Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Fun With Maps

A nice visualization comparing of estimated per-capita stimulus spending versus the change in unemployment. Because much of the spending comes in the form of tax credits to the working poor and boosts to Medicaid, states like Mississippi and New Mexico see fairly large bumps in spending. Likewise, Michigan and Indiana, two of the hardest hit states, will see a big boost.

No clue what's going on in North Dakota or Vermont.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Rod Blagoejvich Comedy Hour

It is a shame that professional etiquette prevents journalists from asking this guy, "Are you out of your fucking gourd"? When your lawyer quits on you, things are bad.

Kirsten Gillibrand: Generic Democrat

I know this bit of news is about two hundred years old in blog time, but for all the caterwauling about the selection of Kirsten Gillibrand, it's worth pointing out that her voting record was actually slightly to the left of her district. Gillibrand's district is the 242nd most liberal district in the country. But her voting record is the 219th most liberal. This puts her voting behavior, as measured by the distance from her district, almost exactly in line with the party as a whole. Here's a chart showing how all of Congress shakes out. I've taken the 435 Congressmen and ranked them by both their district's Cook Partisan Voting Index and their DW-NOMINATE rankings, where low numbers in each case represent a more liberal Congressmen or district. Then I just took the difference between those two numbers. A negative number (PVI > DW-NOMINATE) means the Representative is probably more liberal than the district; a positive number means their more conservative. If you then throw all the Congressmen into buckets 25-slots wide (all Congressmen with a DW-NOMINATE - pvi between 25 and 50, etc), and plot the results, you get something like this.

The median Democrat is 4 slots to the left of their district, and the average Democrat is just over 16 slots away, so by almost measure she's just a tick to more liberal than she "ought" to be. Since Gillibrand's constituents now include New York City, its suburbs and other, more Democratic-leaning areas of the upstate region, if she continues to vote in a way that represents her constituents views she'll be a fine Senator. Of course, if her voting patterns don't change at all, she will be a total waste of a blue-state politician.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Only Caretaker Appointments Permitted

Ezra says that governors shouldn't be appointing senators, which seems good on general democratic grounds. Advantages as awesome as Democratic incumbency in New York should not be attained by gubernatorial appointment. But since it takes time to hold a special election, this would condemn states to a period of senatorlessness.

Maybe the best solution would be to require that appointed Senators may not run for re-election. The only real disadvantage I can see here is that if one person was the absolute best candidate, the state would be deprived of the optimal candidate's service during either the pre-election or post-election period. But I don't think that clearly optimal candidates are very common in our world.

Nigerian Weregoats And Malaysian Weretigers

In Nigeria, a goat has been arrested for stealing a car:
The black and white animal was turned in to police by a vigilante group, which claimed it was an armed car thief who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

"The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car," Tunde Mohammed, a spokesman for Kwara state police, told Reuters.

"They pursued them. However, one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat," he said. While Mr Mohammed said he could not confirm whether a man had, in fact, turned into a goat, he did admit that the animal was in police custody. A photo of the goat, resting on its knees next to a pile of straw, was published in Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper.
A colleague was telling me this week that in rural areas of Malaysia (not Indonesia -- I checked with him), men who accidently get caught in tiger traps are often regarded with great suspicion, because of concern that they may be weretigers. I must admit to finding it kind of awesome that some people live in a world painted so colorfully by myth and legend.

But on the whole, this is a real problem. Much can go wrong in a justice system that relies on roving bands of vigilantes who believe in were-goats.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Was Inevitable

There is now an entire blog dedicated to Matt Yglesias' typos.

This brings to mind what Matt told us during the Jennifer Palmieri brouhaha: "if someone was leaning over my shoulder there wouldn’t be all these typos." Cherish each incorrect homophone, for it is a sign of Matt's editorial independence.

At This Rate, She'll Support Public Orgies By 2016

Governor David Paterson made Kirsten Gillibrand the Senator from New York, and it looks like she settled in real quick. The Empire State Pride Agency's Alan Van Capelle:
"After talking to Kirsten Gillibrand, I am very happy to say that New York is poised to have its first U.S. Senator who supports marriage equality for same-sex couples... She also supports the full repeal of the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) law, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and passage of legislation outlawing discrimination against transgender people. While we had a productive discussion about a whole range of LGBT concerns, I was particularly happy to hear where she stands on these issues.”

Seems like just yesterday that our Kirsten was voting against repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. I love these stories about the repressed small-town girl who goes to the big city (or in this case starts representing the big city) and gets into all sorts of wild kinky stuff and lives happily ever after.

You Gotta Be Kidding Me

I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but still. Via Political Wire:
"It was a complete surprise, completely unexpected. And just like the United States prevailed in that, we'll prevail in this."

-- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), quoted by the AP, comparing his impeachment to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
I'm looking forward to the impeachment trial, where he's going to compare himself to Jesus, Elvis, and Wonder Woman in consecutive sentences.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Deep Thought

This list of the top 25 most influential liberals is the worst list of anything for all time. Including the future.


Change We Can Believe In

Read this WaPo article about the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and notice that one single-sentence paragraph is devoted to the opposition. In part, this is because Ledbetter was never really debated; Very Serious Republicans voted for the bill, leaving the opposition mostly to right-wing cranks. But in part it's because Democrats now run the show, top to bottom. Republicans now have a much smaller microphone than they did last month. And that may be the most important change of all.

Yglesias: Why Democracies Are Better In Bed

I asked Matt Yglesias why he kept saying that democracies were more able to maintain stable alliances than dictatorships. He answered:
The main theoretical issue is that the conditions that sustain liberal democracy also sustain cooperation because they increase trust and accountability. A democratic government needs to deal with a free press and with opposition political parties, which means that efforts to cheat on agreements or hatch secret plots are more likely to be exposed. And because political disagreement takes place out in the open, other countries get to have a sense of what range of policies might plausibly be adopted and have the opportunity to see large shifts in strategic thinking coming around the corner. Similarly, democratic political leaders typical operate under various kinds of formal restraints that make it difficult-or-impossible to suddenly turn on a dime. In a related way, the actual structure of democratic polities is relatively transparent. One kind find out, fairly definitively, what the institutional prerogatives of different officeholders are and therefore what the significance of their views and attitudes are. When faced with an authoritarian system, by contrast, it’s often not clear who the real decision-makers are (or which decisions have been made) especially when you start talking about people below the “one top guy.” A certain amount of “palace intrigue” takes place in democracies and some “kremlinology” may be required to figure out what’s really happening, but there’s a reason those terms all come form authoritarian systems.

