Monday, February 28, 2011

You Need One More

I found this bit of Libyan government propaganda kind of unimpressive:
In Tripoli, a government spokesman blamed the West and Islamic militants for the upheaval, saying they had hijacked and escalated what he said began as "genuine" but small protests demanding "legitimate and much needed political improvements."

"On one hand, Islamists love to see chaos ... this is paradise for them," he said. "The West wants chaos to give them reason to intervene militarily to control the oil."

"The Islamists want Libya to be their Afghanistan ... to complete their crescent of terror," he said. "This is not the first time the Islamic militants and the west find common cause."
If you're the Libyan government, what you should do under these conditions is claim that the West, the Islamists, and one more group -- I don't know, maybe Kenya -- comprise an Axis of Evil.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Suck It, Link Farmers

I've only played with it a little, but Google's attempt to shove link farms into the back corner seems to be moving in the right direction. The top 10 results for product review searches and technical questions seem to be much more legitimate than before.

I wonder how much this change damaged the value of the Huffington Post.

When A Judge Bites A Dog, That's News

Ezra cites a chart from Nancy Pelosi's office pointing out how much more coverage rulings against the constitutionality of health care reform have gotten than rulings favoring it. A simple explanation would be that when judges do things that create exciting partisan conflict, there's going to be a lot more media coverage.

This dynamic isn't good for public knowledge of where real controversies are. Or maybe it's good in the worst way -- a right-wing media infrastructure feeds craziness to people, motivating movement conservative judges and politicians to do crazy things, resulting in... real political controversies that one has to engage.

Anyway, Ezra's chart showing that 22% of Americans think that health care reform has already been repealed is amazing and depressing.

Vatican Roulette

Whoever came up with this awesome name for the rhythm method wins big points.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Progressive Onion

In the past I hadn't been a huge fan of the T. Herman Zweibel columns in the Onion, since there's only so much fun you can have laughing at a behind-the-times old guy for being a behind-the-times old guy. But playing him as a Gilded Age plutocrat opens up comic opportunities that weren't there before. This is from his column on Scott Walker's attack on the Wisconsin unions:
My first question, of course, was whether or not these Union toilers could be replaced with vastly less expensive workers under the Confederate model, but I was informed that for various complex reasons this may not be feasible for several years.
I don't remember the Onion being as political in the 1990s as it is today. I mean, sure, they'd write political satire, but they tried harder to be evenhanded. But now I see them standing squarely with Stewart and Colbert on our side. They do it well.

I don't know how to sort out the causation/correlation issues here, but this definitely goes along with the rising popularity of progressive views among young people.

Moral Philosophy Is Feminist

This thing by Molly Lambert was fun to read even though I know nothing about Mad Men where all the illustrations are from. I was thinking about this:
"Masculinity" is as damaging to men as "Femininity" is to women. Neither is something to aspire to. Women who understand this are called feminists. Men who understand this aren't called anything yet, but maybe they can just be called feminists too.
This is where having a big philosophical theory that tells you what to value and how to live (in my case, utilitarianism) is really helpful. It gives you a reasoned-out alternative to ideals of masculinity or femininity or whatever else you're absorbing from the cultural environment.

It also gives you a sense of identity that can compete against your gender identity for all the stuff identity is supposed to do. I feel like I'm really being myself when I'm figuring out some mildly unorthodox but effective way to make the world a better place. Just because of the situations I usually find myself in, this typically doesn't run up against my gender identity as a straight man. But if I were in an environment where people were pushing restrictive gender roles upon me, I like to think I'd do a good job of figuring my way out of the worst parts of them.

Of course, if your identity is built on your philosophy you end up being only as good as your philosophy. But we're a pretty smart species, and I think we'll do better at trying to figure out what's worthwhile by thinking about it than by passively absorbing norms that track historical power relations.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tax Reform: Impossible

Here is some vintage Bill Cosby, on a conversation between Noah and God:

That's roughly my reaction to a report that Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are going to spend a year holding hearings in preparation for some sort of overhaul of the tax code, in the spirit of the 1986 Tax Reform Act.

"Baucus, I want you to enact bipartisan tax reform in an election year, when the ranking Republican is at risk of a primary".


