything. And we are led to believe by Baltar and #6 in our present time that it will happen again, and probably keep happening. This kind of mirrors what I would think about god if I did believe in it, that if there is a plan, it's a really confusing one that doesn't make much sense using my mere human brain.

Like I keep saying, I think I need more time and another rewatch to fully form my opinion on the finale. But I think this is a good start. And even if I end up hating the finale, which it seems many people did, I will still probably be of the opinion that the show is fantastic.

Update: Just thought of this in relation to God's/the gods' plan. This whole thing started with the killing of millions of people. Was that part of the plan or was that the hands off approach? That's basically the question you've probably heard in real world discussions of a divine plan, but in relation to the Holocaust. If everything is part of a divine plan, it means the deity(s) had a hand in the death of millions of innocent people. And that doesn't make any more sense on Caprica than it does on Earth. Perhaps the point the writers wanted to make is that some things are planned and others aren't. But if that's the case it's very unclear which actions fall into one category or the other. So I think people who didn't like the finale didn't like it because as I said, it answered questions, but in doing so raised more questions in relation to the answer. And I sympathize with finding that frustrating.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Miami Dolphins draft Ryan Tannehill

All of the rumors we were hearing turned out to be true. I think it was a confluence of a lot of things that led to the decision to draft the QB out of Texas A&M. The first was way back at the beginning of the season when Chad Henne got hurt. If Henne would have been healthy and played up to his potential there might not have been a need at QB coming into this season.

The second was that while Matt Moore played fairly well, he is only signed for another year and wasn't drafted very high coming into the league. Moore simply isn't expected to be anything but a good backup. Plus, he hasn't shown a lot of comfort running a west coast style offense. And that is the kind of offense the new head coach, Joe Philbin, is probably most comfortable with given what they ran in Green Bay.

So the long term solution at QB wasn't on the roster. And since it's difficult to win without a good QB and since the fan base was restless and difficult to get into the stands to begin with, they couldn't afford to ignore the position any longer. So regardless of the specific prospects in the draft, I think they had the QB position rated as a high need to begin with.

They probably didn't spend a lot of time thinking about Luck or Griffin. So that left Tannehill, Weeden, Cousins, Russell, etc. And since Mike Sherman, the new offensive coordinator, coached Tannehill at Texas A&M, the team was able to analyze Tannehill at least as well as any other team. I think Sherman's familiarity with Tannehill was probably a big reason the Dolphins were able to feel comfortable with picking such an inexperienced player at #8.

And the final thing I think played a part in the decision was Joe Philbin. Espn ran a thing where they asked a bunch of coaches what is the most important aspect they want from a QB. One of the things Philbin said was escapability. The ability to escape the pocket when pressured is something that helps Aaron Rodgers be as productive as he is. The same goes for Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Mike Vick. Even Tony Sparano said this was an important aspect of QB play that is important for creating big plays. So with Tannehill, they see a guy who played WR and is thus a pretty good athlete. Physically, Tannehill seems to have it all. It's mentally where he will have to improve the most. And it's easier to teach a player how to read a defense than it is to teach him how to be a better athlete and throw the ball harder. And part of the reason they hired Philbin was because of his experience working with QBs.

So in retrospect, everything seemed to align for a Tannehill/Dolphins relationship. And while I expressed concern with picking him, I honestly feel a sense of relief now that it's a done deal. We have our QB. For at least the next three years we don't have to wonder about what will happen with the position. We don't have to hear about our lack of first round picks since Dan Marino. The QB of the future is Ryan Tannehill. Hopefully we find some good players to help him out in the next few days of the draft.

Israeli general bucks conventional wisdom in US

Most politicians and pundits in the US believe Iran is a country run by a bunch of crazy, suicidal people who want to destroy Israel, the US, and take over the Middle East. But Israel's top general doesn't seem to think that's the case:

"I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people," Gantz told Haaretz. "But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous."

It could be that he is just trying to buy time for his gov't and the US to reach an agreement with Iran or for sanctions to play out. But if he truly believed as many in the US do that Iran is not rational he at least has a better feel for diplomacy than we do given his ability to blatantly lie. Given that I'm sure the general is smart and good at his job, I think it's safe to take him at his word. He knows that he has the far superior military to Iran and that his nuclear arsenal is a pretty effective deterrent if Iran were to get a bomb. We also have this comment by Israel's minister of intelligence about some infamous words from Ahmadenijad:

"They [Iranian leaders] all come basically ideologically, religiously with the statement that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive," Meridor says. "They didn't say 'we'll wipe it out', you are right, but 'it will not survive, it is a cancerous tumour, it should be removed'. They repeatedly said 'Israel is not legitimate, it should not exist'."

It's funny how you aren't allowed to have a differing opinion about Israel in the US without being labeled anti-Semetic. But in Israel, people with a lot of power in their gov't are allowed to make statements like these. They seem to be aware that relations between Israel and the US with Iran are too heated and are trying to bring things back from the brink. It's comforting to know that at least some people in Israel are thinking critically and trying to let cooler heads prevail. Hopefully people in the US can follow their example and try to reach a constructive solution to the issues with Iran.

But we are special

And Mitt Romney wants you to know it:

I’ll tell you about how much I love this country, where someone like my dad, who grew up poor and never graduated from college, could pursue his dreams and work his way up to running a great car company. Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of the state in which he once sold paint from the trunk of his car.

Paul Waldman asks Romney, and basically every other politician, to just stop it and get over yourself:

Can we just put aside the "only in America" schtick? It's like every presidential candidate has to channel Yakov Smirnoff at some point. Let's be honest about this. America does indeed offer enormous opportunities for all kinds of people, despite our huge and growing inequality. The attraction it has always held for immigrants made this country what it is. For a long time, the kinds of opportunities available here were a rarity among nations, when in so many places class lines were much more rigid. But that's not true anymore. There are lots of places where somebody can come from modest circumstances and achieve wealth and/or power. South African president Jacob Zuma's father was a cop, and his mother was a maid; he grew up without any formal schooling. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's father was an accountant. Evo Morales was a subsistence farmer who turned to growing coca, and now he's the president of Bolivia. Now those are some bootstraps! And you know who else pulled himself up from modest circumstances? Saddam Hussein, that's who.