Long story short: democracies can cooperate more credibly, because they’re more transparent and more predictable. Clearly, though, these things are a matter of degree—democracies can be more transparent or less transparent and authoritarian systems can be more rule-bound or less rule-bound. This highlights an important misconception of the conservative movement, namely their view that liberal democracies are hampered in the international arena by their greater difficulty cheating or launching secret initiatives. This is short-sighted. It’s the possession of these very “handicaps” that makes democracies credible allies and partners—even in the eyes of non-democracies—and that gives most countries a reason, at the margin, to prefer that a democratic state like the U.S. play a hegemonic role than a state like China. Much the same is true in the individual context. It might seem like an inability to lie would be a problem in life, but in a lot of ways if it was impossible for you to know and possible for you to signal this credibly that could be a huge asset. Everyone would rather be in business with the “must be honest” guy than with the “might be scamming you” guy.
(note: the 'know' before the late italics should probably be 'lie'. This happens.)

And Were They Trolling Dave Noon?

Brian Beutler cites the interview where Russell Tice says "The National Security Agency had access to all Americans’ communications".

This is really bad, but my first thought was: Does this mean that the NSA is aware of all internet traditions?

MN-GOV 2010

Jeff Fecke has an informative post detailing the potential candidates for the 2010 Minnesota Governor's race, on both sides. The pictures aren't actually pictures of the candidates -- they're more informative than that.

If We Can't Replace The Dollar With Beef, Can We Print More Money?

Back in 2000, I ran a now-long-defunct financial news parody site called DonkeyBusiness. (Whether that has anything to do with the name of this blog is unclear even to me.) It was basically The Onion for the financial news.

My first article was "Japan replaces Yen with Beef." There actually was an economic argument for doing this. Japan was stuck in a liquidity trap -- the economy had been sluggish for a while, so the Japanese were securing themselves for an uncertain future by saving their money, so there wasn't enough spending, so the economy just stayed sluggish. My thinking was that if they replaced their currency with a perishable meat like beef, people would have to spend it immediately and the liquidity trap would end.

I was looking at this graph from Paul Krugman today, and I was wondering if we need to take similarly extreme measures. Interest rates can't go anywhere below zero, but the Taylor Rule seems to dictate an interest rate more than 600 basis points below zero. We need super-easy money and there basically isn't any way for conventional monetary policy to generate it. This is why people are talking about enormous fiscal stimulus packages.

Not that I actually believe we should do this, but let me ask: what would happen if we printed more money and spent it? This would be wildly inflationary, but if I understand that chart, it's telling you not to worry about inflation. Just throw money into the economy quick!

As far as I can see, the big problem is that it sounds so Zimbabwean that the resulting loss of faith in our currency and the government's monetary authority would be disproportionately large, compared to the actual amount of stimulus we would generate by spending the money. Is that the big reason? Or are there others?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Not-Quite 50-State Strategy

Bowers on changes at the DNC. Some notes:
  • To an extent, the 50-state strategy has already achieved some of its purpose. State and local parties in deep-red territory are energized and have larger donor rolls. More Democrats hold office; those officeholders will have incentive to monitor the effectiveness of their local party infrastructure. Bowers would argue (and I would agree) that these areas deserve more resources in the coming years, but they will unquestionably be better off now than they would have been with 4 years of a status-quo DNC chair from '04-'08.
  • The 50-state strategy cannot take credit for the nationwide shift in the Presidential race. The Presidential race is largely determined by macro-economic factors; Obama appears to be a uniquely charismatic figure while John Kerry was not, press attitudes about the war shifted, etc.
  • In the time between the 2004 election and Barack Obama's nomination, the DNC's attention was fundamentally less divided. They didn't have a Presidential candidate with whose reelection they needed to concern themselves. It's somewhat natural for there to be a shift in priorities now that there's a new President.
  • A lot depends on how many "swing states", and which ones, the DNC emphasizes. If they shift resources out of a deep-red state like Utah or Oklahoma and into a state where Obama outperformed his national average, like Nevada or Pennsylvania or New Hampshire, that's a mistake. If he instead moves those resources to Florida or Indiana or Missouri, that's more defensible.
  • A certain portion of the local work previously performed by the DNC will likely be picked up by the new "Organizing for America" group.
  • The decision to re-centralize much of the DNC's operation seems like a mistake, but it's hard to tell.
  • Much of the 50-state project involved reviving the Democratic Party in the Interior West. In 2008, the Democratic party grew very quickly in much of the West, while it contracted in most of the South. Thus many of the states that received newfound attention under Dean will likely continue to receiven attention under Obama. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and Arizona will all be on Obama's red-to-blue map at least until March of 2012.
In general it seems that the Tim Kaine era at the DNC will be less tightly focused on a handful of swing states than the McCauliffe era, but more tightly focused than the Dean era. Personally I prefer the Dean model, but the impact will probably be marginal outside of the deepest-red states.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

White House RSS Feeds

Continuing the tradition wherein each Presidents seek to dominate new forms of communication, the new Whitehouse web site has several RSS feeds. At the moment there are six linked off the home page; five that seem to come from the Communications Shop, and one from the Office of Management and Budget. Either this demonstrates just how seriously the Obama Administration takes the job of the OMB, or that Peter Orzag is a big nerd.

All The President's E-Mail

I'm not sure how I feel about letting Barack Obama keep his BlackBerry. Is the idea to give him a government-issue smart phone with a separate, personal address, and have his email subject to the Presidential Records Act? That, I'm fine with that; it's easy enough to shift "personal" email into the "official business" column when one of his law school buddies starts asking him whether or not the SG will file an amicus brief in some case. But keeping his old email address ... not so much. That's a recipe for a truck-size loophole in Presidential record-keeping.

Likewise, yes, Congress should update the PRA since the fax machine, email, and instant messages have come into existence since the law was written. Most likely, we're going to end up judging that it constitutes "writing" and no one will use it. Pick up the phone.

Death Of A Truism

I want to dramatize Steve Benen's point. Forget the fact that "Joe the Plumber" is the nickname of a right-wing media personality who attained prominence during the 2008 election. Just take the name the way you would've taken it in 2007, while considering this sentence:
You don't hire Joe the Plumber to be your war correspondent in Israel.
Seems like a truism, doesn't it? The kind of thing somebody would say, and obviously it'd be sort of a straw man in whatever discussion you were having, but they would've made their point.

Of course, that's exactly what the craziest right-wing forces in the media did.

Have Grant, Will Travel

I got some great news today -- my university out here in Singapore indicated that they want to give me a bigger travel grant than I requested, so that I can fly to more American universities this summer and give more talks! I can't imagine how today could get any more awesome unless, I don't know, the Bush Administration suddenly ended and a really smart black guy became president.