Today in "Shit State Legislators Say": Gay Adoption

Via Ryan McNeely, here's Louisiana state Rep. Jonathan Perry (R), who is so obsessed with the specter of gay adoption that he's been trying to bar the state of Louisiana from issuing birth certificates naming two persons of the same sex as parents. This would have no effect on the adults, but would potentially have drastic consequences for the child in question. Perry, it seems, doesn't care:

Have you considered running for public office? No? You should!

On Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's (R) attempt to destroy non-police/fire public sector unions in Wisconsin is yet another excuse to show the greatest outtake of a commercial of all time.

Rasmussen Poll Shows That Most Americans Want To Eat You

Okay, not exactly. But on the poll they actually did, Nate writes, "my advice would be simply to disregard the Rasmussen Reports poll, and to view their work with extreme skepticism going forward."

Bill To Legalize Guns On Texas College Campuses Moves Forward

Q. Who is the man holding the gun?

A. He is Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas.

Q. Does he often carry a gun?

A. Yes, often while jogging.

Q. Do Texans really like guns?

A. Many do.

Q. Is this a problem?

A. Yes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Singapore Skyline

Yglesias: "I know that many people like the look and feel of a city with no skyscrapers. But DC has both a lot of problems and a fair amount of extremely valuable land. Failing to use the land efficiently is extremely costly and makes it much harder for us to solve our problems."

Instead of conceding to people's anti-skyscraperness and making sensible public policy arguments, I'll inspire your skyscraper love by showing you our new awesome building in Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands.
Yes! It's three 57-story towers with a boat on top. (As far as I know, the boat can't actually detach and sail around, though one of my colleagues hypothesized that it was an escape vehicle for extreme climate change scenarios where ocean levels rise.) It includes a resort, casino, and at the top, an infinity pool. What's an infinity pool, you ask? This:
Want to see one more picture? Sure you do! Taken by this guy from the boat -- click for a larger view:
Okay, so maybe there are some people who genuinely don't want to live in this glistening hyper-urban world. But lots of them may just think they don't want skyscrapers because they don't realize how awesome they can be.

The NFL Lockout

There's some chance that there won't be any professional football next season, with NFL owners locking out players unless they agree to restructuring of their contracts that will give more money to owners.

Here I'm solidly with the players' union. Yes, their annual salaries are really high, especially at the top end. But these guys are doing a very dangerous job that requires a lot of training, and which most of them will only be able to perform for a few years. Once they leave the league, some of them will be able to parlay their fame into another good-paying job, but many won't, and if recent trends continue, some of them will end up with terrible brain injuries. They're taking their amazingly athletic bodies and subjecting them to ridiculous punishment for our amusement. There's causes that I'll get more excited about, like the situation of ordinary union people in Wisconsin, but I hope the players win.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pay Me My Money Down

Ezra writes:
There's been a lot of concern lately that states or municipalities will default on their debt. This is considered the height of fiscal irresponsibility -- an outcome so dire that some are considering various forms of federal support. But the talk that states or cities will default on their obligations to teachers or DMV employees? That's considered evidence of fiscal responsibility. And perhaps it's a better outcome, as defaulting to the banks makes future borrowing costs higher, and can hurt the state economy in the long-run. But it's not a more just outcome.
From a purely fiscal point of view, I don't know if this ends up being a better outcome. If you're a bright young person considering public sector employment and the guarantee of future income security is thrown into doubt, you're going to demand a higher up-front salary, one commensurate with the money you'd make in the private sector.

That is, unless the idea is to not pay a comparable salary and thus leave the public sector unable to compete for talented employees. Then you don't get similar fiscal problems, you just get a public sector that can't hire good people. And I imagine that the future ability of the public sector to hire talented employees isn't something especially worth protecting in the Republican worldview.

Let Bruce tell you all about it.

How You Could Cut The Deficit If You Were A Senator

Jamelle Bouie catches Kent Conrad doing the right thing by suggesting that the government should be able to negotiate lower prices with prescription drug makers. This is one of the most straightforward routes towards reducing health care costs in a government-run insurance system -- the government uses the quasi-monopsonistic power as the biggest insurer to bargain down prices. (Corrected thanks to Milind in comments -- a monopsony is like a monopoly, but with one big powerful buyer rather than one big powerful seller.) Passing the public option along with doing this would be an awesome combo, since it would make the public option cheaper and more awesome while increasing the government's clout as more people got their insurance that way.

