Whack fol me darn O, dance to your partner
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake?!!!
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Free-Speech Crushing Meets The Sorites Paradox
Over Thanksgiving break, the 600 or so copies of the Yale Free Press distributed amongst the dining halls were stolen. I once wrote a "on the moral decline of the left"-style article for the YFP (how's that for neo-conservative credentials), so this hits a bit close to home.
Regardless of what you think of the magaine's politics, this is an assault on free speech and it is deplorable. Will Britt's reaction, however, is a triumph of understatement: "It's frustrating that the way of countering things that people don't like is to suppress them...We publish letters to the editor that put anyone who wants to in dialogue with the writers, so there's lots of space for people to disagree in a way that's more helpful."
The decidedly odd YDN report on the event (unintentionally) spelled out an instance of the Sorites paradox, which (for the uninitiated) is a millenia-old philosophical puzzle that still holds up. Take a look at this fantastic overview for more info.
An issue of the YFP costs nothing and is readily available in all the dining halls. Taking one issue is not only not stealing, but actively encouraged. Taking two? So much the better. Taking six hundred? Thief! Here are our conflicting intuitions cached out formally:
1) Grabbing one issue of the magazine is not stealing.
2) For any number n such that grabbing n issues is not stealing, grabbing n+1 issues is also not stealing.
3) Grabbing 600 issues is stealing.
Obviously one of those premises is wrong? But which one?!! And before you answer, bear in mind that every philosopher who has attempted to solve the problem of vagueness (of which Sorites is a vivid example) has failed spectacularly. The current going theory, called "epistemicism," argues that vagueness is just ignorance---in other words, all that's lacking to determine the fact of the matter in Sorites cases is information. I don't buy that, as you might have guessed, but I'll be damned if I can think of a better approach. [FYI, anyone who can think of a better approach is guaranteed a tenured chair at a philosophy department TBD--ed.]
Sarah E. Richards is reporting on her travels through my mother's homeland in Slate this week. A bit of background for the uninitiated: Romanians are not Serbo-Croatian, not Germano-Austrian, not Magyar, not Gypsy, and not Balto-Slavic. They speak a Romance language very similar to the western Romance languages, and in some ways more faithful to Latin.
Bewley's Cafe in Dublin is closing. I got to go there this past spring---and, as it turns out, was very lucky to have done so. Patrick Belton has the linky low-down:
Bewley's cafe, a haunt of students, shoppers, and pen-wielders since Joyce, to close its doors for the last time this evening in the face of the smoking ban, soaring Dublin rents, and competition from Starbucks.
Richard Posner is co-authoring a new blog. Worth remembering next time Glenn Reynolds claims that the medium is somehow outside the mainstream.
The Messianic Style
New YDN column here. I wanted to call it "The Messianic Style in American Politics." The title it got was "How voting the right ticket became the ticket to salvation." Is that clever or not?
Best E-mail Ever
One of my philosophy professors sent this out at 2 am this morning:
Fellow hunters and gatherers of knowledge:
I plan to hold class as usual tomorrow morning (or rather, later this morning). But I just might not. I’ll let you know in another nine hours or so. This is a preemptive email, asking you to check your email again tomorrow morning before going to class.
Why might class be cancelled? I’m sick. Ill. Malfunctioning. Whatever. I’ve got a cold and a middle ear infection that’s reminded me just how hurtful pain can be. (Sorry, fans of “Road House,” but this was a rare instance in which Patrick Swayze was just wrong. The verdict is in: pain really does hurt.)
They asked me at DUH, or YHS, or whatever it’s called now, to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Well, what is 10 supposed to be? And what is, say, a 3? Is the scale logarithmic? Won’t my answer say more about how I think about pain rankings than about what kind of state I’m in?