Oh hey, cool! Anyway, I'm looking for more universities to add to my itinerary. So if you're a philosopher, or know some philosophers who would be happy to have me give a talk defending utilitarianism or the Humean theory of motivation or some other view I want to write a paper about, let me know. I'm looking for more places to fly to. Slightly more info including my email address is available at my philosophy blog.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Do Your Best, Observe Carefully, Think Hard

Hilzoy has an excellent post on progress in race relations since the 1980s, and I thought I'd excerpt one of my favorite parts:
Conservatives often point out the various idiotic things that people say and do in the name of not being racist. I think they're right about some of the idiocy -- the 70s and 80s, in particular, had a lot of earnest white people walking up to unsuspecting African Americans and saying things like: Hey, brother, I'm down with your struggle. They're also right about some of the idiotic excesses of political correctness: my personal favorite example was a brouhaha about a poster that some student group had put up advertising an event that involved (iirc) "a lazy afternoon relaxing and eating burritos", which supposedly implied that Mexicans were lazy. The late 80s and early 90s were full of that stuff.

Where I differed with conservatives who made those arguments was that I thought: well, this is what happens when people come to realize that there is something very wrong with their habitual ways of thinking about, and behaving towards, people they often don't really know at all, and try to figure out how to change their ways. It's especially likely in the case of racism, in which a lot of problems are likely to involve unconscious habits of mind and behavior. (You might think you're not a racist, but wouldn't a racist think that too?)

In situations like that, people say and do stupid things. They second-guess their own motives, and they don't always get it right. They try to establish their anti-racist cred by constituting themselves as the Official Racism Police. They are in no position to distinguish blacks who have discovered the delightful possibilities of being able to make white people feel guilty about almost anything, and have decided to explore them, from blacks with genuine and serious complaints about their conduct. This is all to be expected. But it in no way implies that the attempt is not worth making, or that if we proceed with good will, we won't eventually do better.

If you're white, and you believe that racism is wrong and that you should try to avoid it, and you don't know a lot of black people, I thought, then a certain amount of idiocy is in your future. It just is. And a whole lot of white people of my acquaintance really didn't know a lot of blacks. That was, of course, part of the problem. But the solution to it was not, I thought, to sneer at the whole effort. It was to do your best, observe carefully, think hard, be generous, and accept the fact that you just were going to do a number of things that would, in retrospect, make you absolutely cringe. The idiocy was temporary, and born of ignorance. With time, I thought, it would fade to normal human levels of awkwardness and cluelessness.

Inauguration Game Day

We've got The Rachel Maddow show on in the background, and there are people milling about in DC who whoop and holler before and after commercial break. I'm waiting for the camera to cut to Lee Corso wearing a three-foot wide donkey head.

This is ... surreal.

Update: And now they're booing the appearance of Dick Cheney on screen. Where are the cheerleaders and the marching band?

Pelosi Says: Repeal The Bush Tax Cuts

Glenn Thrush: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells Politico she's "urging" President-Elect Barack Obama to quickly repeal Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy -- not wait for them to expire in 2010, as Obama has suggested he might do."

I've always been a tremendous Pelosi supporter
, and you can count me a good queen's man on this one too. The Bush tax cuts are absolutely dismal as a stimulus measure. The CBO ranks their cost-effectiveness as 'small' on a scale of small to medium to large, while Moody's ranks them as the 12th most cost-effective stimulus measure among the 13 measures they rank. Those statistics are for making the tax cuts permanent, but other than speed (which is ranked separately) I can't see why those cost-effectiveness numbers wouldn't be decisive on the question of when to repeal the tax cuts.

Pelosi hasn't gotten nearly as much love as she deserved from the Democratic base over the last four years. I think this is partly because people carried over their justified Gephardt-era dislike of the House leadership and didn't realize how much things had changed with Pelosi's ascension. Whether the things we're seeing are genuine disputes between Pelosi and Obama or goodcopbadcoppery for the folks at home, I think the base will spend a lot of the next couple years learning to love their Speaker of the House.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martin Luther King, And What Could've Been

Over at Edge of the American West, historian Ari Kelman reminds us how broad Martin Luther King's agenda was:
King offered his audience a range of solutions to the problems he outlined above: “a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for all families of our country”; an immediate end to the war that was “allowing the Great Society to be shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam every day”; eradication of poverty throughout the nation; and real integration, extending beyond public accommodations to the corridors of power...
Long story short, our man didn't just declare victory and go home to play some video games after the Civil Rights Act. Up until the day he was shot (he was supporting a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis) he was pushing for a full slate of lefty policies on economics and foreign policy.

The tragic historical counterfactual of my lifetime concerns butterfly ballots and Bush, leading into a disastrous war. It's harder for me to estimate the consequences, both because I'm no expert on the time period and because the counterfactuals get really murky, but I imagine they're even bigger: What would've happened if not for the assassinations of 1968, both of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy?

With an enormously credible progressive leader like King still alive, would the more wayward elements of the American left have been absorbed into a more productive political framework? And with a giant like him still pushing for the whole slate of progressive goals, how much could we have accomplished? If Bobby had survived, won the presidency, and ended the war, how would the last forty years of American history have gone? The possibilities are so far-reaching that it's dizzying to think about.

I'm Head Of The Class, I'm Popular

The NYT has some nice context on Barack Obama's current ratings. Just prior to taking office, 79% of the country is optimistic about America's future, ten points higher than the average of his five most recent predecessors and fifteen above those of the White House's current occupant. The question's wording is somewhat muddled and doesn't directly ask about approval or favorability, but it is roughly in line with other polling that shows Obama faring substantially better than any president since Richard Nixon.

There are any number of possible reasons for that ten point gap. For now, let's just enjoy it.

Dow 36 and Kevin Hassett's Hooverism

Matthew Yglesias lets us know that Kevin Hassett, co-author of Dow 36000, is out there arguing that we need to balance the budget to get ourselves out of the financial crisis. This has me thinking that it's time to drop the 'neo-' in 'neo-Hooverite'.

Hassett is currently director of economic policy studies at AEI. I guess it's kind of like the Iraq War, where you can give really bad advice and still hold onto an awesome think tank job. Such states of affairs in the world are beyond my power to correct.

But they're not beyond my power to satirize with Photoshop!* Again, here's the original cover of Hassett and Glassman's book. If you have a blog or some other such thing, you are free to grab this as you wish.

*I actually use an less feature-rich open source Mac program called Seashore. It's pretty good, and I don't know how layers work anyway.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Survey Says: Spend!