It's too bad that Kent Conrad is going to be retiring from the Senate and taking this sensible piece of deficit reduction advice with him.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Message From Egypt

Picture via Digby. I was a little worried that I was being punk'd by some 'Egyptian protest sign generator' on the internet. Some googling reveals that that the dude's name is Muhammad Nusair and that he's really there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson On Jeopardy!

My college roommate Kevin Gold is now a professor of video games at Rochester. He has an artificial intelligence researcher's perspective on Watson the Jeopardy machine.
The first night, I was blown away by its answer to the Daily Double. The category was “Literary APB,” and the clue was what seemed an extremely sideways reference to Mr. Hyde: “Wanted for killing Sir Danvers Carew; appearance—pale & dwarfish; seems to have a split personality.” This is the kind of thing that can cause natural language processing (NLP) researchers fits if they’re trying to write code that parses the sentence.

What I didn’t notice the first time I saw the clue, though, was that “Sir Danvers Carew” was a dead giveaway to a machine with huge databases of text associations at its digital fingertips. It would be likely to point to other things in the classic book with extremely high confidence, by virtue of its commonly appearing near them in text. Of course, the machine must still understand that the correct answer is “Hyde” and not the book title or author or place—so its answer was still extremely impressive.

Public Sector Compensation Cuts for Thee, But Not For Me

As Kevin Drum points out, the attempts to gut public sector unions in Wisconsin exempt police, firefighters, and state troopers. In practice this means the major union workers affected will be teachers, prison guards, state-employed health care workers, and so forth. In the aggregate, then, the changes will affect unions that lean towards Democrats, while leaving unions that lean towards Republicans untouched. But it's precisely these untouched unions that generate the worst cases of generous public sector compensation. It's hard to say that government compensation is the most critical issue in state governance these days, but if we're going to "get serious" about it, it makes sense to put everything on the table.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who Chased A Bad Curveball?

Now that WMD liar Curveball (Rafid Alwan) is back in the news, it's worth noting that this guy wasn't some kind of world-class master of deception. He was a recent Iraqi immigrant working at a Burger King in Germany, and his fellow Burger King employees knew he was full of crap.
In early 2002, a year before the war, he told co-workers at the Burger King that he spied for Iraqi intelligence and would report any fellow Iraqi worker who criticized Hussein's regime.

They couldn't decide if he was dangerous or crazy.

"During breaks, he told stories about what a big man he was in Baghdad," said Hamza Hamad Rashid, who remembered an odd scene with the pudgy Alwan in his too-tight Burger King uniform praising Hussein in the home of der Whopper. "But he always lied. We never believed anything he said."

Another Iraqi friend, Ghazwan Adnan, remembers laughing when he applied for a job at a local Princess Garden Chinese Restaurant and discovered Alwan washing dishes in the back while claiming to be "a big deal" in Iraq. "How could America believe such a person?"
Curveball himself may be a loathsome individual, but really there's not that much that's interesting about him. For basically any country that any militaristic faction in the US wants to invade, you're going to be able to scour the world for some lunatic from that country who'll tell you whatever you want to hear.

What's interesting in this case is that the CIA believed this crazy guy. The story here is a pretty obvious one -- the President wanted war, information to support that case would be rewarded, and the intelligence apparatus found whatever it was being driven to find. Exposing the particular people on the inside who accepted the bad evidence would be a more important story.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Today In "Shit State Legislators Say": Child Labor Laws

Jane Cunningham (R-MO), seems to think that competing in the international job market means eliminating all state-level child labor laws. Federal child labor laws would still apply, though I'm sure if she could do something about it they'd fall by the wayside as well.

Do you think this is crazy? Have you considered running for public office? You should!

Lucy and the Football

Scotch on the rocks is the appropriate response to the budget debate
My general take on the Republican message is "Barack Obama should have come out for even more politically unpopular cuts -- so that we could oppose them."

In general, we're now having a debate between two parties about how deep the cuts should go, and what should get cut. It's true that eliminating the $46 billion in oil & gas tax credits dwarfs the cuts in LIHEAP subsidies, Pell Grants, and the like, but the frame of the debate does not leave room for much inspiration.

Sadly, it's not yet noon in Seattle, so I don't think the bars have opened.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If Highly Educated People Agree, Are Highly Educated People Biased?