Why is it necessary to assert that every good thing about America can only be found in America? We should continue to be enormously proud of the fact that we were the first democracy, but sometimes we act as though America is the only place in the world that isn't still ruled by a king. Are we so insecure about ourselves and our nation that we have to be constantly told that we're the most terrific country that ever was or ever will be, and there's nobody else even remotely like us? Is Mitt Romney running for president, or does he want to be some combination of a proud grandfather and a national life coach?

For a democratic republican that is over 200 years old we appear really immature a lot of times. We all need validation sometimes. But to constantly seek it and claim we are the greatest bunch of fuckers ever speaks to some deep seeded insecurities. And speaking of immaturity, when it comes to the rule of law, Glenn Greenwald has yet another example of the Obama administration blatantly flaunting it:

That’s about as vivid an expression of the President’s agenda, and his sense of justice, and the state of the Rule of Law in America, as one can imagine. The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription.

I guess the US is the greatest if you happen to be someone like Mitt Romney whose dad bestowed wealth and power upon him at birth. When you have those things and thus are above the law I guess it would be hard not to constantly talk about how great this place is.

Miami Dolphins draft needs

The draft is merely several hours away. So I thought I would tell my fellow Fins fans what I think we should do. Let's start with what I think are the biggest needs. Offensively, we have issues at RG, RT, WR, and QB. The most pressing need of those for me is RT. We gave up a ton of sacks last season. And Matt Moore likes to take deep drops and push the ball downfield, which he is very good at. So assuming Moore is the starter even if we take Tannehill, I think addressing RT will go the furthest in improving the entire offense next season. But, I don't think there is a RT worthy of the 8th pick. And you can probably find a decent RT later in the draft. The same goes for RG.

So, staying with the offense, that leaves us with QB and WR. Even though trading Marshall hurts I don't think it's as bad as continuing to have a poor oline. Bess and Hartline are capable, as is Fasano at TE. But it certainly is a need. No one seems to think Justin Blackmon will fall to 8. So we are left with Michael Floyd, who I saw a lot of at Notre Dame. Floyd is a lot like Brandon Marshall; tall, thick build, not extremely fast or quick, but can get open and uses his body well to make tough catches and break tackles. I think he will be a solid player. But I'm not sure he will be quite as good as Marshall, which makes me uneasy about taking him as high as 8.

Most of the discussion about our first round pick has been about Ryan Tannehill. I'm on the record as liking Matt Moore and wanting to give him a chance. But long term, we need a QB. The biggest issue with Tannehill is his lack of experience. We really don't have much of a sample size to judge him on. He is athletic and has good physical attributes. But his mechanics aren't perfect and he will probably need time to learn the game, which is fine for at least the first year since Moore will/should start. I'm very uneasy about taking Tannehill because there is just so much uncertainty. Brandon Weedon, on the other hand, has a lot of experience. Based on what I've read from the draft analysts at ThePhins.com, Weedon would be a top 10 pick if it weren't for his age. So I'd be all in favor of drafting him if we trade down in the first round.

Defensively we are pretty solid. The biggest need here is a pass rusher opposite of Cameron Wake. Jason Taylor is retired and Koa Misi isn't good enough. There doesn't seem to be a very sure thing at the DE/OLB pass rushing position in the draft. But given the value of the position I'd be ok if we address this need at 8. We could also use a safety and cornerback. But I'm not sure those positions represent the best value at 8. So based on the value of the positions we need, I think our focus should be on QB and pass rusher. But I don't see many players at those positions that represent good value at that spot.

So ideally I would like for us to try and trade down in the first round in order to try and get a 2nd round pick and move to a spot where we can draft Brandon Weedon. Though if we did this I'd have to consider letting Weedon start right away because of his age and his experience. I'd be ok with drafting Tannehill. We simply have to take a chance at the QB position. And even though he has issues, Tannehill has good potential. My last option would be a pass rusher. If we can find a good pass rusher it could make our defense elite. Aside from those two positions I probably won't be too happy with taking another player at 8, unless someone like Blackmon or Claireborn fall.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tennessee lawmakers do it again

But this time it's not even remotely funny:
The Tennessee House last week voted 80-18 to make miscarriage — or the killing of any fertilized egg — murder. Last night, the Tennessee Senate passed by a 28-2 margin a companion version of the bill. The bill specifically includes all embryos “at any state of gestation in utero.” Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Haslam has not indicated if he will sign the bill. To be clear, this bill goes further than covering, say, a violent attacker harming an expectant mother who then, unfortunately, miscarries. This bill, House Bill 3517 and the Senate’s companion, makes anyone’s actions that presumably cause a miscarriage murder. Opponents of the bill question how law enforcement would actually enforce this law or determine if someone’s action was a direct cause of a miscarriage.
I don't have the words. In related news:
Memphis, Tennessee The state's Republican-controlled legislature sure is great at enacting laws that they claim are in the interest of their "pro life" ideals. A law barring women who live far from abortion providers from getting prescriptions for RU-486 was signed into law earlier this month, and laws already exist requiring minors receive parental consent before terminating their own pregnancies. With so much pro-life dick swinging going on in the halls of Tennessee government, you'd think that they'd be interested in helping babies after they were born, too. Nope! Shelby County, Tennessee is a great place to go if you're interested in being in a place where a lot of babies die. With an infant mortality rate of 12.8 per 1,000 live births, the area encompassing downtown Memphis has an infant mortality rate almost 50% higher than the rest of the state, which itself has an infant mortality higher than every other state in the country. It's even worse for black women — babies born to black women have an infant mortality rate of 17.8 per 1,000 live births — a statistic that's nothing short of a shameful reflection of the heartless hypocrisy of a "pro life" state.
Lawmakers in Tennessee don't give a shit about you when you are alive, unless you are a rich Republican. But if you aren't born these assholes are going to protect you with the full extent of the law. These are the people that give Tennesseans and Christians a bad name. And while I'm glad to see Andrew Sullivan voice his dislike of the "War on Women" rhetoric that I denounced weeks ago, I agree with him that these actions against women are undeniable and disgusting.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What rule of law?

From, you guessed it, Glenn Greenwald:

For the last several years, Padilla, represented by the ACLU, has been attempting to hold accountable six Bush officials responsible for his torture by suing them for violations of his Constitutional rights. But, needless to say, the Obama DOJ — led by the President who, when he announced his candidacy, proclaimed that “the era of Scooter Libby justice will be over” — has insisted that, unless Congress explicitly decrees otherwise, these officials are immune from lawsuits even when they knowingly authorize the torture of an American citizen on U.S. soil. And federal courts — also needless to say — have thus far accepted that claim and barred Padilla from suing. Today, the ACLU filed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review these dismissals, and it’s worth highlight a couple parts of that brief. Here, for instance, is the question which the ACLU is asking the Supreme Court to answer:

Question presented: Whether federal officials responsible for the torture of an American citizen on American soil may be sued for damages under the Constitution?