Polling from NBC/WSJ shows that the American public prefers spending to tax cuts by a 30% margin. It's a reminder that despite all the effort the GOP has put into promoting tax cuts as the solution to everything, people actually have a reasonable attitude towards fiscal priorities. As a matter of fact, they're right -- as the CBO and independent forecasters agree, increasing food stamps and unemployment insurance are the quickest and most cost-effective ways to do economic stimulus. Refundable tax credits and a payroll tax holiday are okay, but other than that tax cuts are a cost-ineffective way to stimulate the economy.

This might be a good moment to note how weird the Blue Dogs are. As Kagro X points out, they're making all this noise about fiscal responsibility when their re-election prospects depend on the stimulus package being maximally effective. Is this just some way to look like moderates? Or the old Southern racial politics thing where 'spending' has been so deeply coded as 'giving your money to black people' that nobody can see their way out of it?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Kitsch Cover

Courtesy of an anonymous commenter, we'll go the other direction. Johnny Cash performs Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat".

Leave your nominations for next week's Kitsch Cover in the comments.

Poor Arlen Specter

I feel for the guy, I really do. You see, Arlen has a problem. He's perceived by The Republican Base as being far too moderate, on social and economic issues. In reality, he is fairly moderate on economic issues, but on social issues, while nominally, pro choice he never seems interested in doing anything about it. Arlen's moderation came back to haunt him when he came within a hair's breadth of losing primary to Pat Toomey (R-Crazytown) in 2004, forcing the then-formidable fundraising prowess of George W. Bush to come to his resuce. Thus, he's looking to protect his right flank in advance of his 2010 reelection campaign. But having neither ability to tack to the right on economic issues, nor the credibility to tack to the right on social issues, Specter is left descending into the fever swamp at random intervals. His attempt to sound very unhappy about Eric Holder's nomination while noting that confirmation is a near certainty is the latest example. One wonders whether the press would be quite so obsessed with the latest Republican Clinsanity if Specter ignored the issue and left it to real cranks like Tom Coburn.

Why Does Barack Obama Hate Coca-Cola

This is not change we can believe in.

The Know-Nothing Caucus

I think the nay voters on cloture for the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act make a good list. These are the folks who in all likelihood are entirely unreachable by Barack Obama on most votes, short of directly bribing their constituents. Well, okay, it's not a perfect list; Dick Lugar voted "Nay", but he's almost certain to vote with the President on foreign policy and even a decent number of economic matters, especially when it comes to the auto sector. And I doubt Bob Corker, who voted "Aye", is going to be voting for much of Barack Obama's economic policy (some Southern Republicans keep at least modestly good relationships with trial lawyers, who tend to be very powerful in Southern States for a variety of historical reasons). But it is a good starting point. The cloture vote could not get 80 votes, even if all three absent Senators, including Jim Bunning (R-KY), had voted for it.

The punchline, which I think Team Obama seems to be understanding, is that why there may be broad bipartisan intellectual support for much of the Administration's agenda, that's not always going to translate into broad political support. Every economist worth his or her weight in dung realizes we need a substantial increase in government spending, but that's not going to convince David Vitter of anything unless they ... well, I'll let you use your imagination on that one. Thus 80-20 votes just won't be in the cards, meaning Obama needs to sway people like George Voinovich and Chuck Grassley, not Pete Sessions and John Cornyn.

Chris Matthews Is The Shifted Landscape

Somewhere up there on anybody's list of Problems With The Media has to be the way many journalists see themselves not as individuals responsible for providing correct information on important topics, but rather as producers of content who are supposed to operate by a set of easily manipulable rules. Maintain the prevailing narrative. Present both sides, but don't bother digging for information on which one is right. After all, if you presented the truth of the matter, and it supported one side, you'd be biased.

If you keep looking at media figures as the people they're supposed to be, this can be infuriating. But the more you can keep your distance and regard them like hills and trees and rivers -- as mere features of the media landscape -- the easier it is to deal with them. (I think it helps to be taking in more of your media in text form if you're trying to do this.) See them the way they're comfortable being seen, as inanimate objects who act or do not act according to well-defined laws of nature, and you'll be able to predict their motions at least as well as you could otherwise. And when they do something bad you'll be displeased that things went badly, but not enraged at their viciousness.

This is how I've always regarded Chris Matthews. I never could get my head around the idea of him running for Senate in Pennsylvania back when those rumors were going around. What was he going to do? Absorb the dominant media narrative about himself and reinforce it? I mean, I'm sure he would've acted like a fairly conventional centrist candidate, but it was hard for me to get out of my old way of seeing him.

Publius posted Matthews' response to Bush's speech, and I found it kind of neat to watch.

He goes on a nice little tear about the empty-headed president who came into office and the neoconservative intellectuals who filled him up with all sorts of exciting nonsense that got lots of people killed in war. I could imagine him being a person who had come to fully appreciate the folly of neoconservatism.

In the comments at Obsidian Wings, Ben Alpers quoted Matthews six years ago:
Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?...

He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat that he does wear, that makes him -- I mean, he seems like -- he didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does....

We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple.
The point isn't that Matthews is being inconsistent or anything like that. Norms of consistency apply to people, not to hills or trees or rivers. The point is just that the landscape has shifted dramatically, and things aren't where they were before. Victory exerts a powerful gravitational pull, and I'm sure that if McCain had won, Matthews would still be pretty close to where he used to be. But instead we got a president who opposed the war from the beginning, and huge victories for Democrats at all levels as they came out more forcefully against the war.

In the laws governing the motions of the pundits, electoral victory is multiplied by a large constant. Today, it is pleasant to watch things move.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's Hard Out There for An IMF Employee

Lots of sturm and drang about Tim Geithner's taxes. See Shakespeare's Sister and some bloviator John Cole found. To answer the bloviator's question, the deal Geithner is getting is not "don't pay taxes until you get nominated to be Secretary of the Treasury". The deal is "work for an international non-profit which has unusual withholding policies, have your accountant miss your tax liability, have the IRS miss the fact you still owe them money, then have the Transition Team's vetters figure out that you still owe some back taxes." There's no evidence that Geithner was trying to cheat the government out of any money; he just messed up. These things happen; it's why we have an IRS, people should just stop freaking out. Sheesh.