My feeling about psychologist Jonathan Haidt had always been that he had a talent for putting together clever experiments but was more interested in being provocative than careful when building theories on them. I'm not confident that we can get a good sense of his views through the filter of John Tierney's editorializing, but it fits my suspicions:
"Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations."
You know what doesn't happen? A black woman avoids sensitive topics in a job interview, leading the hiring committee to incorrectly assume that she's a white man. And you know what else doesn't happen? A demographically average population spends a great deal of time discussing race and gender issues, with the result that most of the women decide to become men and most of the black people decide to become white.

Mapping the way race and gender work in our lives onto the way that politics works will result in comedy. The reason everyone finds it easy to generate alternative explanations of the prevalence of liberals in academia is that the alternative explanations look pretty good, and the explanations involving anything that matches racial or gender discrimination just look pretty bad.

Those who live close to the marketplace of ideas will find it easy to acquire new ones. So you'd expect that academics everywhere would abandon parochial values and adopt a more cosmopolitan perspective. My philosophy department in Singapore provides a pretty nice cross-cultural example. The Singaporeans, other Asians, Americans, Europeans, and Australians have generally egalitarian views on civil rights questions, with little tolerance for nationalism. (We disagree more on economic stuff.) This is exactly what you'd expect from a global community of scholars who have to defend their views against each other's criticisms -- the elimination of local prejudices that don't stand up to rational scrutiny.

There's plenty of other stuff going on too, of course -- if professors and executives got each other's paychecks, the professors would suddenly get a lot more interested in lower taxes on the rich, while the executives might drift to views more favorable to middle-class interests. And when you've got a core group of non-rich people who have given up their local prejudices, they'll attract more people like them. But the overall point is just that when a global community of scholars agrees on something, "they've figured something out" is usually a better conclusion than "they're all prejudiced."

So, Uh, Why'd It Work This Time?

Can anyone come up with a working model for why protests in Egypt succeeded in forcing the resignation of Mubarak, when those in Iran failed?

Here are what I see as potentially salient issues:
  • Mubarak is probably (??) less popular than Ahmadenijad
  • Egypt is poorer and more unequal than Iran
  • Immediacy of food crisis in Egypt
  • Weaker state control over media
  • Western nations have more leverage in Egypt
  • Regime has zero religious legitimacy
  • As Billy Beane would say, f***ing luck.
But which factors matter the most? And are there other factors that I'm missing?

Cheney Mocks Obama For Being Like Cheney

Report from CPAC: "Cheney also drew laughs when he wondered aloud if Rumsfeld may have more influence on Obama than his current advisers. Obama campaigned against the Bush White House's national security policies and yet has continued many of the tactics now that he is in power."

It's one thing when a president gets criticized by his own party's activists for not making a big enough break with the opposing party's policies. Obviously the activists want more action on their issues. But when one of your extreme opponents is making fun of you for sticking so tightly to the policies he instituted when he was in power, it might be time to rethink your approach.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Educated Twentysomething Riots

Barry Desker is a former Singaporean ambassador to Indonesia and current public policy dean at Nanyang Technical University (that's the university that we at NUS would have a rivalry with if they played college football down here.) He has an interesting analysis of the possibility of political upheaval in Egypt and the rest of the world (pdf). The general idea is that a large number of educated young people who can't find any work and are in an unhappy economic situation is a recipe for political instability.
Egypt’s population has expanded from 30 million in 1966 to 85 million today largely living along the Nile River. Its people crowd the 40,000 square kilometres of land suitable for housing and farming. There is a growing shortage of arable land while economic growth has not matched population growth. Youth unemployment is increasing rapidly as more than 4 per cent of the population enters the work force each year. Unemployment for university graduates is ten times that of the general population. Rising costs of food, accommodation and petrol has fuelled the recent unrest...

The youth uprising in Egypt draws attention to the impact of similar youth bulges as a result of rapid population increases over the past 20 years, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Iran and Turkey as well as a crescent extending from the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The authoritarian polities and lack of employment opportunities in many of these states in the crescent and their continuing rapid population growth will fuel youth resentment and rebellion, with a significant risk of political volatility and violence.