In what kind of country is that even a question? Even more so, in what kind of country do courts answer that question in the negative, as two separate American courts thus far have? As the ACLU explained, it is literally difficult to imagine a more extreme expression of full-scale immunity for government officials than shielding them even when they engage in conduct this patently illegal

Read the whole thing. Though if you care about the rule of law it's depressing, especially if you supported Obama in large part because of his promise to restore it.

Determinism and success

I talked about determinism in this post about Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. Michael Kinsley gives me the opportunity to relate it to the real world with this post about Mitt Romney's life.

In my BSG post, I make the point that my life as a man born to middle class white parents in Memphis during the 80s is much different than the life of a woman born to working class parents in Iran during the 50s. In the popular American sense of the term success, I have a much better chance at being successful than that woman. And Mitt Romney, being born to an upper class family, had a much better chance at being successful than I did. And both my odds and Romney's odds were pre-determined. We had no control over the circumstances we were born into. Thus, as Michael points out, it's kind of odd the way Romney and conservatives talk about individualism in relation to success.

Also like I said in that post, it's not all completely pre-determined. Mitt Romney wasn't simply destined to be the Republican nominee for president. I wasn't purely destined to be a poli sci grade writing this post. And you weren't completely destined to be reading this post while you sit where you are right now. We all made choices that led to these places. But those choices were heavily influenced by things beyond our control. Having an understanding of this is part of why I'm a liberal.

I don't believe it's fair to assume everyone has complete control over the outcome their lives. We can't all be Mitt Romney. Thus, when things don't end up going well, I think as a society we should do what we can to help people out. And we shouldn't praise people like Romney like we do at the expense of others just because he was given great odds from the beginning and managed to not screw it up.

Taxes and the collective action problem

I'm not sure I've made this point here. I know I've made it somewhere before, probably during my days on message boards. But I figured this post by Will Wilkinson was a good reason to make the point, or let him make it sufficiently:

My friend Matt Zwolinski, a professor of philosophy at University of San Diego, wonders why folks who think taxes ought to be higher, like Warren Buffett, don't just go ahead and pay more in taxes.
...
Anyway, this could be any question about the rationality of complying with a rule that (1) you support, but (2) will only have its desired effect if general compliance with the rule is high, and (3) you suspect general compliance will not be high. Suppose I'm a utilitarian convinced that human consumption of meat causes a huge amount of animal suffering. And suppose I love meat, and giving it up would leave me worse off. I would happily comply with a no-meat-eating rule if I thought others would likewise comply. But in the absence of a mechanism (whether internal/moral or external/political) to enforce compliance, I rationally believe that my compliance with the no-meating-eating rule will have zero effect on market demand for meat. And suppose I rationally believe my heeding the rule will only make me worse off while making no animals better off. In that case it is perfectly rational to continue to eat meat even if I believe that it would be immoral to eat meat under conditions of general compliance with utility-maximizing rules. I think Matt's voluntary taxpayer case is exactly analogous.

Put simply, even Warren Buffett doesn't have enough money to where he could just write a check to the gov't and clear our deficit. Even if he did it would leave him without much money left. And even if I were a deficit hawk I wouldn't expect him or any other insanely wealthy person to give it all up to solve the problem.

So what Buffett wants is for all insanely rich people to contribute because combined, they do have enough money to significantly reduce the deficit and they can afford to give a lot more money and still have a ton of money left over. There are probably enough people in the middle of the income brackets that we could raise taxes on everyone and make a similar dent in the deficit. But those people have less money and unlike the small % of insanely rich people, their loss would probably affect the economy since they would have to cut back on spending to make up for the loss. That's why you don't hear Obama and other liberals calling for tax increases on anyone but the rich. That and it's a bad idea politically.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

I wanted to get my thoughts down before I went to bed. At the end of the series, in the finale, Baltar and #6 say that everything is inevitable, meaning that when they landed on Earth and decided to start from scratch that it didn't matter that they gave up their technology. Humans would evolve to the point where they would build machines. And then machines would evolve to the point where they try to destroy humans. It happened on Caprica, on the first Earth they found, and they seem to suggest it will happen on the last Earth they find.

What I took away from The Plan was that it's also inevitable that some cylons will rebel. The Plan follows two different versions of each cylon. One of the two, even the #1 who was the main driver of the plan to destroy the humans, displays love towards humans or a human. And thus they don't go through with the plan to destroy the humans. We also saw this at the end of the series. They have a vote and half of them decide to rebel and eventually team up with the fleet.

I guess what I take the from the inevitability theme is the role of determinism in our lives. Some things are simply wired in us and we have no control over how they affect our lives. I'm a male who was born in Memphis during the 80s. Those things determine a pretty different world for me than someone who was born a woman who was born in Iran in the 50s. So in a certain sense, we are both given a plan as to how our lives will unfold. But like the cylons that don't follow through with the plan that is laid out for them, sometimes we can choose a different plan. And sometimes those people who choose that different path end up changing things for everyone else.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Scary surveillance stuff

As usual, it comes from Glenn Greenwald, who dutifully keeps us up to date on these things. I've posted some of Glenn's stuff before and the theme is usually the same. I want to continue to post his stuff to try and get it out there. And also as usual I don't have much to add since Glenn is almost always spot on in his analysis.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, George Bush ordered the NSA to spy on the communications of Americans on American soil, and they’ve been doing it ever since, with increasing aggression and fewer and fewer constraints. That development is but one arm in the creation of an American Surveillance State that is, literally, ubiquitous — one that makes it close to impossible for American citizens to communicate or act without detection from the U.S. Government — a state of affairs Americans have long been taught since childhood is a hallmark of tyranny. Such are the times — in both America generally and the Democratic Party in particular — that those who now echo the warnings issued 35 years ago by Sen. Church (when surveillance was much more restrained, legally and technologically) are scorned by all Serious People as radical hysterics.
...
JACOB APPELBAUM: But in the period of time since they’ve started detaining me [at airports], around a dozen-plus times. I’ve been detained a number of times. The first time I was actually detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I was put into a special room, where they frisked me, put me up against the wall. One guy cupped me in a particularly uncomfortable way. Another one held my wrists. They took my cell phones. I’m not really actually able to talk about what happened to those next.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

JACOB APPELBAUM: Because we don’t live in a free country. And if I did, I guess I could tell you about it, right?And they took my laptop, but they gave it back. They were a little surprised it didn’t have a hard drive. I guess that threw them for a loop. And, you know, then they interrogated me, denied me access to a lawyer. And when they did the interrogation, they has a member of the U.S. Army, on American soil. And they refused to let me go. They tried—you know, they tried their usual scare tactics. So they sort of implied that if I didn’t make a deal with them, that I’d be sexually assaulted in prison, you know, which is the thing that they do these days as a method of punitive punishment, and they of course suggested that would happen.