Slicing The Spending Pie

I don't have much time to dig further, but for visual folks, here is the distribution of Barack Obama's proposed stimulus spending:

A word of caution that some of this spending is hard to categorize; are subsidies to COBRA insurance "Health Care" or "Safety Net"? Is school construction spending really Education spending or is it really just construction? But in the main this looks correct.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Speaker Of The House Is Aware Of All Internet Traditions

Wow. Just watch this from Nancy Pelosi:

And yes, that's the official version, not some mash-up by a teenager on LOLlerskates

Bring The Funny

Come on, people. Barack Obama meets with some conservative pundits, and even after eighteen hours, no one on the internets has produced a humorous but fake transcript of their dinner conversation? George Will, Bill Kristol, and Barack Obama all in the same room, and we can't find a way to make this into a laugh. Get it together!

Since I have a day job and little wit I'm not really cut out for this, but maybe our commenters can produced a crowd-sourced transcript. It'll be like those stories you write in middle school English, where one person writes the first sentence, then hands the paper to the next person, etc.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

OMG We Just Won The Tennessee House!

The Republicans had a 50-49 majority in the Tennessee State House. They were about to elect a Speaker. And then...
Acting in a clandestine pact, the 49 Democrats in Tennessee’s House shocked Nashville just one hour ago by nominating and then voting en masse for Kent Williams (a moderate Republican from Elizabethton in Carter County) for Speaker to lead the 99-member chamber. The official Republican nominee, Jason Mumpower (a wingnut from Bristol in Sullivan County) was left speechless, clutching the family bible that he had brought in preparation for taking the Speaker’s oath of office.

This is HUGE! The R’s had promised bans on gay adoption and fostering, new concealed weapons laws, new constitutional limits on abortion, new anti-immigrant legislation, and mandating the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools. Because the Tennessee House operates under a strict committee system and the Speaker appoints all committee chairs, though, it is unclear whether Republicans will be able to get any of these measures to the floor of the House. In addition, the re-election prospects for the long-serving and widely-respected Comptroller and Treasurer (both Democrats) is now much more promising; the General Assembly votes for these constitutional offices tomorrow.

The ingenuity of the Dems is (very occassionally) something to savor. And full credit is due to the new Speaker Kent Williams, who candidly acknowledged in his address that he would likely be kicked out of the Republican party and lose his next election. But perhaps the loveliest part of the drama should be attributed to the recently-elected Republican state representative Terry Lynn Weaver of Lancaster, who accidentally voted with Democrats on a procedural matter and, owing to confusion about the issue, was unable to change her vote in time — which set the whole process in motion.

I love the detail about the guy clutching the Bible. Hot damn!

Harry Reid: A Good Majority Leader (when he has some votes to work with)

Refuses to knuckle under to pointless Republican bullying.

I don't intend to turn this blog into full-throated apology for Harry Reid's performance between 2006 and, say, yesterday, but people need to realize that the Senate is not well suited to have a Majority Leader do anything when he has a 50-49 majority plus Joe Lieberman being a douchebag. Bill Frist had a hard time with a 55-45 majority. Having a 59-41 majority in the 111th Congress will make things a lot easier.

(link is NSFW, maybe, depending on your standards).

Are There Any Republicans Left?

George Voinovich (R-OH) is retiring, joining Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Mel Martinez (R-FL). To replace him, Republicans seem likely to coalesce around George W. Bush's former Budget Director and Trade Representative. In Ohio. No, seriously. This will probably end up as the Democrats' best pick-up opportunity in 2010, though the likely Chandler-Bunning "contest" may put up a good fight.

As Chris Bowers points out, retiring GOP Senators are more likely to vote with Democrats, regardless of their prior ideological bend. Voinovich will no longer need favors from Mitch McConnell or the Republican donor base, so he no longer needs to hew quite so closely to the party line. He's also signficantly more moderate than any of the other retiring Senators, so his office really needs to be on speed dial at the White House of Legislative Affairs.

Clean Harry Reid And Senator Roland Burris

I don't see why these FireDogLake commenters are so unhappy with Harry Reid's handling of the Roland Burris situation.

The essential thing in handling the Blagojevich scandal is to make it absolutely clear to observers that you're not tainted by Blagojevich's corruption. If Harry Reid jumps the gun in trying to block the corrupt governor's Senate nominee, and then Blago tries to simultaneously save his ass and be an ass by appointing a clean guy who Reid can't actually block, Reid looks a little foolish but totally clean. Reid's vigorous but failed attempt to oppose Blagojevich (much like Obama's unwillingness to play the bribe game) makes sure that the taint of corruption is quarantined and doesn't affect public perceptions of the Democratic Party as a whole.

This is the Senator who once choked a dude who was trying to bribe him. You know what I want people saying about my Senate Majority Leader? If you're corrupt around Harry Reid, he'll throw everything he has at you, plus some things he doesn't.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Difference Between Analogies And Counterexamples

So here's the debate at present: Congress passes a resolution saying that Israel has a right to self-defense. Of course, that's correct. Countries have that right. But this is intended as a defense of Israel's behavior. Matthew Yglesias tells a story to explain why pointing to the right to self-defense doesn't work as a defense of what Israel's doing in Gaza.
One time when I was riding my bike, someone threw a smallish rock at me from a housing project across the street. As it happens, the kid didn’t hit me and everything was fine. But I suppose if he’d hit me in just the right way I could have been knocked down and injured. And depending on what the cars on the road were doing, it’s conceivable that I could have wound up being run over and terribly injured. Long story short, it was a pretty terrible thing for the thrower to be doing. And this has been a sporadic problem in the city for a while. But obviously it wouldn’t have bene right for me to stop, get off my bike, pull a bazooka out of my bag, and blow the houses from which the rock emanated to smithereens while shouting “self-defense!” and “double-effect!” And had I done so, and killed some innocent people in the course of things, and then I’d tried to say that the real blame for the deaths lay with the rock-thrower who’d started it everyone would look at me like I was crazy. And this is true even though it’s clear that going to the police would have been useless in that case.

I don’t believe in analogies, so don’t read that as one. Rather, it makes the point that the existence of a right to self-defense doesn’t authorize just doing whatever any more than the injustice of occupation justifies deliberately targeting civilians.

Michael Moynihan of Hit & Run criticizes Yglesias a post titled Ceci n'est pas une Analogy, because he thinks what Yglesias is doing in the above paragraph is an analogy. But it isn't! And it's actually part of my skill set as a philosophy professor to tell you what it really is. It's a counterexample.

Here's how counterexamples work. Somebody makes an argument including a premise like, "If you have the right to self-defense and you're faced with violent threats to yourself, you're allowed to do violence in whatever way will eliminate the violent threats." Insofar as the Congressional resolution fits into an argument for Israel's current actions being justified, it's going to involve a premise like this. One way to defeat an argument is to show that it proceeds from false premises. So Yglesias gives you an example that shows why we shouldn't accept that premise. He's giving a counterexample to an important premise of the pro-violence argument. As he says, "I was, rather, offering an example designed to prove a narrow point, specifically that a claim of self-defense doesn’t operate as a blanket license to wreak destruction."