I was in no mood to pursue these questions. I answered in my own way. “Remember the scene in Kill Bill 2, where Uma Thurmon’s character plucks out the left eye of Daryl Hannah’s character, squishes it against the floor with her bare feet and leaves Daryl Hannah’s character to flail about trailer bloody and blind -- her right eye having already been lost in similar fashion to Pai Mei -- screeching obscenities and mashing mirrors and various other fragile things? Well, let’s call that a ten. I’m at about a 9.5.”
Needless to say, the good people who manage the health of Yale employees were up to the task of improving my mood. They did a great job prescribing things for me. A wonderful, wonderful, wonderful job.
The problem is that I’m not sure I can do such a wonderful job myself in my present state. I’m not even sure I can accurately evaluate my own abilities in my present state. And, thanks to the infection, which has perforated my ear drum, I can’t hear much of my external environment. My inner workings are another matter. I hear them all too clearly. Brushing my teeth sounds like construction work and my own voice is unbearable. So lecturing will not be easy, nor will listening…
Lord knows, I want to talk about this Stich piece. And I fully intend to do so. But check your email before heading to class. Just in case.
Hope your Thanksgiving was happier than mine… and that you are presently not quite so happy as I am.
p.s. Yes, I did have pneumonia last year, and no, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess I’m living up to the “sickly academic” stereotype. And no, I'm not a fan of Tarantino.
Monday, November 29, 2004
O'Reilly Is An Asshole Watch
I haven't done one of these in a while but the big guy totally earned it. He announced a billoreilly.com poll on whether or not the marine who shot the wounded man should be prosecuted. I guessed the result would be 95% in the negative. Turns out I lowballed it. The actual result was 98%.
Then the O'Reilly charm shone through. His interpretation of the numbers? "This is one of the only times when liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have really agreed on something." Comment or let stand on its own? I'll let stand on its own.
Defrocking The Clergy
A lesbian Methodist minister is going to be put on trial by her church. Say a prayer for her if you believe in that sort of thing (I don't).
I'm sure that Zachary Zwillinger is a nice enough guy, but this is perhaps the single lamest attempt at piggybacking on Jonathan Swift that I've ever seen. And that's out of a field that includes some real beauties. Sorry, guy.
It's Good To Be The Hammer
I don't want to sound nitpicky, because this is an awesome, must-read Tom Friedman column, but it does seem to me like he could have done better on imitating the argot of modern professional athletes. But here's the money shot:
Yes, I want to get almost the entire Republican side of the House of Representatives to bend its ethics rules just for me. I want to be able to twist the arms of House Republicans to repeal a rule that automatically requires party leaders to step down if they are indicted on a felony charge - something a Texas prosecutor is considering doing to DeLay because of corruption allegations.
But most of all, I want to have the gall to sully American democracy at a time when young American soldiers are fighting in Iraq so we can enjoy a law-based society here and, maybe, extend it to others. Yes, I want to be Tom DeLay. I want to wear a little American flag on my lapel in solidarity with the troops, while I besmirch every value they are dying for.
Spoke Too Soon?
So the Kerry campaign is joining the recount effort in Ohio. Not that this is anything but a 1 in 1000 shot (or worse), but suppose Ohio produced a vote total that had Kerry ahead. Whither then? (Via Kausfiles).
Why Harvard Sucks
Well, for starters, I'm not sure it would be possible to craft an alcohol management scheme more asinine than this one. The trouble started two years ago, when some well-meaning dolt in the Harvard administration decided that the way to curb underage and excessive drinking at The Game is to ban kegs from the tailgates. And the policy was extraordinarily effective...at transforming the tailgate into a festival of hard liquor in glass bottles.
This year, because their 2002 efforts worked so well, Harvard took the further step of implementing a Woodstock '99-style policy of access to and from the tailgating area. Clearly, the ensuing incidents (including such grave offenses as Yalies punking Harvard by stealing their flag and the Saybrook senior class stripping naked) was the fault of unprecedented student misconduct. So for future tailgates, it seems, Harvard in conjunction with the Boston police will be working to keep hard liquor out of the tailgate. Brilliant, just fucking brilliant. A question for the Harvard administration: wouldn't it be a lot more efficient to set up water coolers filled with grain alcohol throughout the stands at Harvard stadium?