I have given Rand Paul a ton of shit for some of the things he has said and done. But him and only a handful of other politicians have spoken out against this type of stuff. We need more people like them in positions of power to try and stop it. And we need to find a way to hold people like Obama and his entire administration accountable for what they have done. I'm not sure how we would go about doing that. Obviously I don't think we could trust the Republican party. I guess the best way would be to vote for someone like Gary Johnson in the presidential election. Obviously he won't win. But if enough people voted for him as a dissent from Obama and made it clear these issues were the reason it could force Obama and the Democratic party's hand in changing their policy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

New header pic

I decided to go with a new picture for a few reasons. While I love the old picture of the Alliance fleet before Serenity and the Reavers get to them, I felt like I needed a change. And I wanted to honor Battlestar Galactica. The picture I found of the fleet doesn't mesh as well with the background as the original picture did. But I decided that I like the background color too much to change it. Plus I could decide at any minute to go back to the original picture. And I went with the new one because I wanted to keep with the them of a 'Verse. And I think space and spaceships capture that well, plus they are just cool.

Lady Gaga on health and our bodies

Here's the tweet that prompted the discussion:

Just killed back to back spin classes. Eating a salad dreaming of a cheeseburger #PopSingersDontEat #IWasBornThisWay

And here is a good reaction to the tweet:

There is no shame is talking about all the work you do to be thin and there shouldn’t be, but we should be very critical of how health and “what you look like,” seems to have become the same thing. Doing what it takes to look like Lady Gaga and “being healthy” are two very different things. The problem is that our fat hating culture has fused these two things together–as though what you look like and how thin you are is an accurate measure of your health.

That's a very good distinction. In general, you can say that being on the thinner side is more healthy than being on the thicker side. But I don't think it's necessarily the case that being as thin as someone like Lady Gaga is being the healthiest you can be. It could be that she would be a bit thicker if she were to be fully healthy. It also depends on your body type. Lady Gaga is a small woman to begin with, short and seemingly slender frame. So even if she ate cheeseburgers instead of salads I'm not sure how big she would get.

I think Lady Gaga is very sexy. And part of that is due to her body. But I tend to be attracted to shorter and thus more slenderly built women. I think most of that has to do with facial attributes. And I say that because I could care less if you are stereotypically skinny but don't have the facial attributes I like. I'd probably be more attracted to the taller and thicker built woman with a pretty face. I don't want to say women's bodies aren't important as to whether men find them attractive. I just want to say that I think they are a bit overrated, at least for me.

And I'm talking about this because I want to encourage women and even men to embrace their body as unique. You can't change whether you are tall or short, or whether you have a naturally thin or thick frame. I'm naturally tall (about 6'3) and have a slim frame. I'm pretty unhealthy but I weigh under 200 pounds. And if you saw me in normal clothes you would probably never know I had a beer belly. My arms and legs are pretty skinny despite my unhealthy lifestyle. I've started to jog and eat a little better in order to get healthier. But I don't expect to look like a body builder any time soon. Even if it were possible given my body type it would take way too much work. And it wouldn't be necessary to look that way in order to be healthy.

The reason Lady Gaga's tweet sparked this discussion is because it's different for women than it is men. There are certain expectations for male beauty. But the pressure men face isn't anywhere near where it is for women. And I don't think it has to be that way. In order to change it I think we need to focus more on being healthy than being attractive. If you take care of your health then most everything else will fall into place.

Even if you aren't very physically attractive, if you are healthy you will feel better about yourself and it will reflect in your personality and that will make you more endearing to others. And that's the real point. Be happy with yourself. I know that we are biologically wired to be mindful of what others think of us to a certain extent. But we should spend a lot more time satisfying ourselves rather than worry about what others think of us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gas prices: Obama and Iran

I don't get out much mainly because I don't have any money and I'm introverted, thus I don't care that much about being around a lot of people I don't know. But the high price of gas is a pretty strong deterrent for me and obviously everyone else in this country. Sometimes I feel like just driving around for a bit and walking around a store. But I don't drive unless I really need something.

That leads me to this Juan Cole piece about how the Obama administration's policy towards Iran affects gas prices:

Frum is likely correct that there isn’t that much speculation involved in trading oil futures nowadays. While 10% or 15% of the price of petroleum may derive from traders building the Iran crisis into futures contracts (which isn’t really speculation), mostly petroleum is high because demand is exceeding supply. Otherwise there should be a lot of petroleum just sitting around in depots, which is not the case.

But Frum then went on to say that there were two ways Obama could affect the price of petroleum. He could release some American reserves of petroleum, and he could offer more clarity on his Iran policy.

And this is where Frum went off the rails. Obama cannot reduce the price of petroleum simply by being clearer on his Iran policy. In fact, it is the clarity of that policy that is contributing to high prices. A more vague and ambiguous policy is what might calm the markets.

Obama’s Iran policy is to visit crippling sanctions on Iran and to attempt to impose a financial embargo on the sale of Iranian petroleum. If you are an oil futures trader and you hear that, you might well conclude that Obama is trying to take Iranian petroleum off the market. You would be right. Guess what: less supply, assuming constant or increasing demand, equals higher prices. So you’d build that into the futures bids. And that would cause gasoline prices to rise or stay high.

Even if Obama took Cole's advice gas would still be really expensive. And that's because of the basic supply and demand issue. We should take Cole's advice on Iran for the sake of both gas prices and Iran/US relations in general. But gas prices will continue be a problem until we develop alternative fuel sources and bend the demand curve.

Poland seeks accountability for torture

I don't have much to add to this post by Andrew Sullivan. I mainly just want to recognize it and the fact that after almost four years we have still done nothing about it.