That's different from an analogy, which is based merely on a similarity between two situations. The analogy simply says, "this situation is like that situation, so we should do in this situation what we'd do in that situation." And this isn't a great way of arguing, because it's kind of a mess to decide which things are more or less like other things. As Matt says, one way of trying to deal with this problem is to "specify the analogy so as to exactly mirror the situation you’re debating. In which case you may as well just debate the situation. Long story short—these analogy fights are stupid."

Strive to give sound arguments, and to show that other people's arguments aren't sound. Use counterexamples to argue against general claims. Don't fuck around with analogies. That's how it's done.

Internet Statistic Of The Day

Number of Google Image Results for "emo emu" - 4,290.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I Endorse Pelosi Rule And This Graphic From A Conservative Blog

Anything that increases Nancy Pelosi's ability to dominate American politics makes me a happy man. So I liked this picture from KRyanJames at The Next Right that depicts her current position, especially as relates to the Blue Dogs:
If you're interested in seeing how Pelosi is consolidating power, the post itself is worth a read.

In any event, I'd guess that a more Speaker-controlled House is a good thing for the progressive movement in the long run, for the same reason that the filibuster is a problem for progressivism overall. The fewer places there are where big legislation can get caught in bottlenecks, the better it is for the people who want to pass big new social programs. That's why Europe, with its less bottlenecky political systems, has a much more generous welfare state than we do. Sure, we will complain about complained about iron-fisted majoritarianism when Republicans come to power DeLay was in charge. But alternation between iron-fisted Democratic Rule and iron-fisted Republican rule probably gets you farther to the left faster, just because well-designed universal social programs end up being very popular once they're in place. Even if you've got an iron fist, you touch that Third Rail and it's gonna kill you.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

If I had to bet on why Obama's stimulus proposals are being constructed the way they are, I'd bet on the optimistic side with Nate Silver: Obama is staking out centrist territory on stimulus matters because "he wants the Senate Democrats to do his dirty work for him. All of the sudden, the administration, which is about to spend at least $800 billion, gets to play the role of the fiscally prudent tightwads, negotiating against the Senate Democrats." Certainly, that's how you get to a smart and effective stimulus package via a clever media strategy. (In other news, I don't really see how the 'Price Is Right' analogy from Nate's post applies.)

Of course, all of this is really speculative at this point. We'll know what's going on after it actually happens. How exactly the mix of people surrounding Obama turns into policy remains to be seen.

Thank You Robert Gates For Averting War With Iran

This tidbit from the story about how Bush turned down aid for an Israeli project to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities makes me quite happy with our continuing defense secretary:
The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view.
In an Obama administration, Gates' role will be less oriented towards preventing America from going on crazy explosion adventures, and more oriented towards making constructive improvements in defense policy. His interest in cutting outmoded Cold War defense programs is a good example.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Possible Girls

People have occasionally asked to see some of my professional work. So today I give you my wackiest published paper: Possible Girls. It explains how one famous theory about the truth of counterfactual statements implies that you can have a girlfriend (or boyfriend) who lives in another universe.

I should give some background. One of the big philosophical mysteries that philosophers try to figure out concerns counterfactual claims, also called modal claims. For example:
"If the Democrats had nominated Sharpton, they would've lost."
"If I hadn't worn any clothes to school, I wouldn't have graduated."

Most philosophers think that for a statement to be true, it has to accurately describe some part of reality. So the question is, what part of reality is being described by these statements? In reality, the Democrats didn't nominate Sharpton and I wore clothes to school. We want to say that the above counterfactual statements are true, but it seems that we can't do this unless there's some aspect of reality that they accurately describe. Lots of metaphysicians have theories about what this aspect of reality is. Some of these theories involve nonphysical entities ("abstract objects") that serve the function of making modal claims true. Other philosophers don't believe in nonphysical stuff, so they don't like those theories.

David Lewis had a crazy but interesting suggestion. According to Lewis, there are an infinite number of universes ("possible worlds") out there, one for each possible way the world could be. These universes are disconnected from each other in space and time, and set up so that nothing in one universe can cause events in another universe. Relations between these possible worlds are the stuff that our counterfactual claims were supposed to accurately describe. According to him, here's what makes "If the Democrats had nominated Sharpton, they still would've lost" true: Consider the closest possible world (that is, the universe most like ours) where the Democrats nominate Sharpton. Do they lose in that universe? If so, the counterfactual statement is true. If they win, it's false.

All the other universes, according to Lewis, are real in just the same way as ours is real. They're made of physical stuff just like our universe is, so you don't have to believe in any nonphysical stuff to believe in them. Since there's one of these worlds for each possibility, there are an enormous number of real people out there. Some of them are girls who are thinking of boys from other universes. Starting from there, I show how you can get a one-to-one relationship with someone from another universe. I deal with a bunch of problems -- for example, how can you make sure that your otherworldly beloved is interested in you and not the person just like you from the next universe? (It involves your beloved being immortal and using her immortality to sing out an exhaustive description of your universe.)

This paper was accepted by Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, which is actually a respectable journal. The referee said that it made him laugh out loud several times. It's only eleven pages and I think it's fairly accessible. Feel free to ask any questions you have in comments, and tell me if there are any problems downloading the paper.

Stimulating Waitresses With Obama's Package

If Obama's going to ask for everyone's advice on how to stimulate the economy, and if he's going to use tax cuts for a big chunk of the stimulus, why not lock up the waiter/waitress vote by making tips non-taxable in 2009? If the way to generate economic stimulus is to put more money in the hands of people who aren't making a lot, waiters and waitresses are good people to give our money to.

Throw Us In The Terri Schiavo Patch

To continue the great chain of lefty blog agreement about an obvious matter, Amanda and Scott and ThinkProgress are absolutely correct that trying to derail Obama's appointees by bringing up their role in the Terri Schaivo case is a strategy doomed to sweet, creamy, delicious failure. Sadly, it only looks like a bunch of cranks at the Traditional Values Coalition and similar outfits are pushing this line. I doubt the Senate Republican leadership would be quite this stupid, but we can hope.

Prior to Obama, there were two (and not many more than two) moments in my young political life when I was genuinely happy with the American people for not falling for a gigantic bullshit offensive that the Republican Party had gone all in on. First, there was the Clinton impeachment. Second, there was Terri Schaivo. If this sounds like a harsh judgment of America, well, we're the country that elected and re-elected Bush, and fell for any number of Republican gimmicks along the way to our current terrible situation. But America opposed the Republicans at the fullest moment of their power on the Terri Schaivo issue (63% saying her tube should be removed, and 70% saying that the Federal Government shouldn't intervene). I'd love to see what happens when the Republicans revisit this issue at their ebb.