By contrast, over the next 20 years, the Maghreb countries, Iran and Turkey will see declines in their rate of population growth. They should benefit from growing numbers of educated youth in their expanding economies, just like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. The medium term outlook for these states is therefore positive.
I think the idea with these places is that you do very well if you have lots of educated young people and they get productive career opportunities. He also considers India and China:
Turning to other parts of Asia, although India’s population will increase to 1.45 billion by 2025, it will benefit from economic growth. However, there are sharp differences among the regions – namely, the high-growth commercial centres of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata; the low fertility states of South India with their information technology hubs and booming services sector; and the ‘Hindi speaking’ belt of north India with its higher fertility, lower educational levels, lower levels of female employment and slower growth of the services sector. Youthful challenges to the political status quo are more likely in north India.
Oh, crap! My family's from North India. The state of West Bengal, where they live, has some problems with Maoist guerrilla terorrism. When I visited last year, my relatives were telling me that the demographic profile of a Maoist guerrilla is basically what Desker describes -- a guy who works himself through school and finds that there's no opportunities out there.
By contrast, in China, we will see more conservative attitudes as a combination of economic growth, the rapid aging of China’s population and the expectations of a better life by China’s youth result in a preference for the status quo. Already, China’s Internet savvy youth are among the most nationalist and have been active in pushing for strong government action in the face of perceived slights by external parties such as the United States, Japan and, in the case of the South China Sea, even Asean.
I don't know a lot about nationalism among Chinese youth, but in general nationalism in powerful countries is bad news. It can lead to Tibet being oppressed or Iraq being invaded.


Incredible post from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Webb Retires

It looks like Jim Webb is retiring from the Senate after one term representing Virginia. As far as I can tell, he did a good job, and it would've been good if we could keep him.

Tim Kaine, who won a statewide race for governor, looms as the Democrat whom big party figures will pressure to run. If we somehow ended up with Senator Tom Perriello, that would be an awesome outcome. But really, keeping George Allen out of elected office is what I'm thinking of most here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Inmates are Running The Asylum

It's saying something when Dick Wadhams, the man behind George Allen's Senate campaign, has "tired of those who are obsessed with seeing conspiracies around every corner and who have terribly misguided notions of what the role of the state party is while saying 'uniting conservatives' is all that is needed to win competitive races across the state". Wadhams left the wreckage of the Allen campaign to work in Colorado, where he became state party chair, only to have Tea Party-backed candidates implode in the races for both Governor and Senator.

It's easy to overstate the impact that right-wing or left-wing candidates have on electability. In an overwhelming number of races, ideological positioning matters very little, if at all. But on the margins, it can have an effect. More importantly, it seems to be dissuading rational political operatives from staying in Republican party politics, which may eventually become a serious problem.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (In Small Numbers)

The first half of this Onion AV Club column is a terrific retrospective on the beginnings of the grunge era, which have been overhyped by the mythology of grunge that permeates current culture. At the time of Nevermind's release, Michael Jackson's Dangerous was still selling like gangbusters; the grunge album was not heralded as the beginning of a new era; and while Nirvana would win some critical acclaim, they were still third fiddle to GNR and Metallica. The second half just recounts the descent of GNR from the peak of the rock & roll universe, and can be safely ignored. But Read The Whole First Half.

Here's the answer to a trivia question: what video won "Video of the Year" the year "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which routinely is in the top 10 music videos of all time, came out?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Puzzle About Your Butt

Nineteen years ago yesterday, Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" was released. In commemoration of this significant cultural event, I've put together a little puzzle.
You are curious whether your butt is big or small. Unfortunately, you lack the ability to accurately assess the size of butts. Fortunately, there are three rappers before you. You are of their preferred gender, so they are willing to collectively entertain exactly one yes-or-no question from you, to which they will each give an answer.

One rapper likes big butts and cannot lie. One rapper likes small butts and always lies. One rapper likes all butts but shares your inability to assess butt size, and will answer yes or no at random if asked whether a butt is big or small. You do not know which rapper is which. All the rappers know all other facts relevant to the situation, including everyone's identity and butt preferences.

Before you are able to ask your question, one rapper receives a booty call (the size of the booty is unknown to you) and leaves the room. The other two rappers remain and are willing to pronounce on your question. You still do not know who any of the rappers are.

To determine the size of your butt, what question should you ask them? (You may assume that all butts can be classified as either big or small and ignore contextual factors, e.g. from the presence of Oakland booty.)
Perhaps you will enjoy hearing "Baby Got Back" while working on this puzzle.