Isn't there something grotesquely appropriate in that Bush and Cheney, in importing into the US the torture techniques of totalitarian regimes, used one building named in honor of the founder of the East German Stasi? They remain war criminals, and the rule of law in America remains unenforced by the Obama administration on the core issue of torture. But not all politicians are as craven as Obama on this. Here's the current conservative prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk:

“Poland will not be a country anymore where politicians will arrange something under the table and it will not come to light, even if they do it hand-in-hand with the biggest empire in the world,” and “those in power must be able very effectively to safeguard the dignity of the Polish state; in other words, they must act only in accordance with their conscience, Polish law and international law.”

I'm glad at least some countries aren't following our example. Hopefully justice is served in Poland. Hopefully someday we elect people with the courage to do the same in the US.

The Cabin in the Woods and feminism

Again, spoilers if you haven't seen the movie. Go see the movie!

Alyssa Rosenberg asks if Cabin is a step back from Buffy on the feminist front:

But Jules’ character is the one that’s least-played with, the least-subverted, and the one we see suffer the longest. We learn that Dana isn’t really a virgin—she’s just the best the people orchestrating the sacrifice have to work with. Curt, the giant jock, turns out to be a pre-med smarty. Stoner Marty’s protected from the malign influences of the people manipulating them because the pot he’s smoking ends up inoculating him to the pheromones they’re pumping into the cabin, and he’s the one who figures out how to get them into the complex. (Holden doesn’t get much of a fair shake either, and it’s too bad that both of the characters of color in the movie are somewhat quiet and detached). But we don’t get a clear debunking of whatever stereotypes we’re supposed to have about Jules. Clearly, she’s being influenced by the chemicals, the heightened moonlight. But we don’t know what her base behavior is like, whether she and Curt were already sleeping together (though I assumed so) before the trip, why her actions here are surprising—when we meet her, after all, she’s bugging Dana to be less of a prude.

If I'm remembering correctly, the stoner guy asks the rest of the group if they have ever seen Jules act like she did? Granted, that's far from fleshing out her character. But that, along with the chemicals they put in her hair dye and all of the other manipulation going on, was enough for me to buy that she wasn't the stereotypical horror blonde girl. And it's not like they spent much longer fleshing out the other characters.

And I thought the point of the movie was to make her (and the rest of them) into that stereotype because that's what society says it wants. And the end (choosing not to give into the stereotypes and letting the world end) was a rebuke of giving society what it always wants with a horror movie.

Though I guess you can argue that if my analysis was the goal, it could have been made stronger by having Jules be one of the survivors. But then again, there is the feminist angle of Dana's perceived virginity and how that's a pretty big horror trope. I'm not complete sure, I need to see it again. But I think comparing this with Buffy is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. They are both a subversion of the horror genre. But Buffy was specifically about the blonde girl's role in that genre. Cabin is more about the genre as a whole, not just that of the blonde girl. So it's harder to make the same kind of feminist statement when dealing with a broader scope.

Battlestar Galactica update

In case you don't follow me on Twitter I wanted to let you know that I have finished the show and I enjoyed the fraking hell out of it. It's one of my favorite shows ever. And I can't wait to watch it again. The reason I didn't post anything about the last handful of episodes is because there was so much going on that I wanted to wait until the end. And then the end came and there was so much going on that I couldn't, and still can't, wrap my head around it all. I'm going to need to watch the finale at least one more time to fully grasp everything.

But deeper analysis aside, I thought it was great. It combined everything good sci-fi should be; good characters, good plot, good action, and good visuals. What makes the show so great is it did all of those things at a very high level. And for a poli sci nerd like myself it threw in some politics for good measure.

I'll try to do one wrap up post where I give my thoughts on the finale and maybe even look back on some of my posts about the show from the beginning. I've got the first season on dvd. But I really enjoyed watching two episodes every Saturday on BBC America. Since they are airing it again (starting not this weekend but the next, iirc) from the beginning I might stick with that routine. If for some reason you are reading this and haven't seen the show I highly encourage you to watch it. It's fraking great.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The founders passed individual mandates

Just another instance of reality and history having a liberal bias:

In making the legal case against Obamacare’s individual mandate, challengers have argued that the framers of our Constitution would certainly have found such a measure to be unconstitutional. Nevermind that nothing in the text or history of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause indicates that Congress cannot mandate commercial purchases. The framers, challengers have claimed, thought a constitutional ban on purchase mandates was too “obvious” to mention. Their core basis for this claim is that purchase mandates are unprecedented, which they say would not be the case if it was understood this power existed.

But there’s a major problem with this line of argument: It just isn’t true. The founding fathers, it turns out, passed several mandates of their own. In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate. ...

Nor do any of these attempted distinctions explain away the mandate to buy guns, which was not limited to persons engaged in commerce. One might try the different distinction that the gun purchase mandate was adopted under the militia clause rather than the commerce clause. But that misses the point: This precedent (like the others) disproves the challengers’ claim that the framers had some general unspoken understanding against purchase mandates.

This gives me an excuse to talk about what I'm now calling my "But, Hamilton" logic of constitutional interpretation. Actually, I don't even need it in this case because some of the other prominent founders are making the constitutional argument for me. Well, either that or they are pulling a Jefferson and ignoring what they think is constitutional for the sake of passing what they think is decent policy. And if that's the case, I think it says something about the nature of constitutions and governance.

What I think this shows is what I've argued about the commerce clause issue regarding the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which is that both sides are arguing over merely a difference in degree in which the state can regulate commerce. Yeah, there is the inactivity argument. But the article above addresses that as well.

My "But, Hamilton" argument is about the need to look back to what the founders said and did as a way to interpret the constitution. Doing such as a starting point is fine, if not perfectly logical. But I have a problem with using it as both the starting point and ending point, which is commonly used by conservatives. Typically, they will bring up a quote or something from a founder that appears to support their objection to some policy that asserts that the gov't has the power to do something. For instance, they would say something like "Thomas Jefferson said individual mandates are the greatest form of tyranny".

At that point I say, fine, that might be a valid argument. But those are the thoughts of only one founder. What did a few more of them think? And I bring up Alexander Hamilton because not only was he an important founder (Washington's aide in the Revolutionary War, teamed with Madison to form a Constitutional Convention, helped persuade Washington to attend the CC in order to give it merit, was a strong advocate for the federalist side during the CC and thus helped shape the content of the Constitution, helped write The Federalist Papers to promote the Constitution and which are used to interpret the Constitution today, served as Washington's Treasury Secretary and was such a close advisor that it turned Jefferson and Madison against Washington), he was an advocate for strong national gov't and thus fairly expansive powers. Thus he would often disagree with the likes of Madison and Jefferson over constitutional issues.