Friday Kitsch Cover

I'm pretty sure anyone doing Johnny Cash is by definition Kitsch. Here's Paramore performing "Walk The Line"

Leave your nominations for next week's Kitsch Cover in the comments

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cass <3 Samantha

Add this to the list of things I didn't know: new OIRA head and legal academia heavyweight Cass Sunstein is married to Samantha Power! Apparently they met through the Obama campaign and got married this past July 4 in Power's native County Cork. I also didn't know that Sunstein had previously been in a relationship with Martha Nussbaum, who's quite a celebrity herself in the political philosophy / classics world.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Occam's Razor says this is about law, not politics; that is, Harry Reid received legal advice that there was likely no way for the Senate to refuse the duly elected governor's duly appointed choice. The only alternative would be to stall the appointment in court, which just postpones the inevitable. So all of this business about "caving" or "walking back" is just Reid facing the reality that Burris is going to get his seat.


Whose Middle Class

To give Republicans something else to point to when they say "No, Barack Obama, we don't want to cut taxes that way", Mitch McConnell recently floated the idea of reducing the 25% tax bracket to 15%. As the Tax Policy Center points out (PDF), this idea only "helps the middle class" if you define "help the middle class" to mean "give a modest three-figure tax cut to those earning the median household incomes while giving four-figure tax cuts to those earning more than $359,000". What's scary, though, is that I can't figure out why this is the case. Ususally the culprit here is that the middle class pays very little income tax to begin with, but that doesn't explain why the upper middle class gets such a smaller tax break than the hyper rich. Any tax wonks out there who want to help?

How A 90% Tax Bracket Would Improve Corporate Governance

Yglesias cites Surowiecki on the incentive structure that our economy gives to Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince:
much of the problem on Wall Street wasn’t that people stopped looking for dragons. It was that even when people recognized the possibility of dragons, they decided it was in their short-term interests (even if it wasn’t in the company’s interests), to run the risk of getting incinerated anyway.
Says Matt, "And, indeed, as best I can tell Prince is still a multimillionaire. Looking back, I think it’s clear that Prince didn’t exactly maximize his wealth with his decision-making. But he didn’t really blunder, either. Nobody’s perfect, and he made out extremely well in the scheme of things."

This reminds me of one of the most underrated reasons for having high marginal tax rates. And I don't mean high as in 45%. I mean 1950s-style high marginal tax rates -- 90% on the top bracket. It forces businesspeople to think about the long-term health of their companies.

Suppose you're a CEO and the top bracket starts at $5 million. If that bracket is taxed at a really high level, discouraging you from even asking for a salary that pushes over $5 million, the only way to accumulate truly awesome wealth is to keep collecting a steady salary of $5 million over time. (I'm assuming in this scenario that we don't give big tax discounts to capital gains as we currently do.) You have to make the sort of decisions that will keep your company in good shape for a long time so you can stay CEO of a thriving firm and keep collecting your $5 million paycheck every year for decades.

But suppose the top bracket is taxed at a much lower level. In this case, you don't need to look after the long-term health of your company to make a huge fortune. You can ride the mortgage bubble hard for a few years and ask for a gargantuan salary, up in the tens of millions, when your bubble-riding has made the profits high. With a low tax bracket, you'll pocket most of it. So what if the bubble pops after a few years and your firm collapses because of your decisions? They can't take all that money away from you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One More Word On Al Franken, or: Vengeance For Wellstone

A few years ago, I found Franken's second book in a bookstore. (His first book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, had been a birthday present for me in high school.) I opened it to a random page and ended up reading the longest chapter in the book, which was on Norm Coleman's 2002 Senate victory.

The chapter read differently than any of his other writing. Franken was presenting an anguished account of how Coleman and the Republican Party had managed to turn Paul Wellstone's funeral into a media story for their benefit, and use that to win the election by 2%. The rest of the book was as lighthearted and funny as you'd expect from a comedian writing about politics, but the dominant emotions of this chapter were outrage and anguish and pain. Before reading the chapter, I didn't even know that Franken was from Minnesota, but it was clear to me afterwards that Franken had been watching the events of 2002 from a front-row seat and that they were driving him crazy.

I imagine that the desire to undo what happened six years ago was a big part of what drove him to run for Senate this time around. Now that he's going to be the next Senator from Minnesota, I'm not only very happy that he won, but very happy for him.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Budget Talk

Lots of noise about the upcoming stimulus package, of which almost half might come in the form of tax cuts (see digby, TPM, TPM again, yet more TPM, even more TPM, did I mention TPM, Kos, Ezra Klein, Yglesias, AmericaBlog, et al.). Assorted observations:
  • I'm really sick of the current frame when it comes to taxes, which suggests that the only thing government can do for a large swath of the American public is deliver Yet Another Tax Cut.
  • With 59 votes in the Senate, Democrats shouldn't have a problem passing anything; as long as the White House can corral one of the Midwestern or Northeastern Republicans (Snowe, Collins, Specter, Lugar, Voinovich, and Grassley), McConnell won't be able to control his caucus.
  • In the same vein, shooting for 80 Senate votes is just silly; the 20th most conservative Senator--someone like John Thune, Saxby Chambliss, or Larry Craig by DW-NOMINATE rankings--does not live in the Reality-Based Community.
  • An awful lot depends on the details, of which there are precious few. Clinton budgets frequently included tax credits for hiring new workers, though I have no idea how effective or ineffective they were. We'll have to see what Martin Ginsburg and company have to say about the final proposal.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Only Way I Can Think Of To Describe This

"RNC pwn3d by Ron Paul Supporters". The pot legalization folks have nothing on these guys.

Congratulations Al Franken!

It looks like he's won the Minnesota Senate race, giving the Democrats a total of 59 seats. (The most notorious video of this Senate race was probably Norm Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, trying to duck questions about suits that Coleman had received from a wealthy contributor.)