Thanks are due to Daniel Velleman for inspiring the puzzle, and Dennis Clark and Supriya Sinhababu for playtesting. [Edited: and Rob Helpy-Chalk for pointing out an inconsistency in the puzzle that is now fixed.]

Friday, February 4, 2011

Liu Bolin, Human Chameleon

This guy (and whoever's doing his makeup) is amazing. America needs to close the human chameleon gap if we're going to win the future.

Friday Obama Caption Contest and Kitsch Cover

Original caption: "President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in the Oval Office, Jan. 28, 2011. Vice President Joe Biden listens at left, and the President’s National Security team confer in the background"

This week's Kitsch Cover comes from University of Oregon a capella group On The Rocks, performing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance":

Leave your captions and nominations for future Kitsch Covers in the comments.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Egypt Game

I have to take a different view than Gail Collins on this:
I’ve actually been a little sad watching the coverage from Egypt, because of the way the United States is reacting. It’s like that Claude Rains moment in Casablanca. We’re shocked! Egypt appears to be a repressive government! Who knew! Then after 30 years of American presidents being B.F.F.s with Mubarak, suddenly Obama is coldly hinting — then insisting — that he start packing. I understand the pragmatic reasons for all this, but it sure does undermine our self-image as champions of democracy.
But isn't this what you want from Obama, especially if you're a foreigner who hopes that America will be good and reasonable and was horribly disappointed by Bush? That Obama will start turning American foreign policy in a more enlightened direction? And really, nobody grades on consistency here. Whatever we were doing wrong in the past, you don't get points for doing it wrong some more. Coldly hinting / insisting that Mubarak get gone is the right direction.

Marc Lynch's post evaluating the Obama administration's handling of Egypt is a few days old now, but it's good and useful. I don't know how to parse diplomat-speak but if Lynch is right things are running in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Federal Judges Say The Darndest Things

In 2006, a Federal District Judge in Michigan issued rulings on George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, which, in my view, was plainly unconstitutional. The judge agreed with me. The Bush Administration, naturally, disagreed. The practical impact of these rulings was ... almost zero. It's entirely possible that we're facing the mirror image of this situation Roger Vinson's "head-scratching analysis" of the new health care law. The range of opinions among Federal District Judges is very wide, they can say pretty much whatever they want and if they don't care about getting a promotion to Circuit Judge there's not much anyone can do about it.

Wonkier political reporters are quite savvy when it comes to which bits of political "news" will affect legislation. If Dennis Kucinich introduces a bill, it's unlikely to have much impact on whatever compromise finally becomes law. Michelle Bachmann draws headlines, but she doesn't have much impact on policy. The wonkier among them are also starting to learn that horserace gossip doesn't have as much of an impact on elections as economic and demographic circumstances. But they haven't seemed to have figure out that some judge somewhere issuing a favorable ruling in a trial court has little to no bearing on what will happen at the appellate level. It might behoove them to keep a constitutional law professor or two in their rolodex.

Update: See also Scott Lemieux, who is in fact plugged in to legal happenings.

Gurkha Warrior Averts Rape, Drives Off 40 Thieves

Here's your violent feel-good story of the day. Forty or so Indian bandits are robbing a train, stealing passengers' jewelry, cell phones, and laptops. They decide to do some raping too and start taking a young lady's clothes off. Apparently Bishnu Shrestha, the Gurkha warrior standing by, didn't want to start a bloodbath to prevent robbery, but he wasn't going to allow the raping, so he pulled out his khukuri (pictured at right). In a whirlwind of steel 3 robbers/rapists were killed, 8 were injured, and the other ~29 fled. Not only was the rape prevented but a lot of the possessions were recovered.

Now Bishnu is being rewarded with medals and money and free stuff from the Indian government. I'm kind of digging his martial pride: "I am proud to be able to prove that a Gorkha soldier with a khukuri is really a handful." The Gurkhas have a history of being awesome warriors -- an Indian general once remarked that "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha."

The practical way to make progress on issues of sexual violence today is more in the direction of "Make sure men regard nonconsensual sex as an abomination" than "Have heroic Gurkhas slice up would-be rapists." But I wouldn't mind if somebody forwarded this story to Ben Roethlisberger before his next night on the town.