So it's likely that for any quote modern conservatives can bring up in favor of their interpretation of the constitution, liberals can bring up a quote from Hamilton (or other founders) in their favor. And at that point the whole "What did the founders think" line of constitutional interpretation become mostly moot. We are then left to our own logic in order to justify our position. And then you have to move away from the purely theoretical way of governing and into the somewhat practical form that favors actually addressing problems. That need to address real problems is probably why the founders passed individual mandates.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

This will contain spoilers. I will try not to give too much away.

This movie is best seen not knowing anything about it. So take my word for it, and the merits of Joss Whedon and his co-writer Drew Goddard (he also directed the movie), and just go see it. It would help if you are a fan of or are familiar with the horror genre. But I don't think it's necessary in order to enjoy it. If you need more convincing or just want to get my thoughts after having seen it you can keep reading.

So here are some of the spoilers, or if you've seen it, some of the awesome things I enjoyed. Basically the whole thing with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. Nearly all of that was funny, not to mention adorably sexy when Amy Acker was on screen.

The most fun was probably when all of the creatures are let loose. I loved the shot where the second batch of swat guys went to the elevators there was all the blood and bodies with the three zombies eating someone. I was smiling ear to ear watching that. Then there was the merman and the unicorn, which were just fucking brilliant. I'll never look at a unicorn the same way again. I'll probably laugh my ass off every time I hear about one.

I want to see it again before I decide what I think the movie is trying to say. My first attempt at it would be that the whole horror genre fulfills some deep desire that humans have to see people get killed, which if I'm right is spelled out with the whole appeasing the ancients things. And it's human, not just American, as we can see by Richard Jenkins' character yelling at the Japanese in hilarious fashion. Whatever it means it was a a lot of fun. I'm glad we finally got to see it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Do political labels make you stupid?

That's the question of this thread over at the Dish, where Andrew Sullivan is on a break. I wanted to highlight this response from a reader:

Matt Glassman’s analysis rests on a huge causal assumption that I think is difficult to defend. He believes that “no one has yet devised a better system of signals that allow low-information voters to make election choices that reflect their political beliefs and interest priorities.” I think you could reverse the causation here and argue that people are low information voters precisely because they make voting decisions in a tribal manner, rather than on an analysis of proposed policies or even their own self-interest. The fact that partisanship serves a social-identity function discourages carefully thinking or information seeking. Once I’ve decided I am going to vote republican (or democratic), there really isn’t any rational reason to become a high-information voter.

I would remind Matt, that most people’s party membership is extremely well predicted by social factors (i.e., the party affiliation of their peers and neighbors) and is NOT well predicted by objective measures of self-interests.

I won't dig up the original post that got the conversation started for the sake of space. But this boils it down pretty well. I think Glassman's argument is helped by adding the fact that most people just don't pay close attention to politics. They are much more concerned with their daily lives. And any break they get from that they spend looking for entertainment. So I think the better question is (which I think is what Glassman is getting at) would be "How informed can we expect a modern democratic citizenry to be?".

The reader is probably correct to assume that many people get their political identifications through social factors and not necessarily through a careful rational (self-interested) analysis. But while he is probably also correct that once that identity is formed they don't have much need to seek new information, I think the problem goes back to the question posed above. Just like for political identities, I think an interest in politics for many people starts early on. I'd argue that a person's likelihood to become a high-information citizen is helped determined by social factors, such as household income for instance.

So I guess I agree with Glassman that while political labels probably reinforce non-new information seeking behavior and make us stupid (ignorant is probably the better word), they have come about for a reason and thus have value. Perhaps if more people were instilled with a sense of civic duty or given more free time as adults they would tend to be more highly informed and thus not need labels. But if you can come up with a way to do that you would probably get a Nobel prize in political science.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Community: Blade and the carnival

Spoilers for tonight's episode will follow

The last few weeks of Community has pitted Troy against Abed and thus has thrown my world into chaos. It was uncertain whether their epic battle would leave their friendship broken and laying dead on the battlefield of pillows and blankets. But with tonight's episode all is right with my world again. Troy and Abed seemed back to their old selves, correctly pointing out that Blade is a fantastic movie.

Though I'm not sure we are completely out of the woods as it pertains to the future prospects of Troy and Abed's friendship. The Vice Dean is still working to try and get Troy to join his air condition repairman school. This is why the Dean showed up at the Blade screening, which prompted my favorite line of the night from Abed upon opening the door to great Dean, "Guys, I need help reacting to this."

I'm sure there were other things going on in this episode. I know because I kept seeing tiny glimpses of Alison Brie's cleavage. Sorry. I can't help it. But I'm a bit tired of Britta and Jeff's same old problems. Though I liked the message of Jeff's speech at the end. I'm just more focused on the Troy and Abed parts because when they are on their game it's just pure tv gold. And like Troy pointed out a few episodes ago, Abed helps make things fun for the group. And while it's important that the group gets their degrees and grows as people, they need that fun that Troy and Abed bring to keep things balanced. Otherwise they all might fall back into the problems that landed them at Greendale in the first place.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The forever lurking 'other candidate'

Now that Romney has all but wrapped up the Republican nomination I want to try and get out in front of the what are inevitable questions about whether anyone else will enter the race to try and capitalize on the dissatisfaction with Romney and Obama. In short, even if someone does it probably won't matter.

In the unlikely instance where we have another Bush v. Gore it could matter that someone like Gary Johnson or Ralph Nader gets 1% of the popular vote. But even then the race within states, where it actually matters, it would have to extremely close between Romney and Obama. I guess it's conceivable that some states could end up this close. In order for that to happen I think the economy would need to continue to grow slowly and for conservatives to not rally around Romney. I can see both of those things happening to some extent.

But the key point I wanted to make is that I think most conservatives will rally around Romney. To what extent they rally (turnout) will be important. But there aren't enough conservatives who will outright reject Romney for their vote for a third party candidate to matter too much. The worst they will do is not vote at all. The same goes for dissatisfied liberals. Liberals who voted for Obama in 08 will not all of the sudden jump ship in waves to support a third party candidate. But they could just stay home.