Defense Budget Matters

Via Barry Ritholtz, a briefing from within the Pentagon on the realities of the Defense Department budget. The two bits of good news are that the department is looking seriously at the idea of ending the practice of giving the Army, Navy, and Air Force equal slices of the budgetary pie despite actual needs, and that they may also finally start look at altering procurement needs to. It's all very heartening, until you remember that the Pentagon has to get Congress on board as well. Say what you want about the military brass, but they're at least somewhat responsive to the executive branch; members of Congress are likely to be responsive to their constituents, including active military personnel and employees of large defense contractors. Voting to lay them off will not go over well, so the White House and Pentagon need to thing about a subsantial transition package to get these workers and soldiers back into the civilian workforce.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Israel/Palestine and Public Opinion

I have basically no insights here, but I feel like discussions of what hypothetical detente between Israel and Palestine might look like (see Yglesias, Ezra, TNR (non-Peretz), Peretz, the RBC, et al.) ought to at least have a passing reference to the current shape of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion. Chris Bowers has a nice primer, and has links to a large number of polls. The polling tends to be very fuzzy, but the general shape of public opinion is that (a) Palestinians overwhelmingly support negotiating with Israel, but (b) as of late have had little faith that any of their elected leaders can get anything done, and (c) reject almost every compromise you see most often discussed in the Western press (shared control of Jerusalem, nominal right of return and compensation for Palestinians who are unable to return, slow dismantling of settlements in the Jordan Valley, etc.). In addition, the United States is the Western nation nation least trusted by Palestinians to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Sadly, I've had a much harder time finding polling on Israeli public opinion, which is just as important, since it will be difficult to get Israel's Prime Minister to sign an agreement that will end his chances at reelection.

Two Dudes Playing Fake Plastic Instruments

More substantive posts will be coming shortly, but if you need some low-fi background noise at any point in the next 24 hours, two guys are trying to set the world record for "Longest Continuous Rock Band Drumming" [yes, this record is tracked; there's now a Guinness Book of World Records devoted solely to gaming]. You can watch on Ustream here. The whole thing is a fundraiser for Texas Children's Hospital (one of the drummers is from Texas; the other is Canadian and thus does not need to go to these extreme lengths to fund his country's health care system); you can donate here United Way, you can donate here, though I think somehow they get credit if you go here and the follow the "click here to donate" button.

Roland Burris, Creativity, And Monuments For Dead People

The unusually elaborate gravesite that Roland Burris built for himself has attracted a bit of attention. Personally, I don't feel that designing a gravesite like this for oneself is a sign of bad character. It's natural to try to overcome one's impermanence in the face of mortality by building something permanent about oneself. Naming your children Roland and Rolanda strikes me as a bit more of an excessive ego kind of move, but still, whatever.

What annoys me about monuments like this is the lack of creativity and personal flair. I can't read the inscription, but it looks like it's just a bunch of political achievements. Fifty years later, you see this monument and you think, 'Here lies a dude who was good at scoring himself offices. Good for him, I guess, but I don't see why I should like the guy. Sure, I'm rooting for him because his success represents the overcoming of some historical injustices, but I'm rooting more for the historical forces at play than the guy himself.'

It'd be different with somebody who built a monument of himself, say, riding an ostrich. I'd see a monument like that and think, 'Here's a guy who was probably a lot of fun to hang out with, and who's still trying to amuse people fifty years after his death.' It would actually feel kind of like he was alive. And really, you don't have to do anything that silly -- I'm sure there's something cool in Burris' life connected to his achievements that would give me a better sense of him as a person.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday Kitsch Cover

Via First Draft, The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain performs Isaac Hayes' "Shaft".

I can dig it. Leave your nominations for next week's Kitsch cover in the comments.

It Always Is

Shorter Michael Goldfarb: The fact that there are so many Democrats in the Senate is good news for Republicans.

Safer Cigarettes

Since we seem to be on a vice kick today, yes, the 800 people who die in fires started by cigarettes pales in comparison to the number of premature deaths due to smoking generally. I believe the proper Nudge/Tipping Point proposal to reduce smoking rates is to regulate the amount of nicotine in cigarettes so that they're less addictive. No, it will not stop addiction, but it will at least make a substantial dent in the number of regular smokers. This is the impetus behind Democratic efforts since the late Clinton era to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco sales. However, such authority currently requires an act of Congress.

This will still be a tall order for the 111th Congress. The good news is that Orrin Hatch is happy to go to war against Big Tobacco; if he can corral the remaining Mormon Republicans (Bennett and Crapo) that will help. The bad news is that three Democratic Senators--Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and Kay Hagan--represent heavy tobacco producing states. In addition I'm not sure how folks like Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Max Baucus feel this vote. The really bad news is that Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader; in addition to being little more than a shill for large corporate interests, Kentucky is also a tobacco producing state (the state legislature passed a ban on bans, preventing cities from enacting indoor smoking bans). This means that Hatch et al. would not just be going to war with Big Tobacco, but also with the leaders of their own party (in the House, Minority leader John Boehner smokes, and Minority Whip Eric Cantor represents Virginia.). Given the umpteen other fights pending in the next two years this may also fall by the wayside, unless it becomes part of the mammoth health care deal.

The Republican Party As A Disembodied Butt

You occasionally hear people calling what's left of a Republican Party after its moderates are defeated a "rump". If anybody knows what the etymology of this term is, I'd be curious to hear. My guess is that the metaphor involves butchering or some such -- maybe the rump of an animal is usually left over after they chop off the other parts that people want more? In any event, I'm sort of amused to think of the contemporary GOP as a disembodied butt.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Oppose Bacardi's Cuba Policy With Flor de Caña

As this blog has recently received much drinking-related traffic, courtesy of the good Matthew Yglesias, I'll put up another drinking-related post.

A while ago I was looking to try a non-Bacardi rum, in part because Bacardi is run by Cuban exiles who give big money to Republicans so that we can have cruel and pointless sanctions on Cuba. (Charles Kuffner has a post that deals with some of this.) So I tried Flor de Caña, the Nicaraguan rum pictured on the right, and it proved to be cheaper and better. I particularly recommend the 4 year gold rum, which I got for $12 a fifth a couple days ago in Maryland where I'm hanging out with my friends. It's got a fairly rich flavor, makes a good rum and coke, and I sometimes drink it straight up or on the rocks. The clear version is pretty good too.

Update: Jan's interesting comments below, on Reagan blocking Flor de Caña importation to hurt the leftist Sandinista government, have been relayed to the happy friends currently drinking it around me.

The Magic Of Pre-Hydration

For my last couple semesters as a grad student teaching classes at Texas, I would always find some excuse to tell the students about how important it is to drink plenty of water before you go out for a big night of drinking. And while this isn't a drinking blog, it's such an important piece of advice that utilitarianism compels me to share it with you. All the other drinkers who have woken up so far in this house are hung over from New Year's Eve, while I'm feeling chipper and ready to go after guzzling more booze than they did. From about 5 to 9 PM last night I had a glass of water near me at all times, and I drank a big gulp of it whenever I noticed that it was there. Such is the secret of my powers.