The reason I believe this is because most people have fairly well defined partisan identities. You'll inevitably hear about all those independents that make up such a huge % of the population. Well, the reality is that most of those self-identified independents vote in just a partisan a manner as self-identified liberals and conservatives. Only about 10% of them actually change their vote between parties on a consistent basis. So while I'm sure Romney and Obama will devote some energy to getting some people who are on the fence, I think most of their effort will be geared towards getting their supporters to show up.

That's why I've been so critical of many of Obama's legislative and PR strategies throughout his first term. I don't think he has done enough to keep his liberal base happy and thus willing to vote for him in the same numbers as they did in 08. As for Romney, he's probably happy Santorum is out because he needs time to get the conservative base on board. He's probably also hoping that the economy only grows very slowly from now until November because regardless of how successful he is at getting conservatives to turn out, that will probably be the most important factor.

Liberals and Neoconservatives

Andrew Sullivan asks what the difference is between them. And he posts an answer from David Bosco:

Liberal interventionists share the desire to spread freedom and the conviction that outsiders can help do so, but they also care deeply about building international architecture (almost always) and respecting international rules (usually).

Andrew adds:

Liberals often differ sharply about, for example, humanitarian intervention: it's entirely coherent to self-describe as both a foreign policy liberal and believe that humanitarian intervention usually does more harm than good. Neoconservatism, by contrast, makes a belief in the morality and efficacy of preventative wars against rogue states (Iraq, Iran), nation-building endeavors (Afghanistan post-2009), and overwhelming US military dominance more broadly into bedrock principles. While liberals might endorse any or all of those three, it's not at all requried by liberal commitments that they do so.

I think they're both largely right and I don't have much to add. But I wanted to post this in relation to my previous post on the use of the term war in our political rhetoric. I encourage liberals to stop using that type of rhetoric for reasons relating to what is described above. We should be primarily committed to solving problems through diplomatic and economic means, which are often helped by using international institutions.

Much like I said conservatives do when they invoke the "war on ..." rhetoric, neoconservatives seem to go to the war option as their first response to a perceived problem. And in both instances they limit the policy responses of conservatives and then create conflict with liberals who want to be open to more policies. This intensifies the ideological divide and leads to further partisanship. That's why even though liberals and neoconservatives might have similar goals broadly, they can often disagree as to the proper policy in many international situations.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The War on ...

I tweeted about this a few minutes ago but I wanted to explain my thinking a bit more. It seems that liberals have grown fond of using the, what I thought was a conservative rhetorical ploy (think the War on Christmas), to describe many ridiculous conservative policies. The most popular of which is probably the conservative 'War on Women'. Granted, conservatives are proposing some terrible policies that will hurt women and thus the nation as a whole. I'm just as completely against those policies as every other liberal. But I don't think it helps to use this type of rhetoric.

While the policies are terrible, they aren't acts of war. I know politics involves a lot of rhetoric and people don't mean it literally. But if we think about where this phrase came from we can see the problem. I've been reading about the War of 1812 and how Madison and Jefferson viewed it as a war to prove the "Manlihood" of the young nation. They wanted to use the war as a signal to the rest of the world not to screw with us, especially pertaining to trade on the Atlantic. That sense of national pride is important to conservatives. And one of the best ways they think the nation shows itself off is through military power. And you prove your military might by fighting and winning wars. Conservatives (or at least their politicians) seem to buy this type of thinking. As a liberal this should make you uneasy.

Their war rhetoric also comes from their fear of outsiders. They invoke it so strongly when talking about things like Christmas because they feel threatened by people who don't share their same views. If you aren't part of their tribe then your very existence means you are at war with them. And when you are at war there is no compromising or mercy. There is simply us vs. them. And violence is the only way to prove that you and your tribe are superior.

So when us liberals invoke war as a way to describe conservative policies I think we are reinforcing this attitude that conservatives have about conflict and violence. And it probably only makes them buckle down more and refuse to compromise. Though honestly, most of them aren't compromising at this point anyway. Still, I also worry about the effect on liberals. It's important that we take action against these policies. But we don't need to take war-like action. We just have to explain why the policies are bad and while ours are good. And you can use colorful rhetoric when doing so. Though I'm sure the facts are colorful enough. So while it's important to be mindful of conservative rhetoric, I don't think we should adopt the more ridiculous pieces they use.

Easter: not a completely worthless "holiday"

Easter is yet another example of if not violating the 1st amendment, stretching it to just short of it's breaking point. There is no reason for it's holiday status other than to let Christians feel special. Jesus died for us and then rose from the dead three days later for whatever reason, just to show off I guess. Yet another example of the brilliant storytelling of the new testament authors. I mean, three days is the perfect number. If it's a few hours or a day after he died you're probably thinking, WTF was the point of dying. If it's a week after people have already moved on to the next messiah. But three days is enough time where it's still in the back of their minds but enough time has passed that you aren't expecting it. Great showmanship.

Anyway, I can find some value in Easter, especially since I have some young siblings that enjoy the whole Easter egg thing. It might be a mostly nostalgia thing, but I enjoy hiding the eggs and having the kids try to find them. And there are bonus points for it having basically nothing to do with the religious part of the holiday. In that sense it's a similar holiday to Christmas. There is enough of a divorce of some of the activities from religion that makes them tolerable. And I'm not one to complain about a day off work.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My newfound respect for the restaurant industry's employees

Just worked a 12 hour day at my new job, which is likely to be my former job pretty soon. My feet have killed me every day I've worked. There is ZERO break whatsoever. No five minute break to sit down and rest your feet and back. And of course, if you aren't doing something for more than 30 seconds at a time the place might cave in and swallow everyone whole. I swear they must teach a course in business school called "How to treat your employees like a bunch of fucking children and make them think you're an asshole", because everywhere I've worked and most people I've heard from have had this experience.

And to me it doesn't make any sense. It just doesn't seem efficient to have your employees dislike you and always feel on edge. I was talking to one of the other employees that had been there for a while and I think he made a good point when he said it's about power. They know demand is fairly high for their jobs so they don't really have to worry about pissing people off and having them quit. This is also why so many restaurants pay shitty wages and skim off the top of tips. I always thought that was unfair. Now I'm absolutely certain it is. And I'm more certain than ever that a libertarian style free market approach to stuff like this would be a disaster for employees.

So to the people who tolerate or even like these types of jobs, I solute you for your hard work. And I hope more attention will get paid to some of the bullshit you have to deal with. I'm off to try and get to bed since I have to wake up in 7 hours and possibly work all day tomorrow. We'll see. I must just pull a Cartman after the first shift and say, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When liberals don't like the SCOTUS

Or more accurately, when they don't like when the four conservatives and one moderate offer different opinions than their own. That's been the post-ACA oral argument story since most people believe it didn't go well for the liberal side and it might mean a defeat for the individual mandate. That apparently prompted this situation which Conor Friedersdorf describes:

...while on the left, the most bothersome recent tick has been the preemptive insistence that if conservative Supreme Court justices strike down the individual mandate in President Obama's health care bill, it'll be an expression of pure partisan allegiance rather than an earnest expression of discomfort with Commerce Clause jurisprudence as it's evolved over the decades since New Deal era case law broadened and transformed it.

While I don't condone liberals making a purely partisan argument against the Supreme Court for being purely partisan, I think the court (both liberals and conservatives) consists of partisan people. Everyone is partisan to a certain degree. Everyone grows up being told to believe in a certain partisan perspective. They either keep that perspective, reject it and accept the competing perspective, or they just don't care about either.

Obviously, if you decide to go to law school and become a judge, you care about politics in at least a very broad sense. But even if you stay outside of the more focused politics that most of the country is involved in, you are still in some manner operating under a partisan view of the world. I'm sure some political scientists have done the research. And I'm confident the data would show most SC justices hold what we would call partisan positions on nearly every issue. Even someone like Justice Kennedy can probably be labeled at least slightly partisan.

And that's fine. It's inevitable. When you think about issues and what you believe about them you tend to try and stay within a logical framework. Granted, I can probably pull some Scalia opinions out that would refute the logical framework thing. But even if you think Scalia is unfit for the bench, it's not as if he is always writing opinions no one else concurs with.

By the way, what would a non-partisan judge look like? Has anyone every described this judge when they complain about partisanship? If they can't at least make that attempt you know something is wrong with the premise of a non-partisan judge. What liberals (and conservatives) should do is ask for a good argument from these partisans. It doesn't matter if you are the most partisan person in the world if you make a good argument. Yes it's annoying that the ACA might get ruled against, and for at least partially partisan reasons. But the way to avoid that is to get Democrats elected and thus liberal judges nominated to benches.

Update: However, Scalia doesn't have to be this dumb:

ON the second day of oral arguments over the Affordable Care Act, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., trying to explain what sets health care apart, told the Supreme Court, “This is a market in which you may be healthy one day and you may be a very unhealthy participant in that market the next day.” Justice Antonin Scalia subsequently expressed skepticism about forcing the young to buy insurance: “When they think they have a substantial risk of incurring high medical bills, they’ll buy insurance, like the rest of us.”

If this were true we wouldn't have a problem with the uninsured. It would also mean that people have some sort of clairvoyance about when they will need insurance, which would almost refute the need for insurance altogether. This may be Scalia being too partisan. But I think the best way to refute it is to point out how poor the argument is and make a better one, not just complain that he is being a partisan.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reminder: TN lawmakers are morons

I posted about this when it first came up a few weeks back. Now it looks like Gov. Haslam will sign the bill that will allow public teachers to teach kids that theories like evolution and global warming are something other than theories strongly supported by evidence while things like creationism and global warming conspiracy theories are made up by people who don't understand science.

This comes from a legislature that wanted to make it lawful to let people go into bars with guns. Thankfully, I think Haslam didn't sign that bill. It's kind of weird because there are huge swaths of the state that are as conservative as you can get. But the urban areas can be as liberal as you can get, such as Memphis. So while the legislature and governor are pretty conservative right now, we don't always have morons like we current have in Nashville completely in control. So not only do I hope the economy gets better for my selfish sake, for the country's sake, and for Democrats nationally; I hope it gets better for the sake of TN. Because laws like this will just dumb down the state.

Slow blogging

I haven't felt compelled to post much the last few days. I think most of the reason is that I haven't been interested in many of the current stories. The GOP horserace is basically over. And even Santorum can only say so many crazy things. The other reason is that I finally got a "I need some money to help pay some bills and just to have in my pocket" job. So that will take up some time that I would normally use to aimlessly scour the internet looking for interesting things. And in about a month I'll be interning for a campaign, which will take up even more time. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to explain this. I guess I just want my loyal follower to not worry when I go a few days without a new brilliant post. Don't fear. Just sit tight and something will come out eventually.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Primed beliefs

Usually Andrew Sullivan posts thought-provoking things over the weekend, many dealing with religion or the lack thereof. But this one sounds like a lot of bullshit:

[A]dults generally do believe in gods. That such belief begins in childhood and typically endures into adulthood places it in the same class as believing in the permanence of solid objects, the continuity of time, the predictability of natural laws, the fact that causes precede effects, that people have minds, that their mothers love them and numerous others. If believing in gods is being childish in the same respect as holding these sorts of beliefs, then belief in gods is in good company.

I tried to follow the link so I could read the whole thing but it only gave a preview of the whole thing. And I'm not signing up to read it all. So I'll just have to tackle this part.

Generally believing in god/s is not in the same class as those things he mentions. All of those things can be seen. There is evidence for their existence. Thus when our parents told us about them they weren't jus stating a belief. They were conveying to us the best possible explanation based on the evidence. Sure, as children we can't conceive of it in that way and accept it as true just like we do the existence of a god/s. But that fact alone doesn't put it in the same class as the others. If it did our parents would still be telling us that the world is flat and that the sun revolves around it.

Unlike faith in god/s, eventually I was able to see solid objects continue to exist. I can see time unfold the same way every day. I can try to dunk and have my body fall back down to the ground the same way every time. I can think about what I want to type, have my mind send my fingers the message and have my thoughts come out on this screen. I can see a person's brain or am aware of my own mind. And the fact that my mother let's me live here while I look for a job is strong evidence of her love.

Yet I have no more evidence that there is a god/s now that I am 28 than I did when I was 8. So unlike those other things, many people continue to believe it without seeing any more reason to think they should. And if they claim to have better reasons, it's because they were primed to believe they are seeing reasons, not because they genuinely have more compelling evidence.

I hate that I can't see the rest of the article because what Andrew posted just seems too ridiculous compared to his usual. If there's no better arguments in the whole thing I almost think he posted it just to rile up his atheist readers.