For further proof that Harvard is not a part of the reality-based community, check out Jamie Kirchick's column today on Harvard's inability to own up to its shameful history during World War II. Amazing that the Catholic church and the nation of Switzerland can admit to having been bad little kitties but Harvard can't. Whoever penned that Crimson editorial should have the image of Willy Brandt crying at Auschwitz tattooed into his forehead.
P.S. On the assumption that whatever the YDN says is true, then yeah, we got them good.
Harvard Says Harvard Sucks
When I first saw the photos of this, I assumed it was just a photoshop job. But the video seems genuine, and it really looks like we got those fuckers good. Maybe drinking at the tailgate through the first three quarters of the game (by which I mean, The Game) wasn't the optimal play I thought it was....
Sunday, November 28, 2004
The Last Straw
Okay, I get it about Michael Jackson, he's despicable because of that whole child-rape thing. Blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. What really pisses me off about the guy is that he's responsible for selling off the Beatles catalogue for use in commercials. The worst of it is the digital camera ad I just saw featuring the Rufus Wainwright cover of "Across the Universe." (As Beatles covers go, it's not too bad.)
Fool me once, force feed a little boy wine and tell him it's "Jesus juice," shame on me. Fool me twice...well I can't remember how this ends. But the point is that Let It Be (especially now that the naked version is out) is sacred. Asshole.
Whose Wishful Thinking?
Leonard Steinhorn thinks that the right is bound to lose the culture war. To the extent that the cause involves actually legislating homosexuality out of existence, he's probably right. To the (larger) extent that it means living under a hypocritical regime of sanctions for "indecency" and society-wide guilt-trips over declining moral values, I don't think there's any end in sight. Since Tacitus at the absolute latest, there has never been anything but a surfeit of mourners over the decline of moral values.
See Blog Roll
My old pal Johan, who was blogging before I knew what blogging was, is blogging again. In his spare time he likes to be Swedish. I think he once performed the collected works of Ingmar Bergman as an interpretive dance. [No silly, that was you--ed.]
Friday, November 26, 2004
Kinsey-Inspired Thought For The Day
There was a young lady of Kew,
Who remarked, as the curate withdrew,
"The vicar was quicker
And slicker and thicker
And longer and stronger
(Via Robert Conquest)
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Tinfoil And Black Helicopters
My old pal Gene Vilensky has been working indefatigably to disprove the various "we wuz robbed" theories floating among Democratic Underground types. (Disclaimer: he's a Bush supporter.) Here's his latest effort. I hope this is the last we have to hear from the anti-Diebold crowd.
The Wonk's Tawdry Sex Novel
Dan Drezner tries his hand. It's probably better than Bill O'Reilly's tawdry sex novel [the one that isn't an affront to family values--ed.].
Turkey With A Side Of Economic Armageddon
I don't put as much creedence in this as some of the lefty bloggers who are linking to it but it's worrying nonetheless.
Happy Thanksgiving. I'll be spending at least the first part of it doing something I actually cannot believe I'm going to do---watch the parade in New York (in New York). If you've read this blog at all, you probably could have figured out that I'm not a huge fan of parades. Well, I've got my reasons. I'll check back in and post if I get a chance.
Meanwhile, just keep stuffing your face with turkey and potatoes and gravy, you fat bastard. It's all going to your thighs.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Awesome. I guess it's okay now to admit that I, too, was entertained by the brawl, and that I would have loved to be the fan whom Ron Artest mistakenly punched---considering that he's not badly hurt and has grounds for an easy multi-million dollar suit.
Warning: Reading This Title Might Kill You
If you haven't yet heard about efforts to put "warning labels" on biology textbooks that discuss evolution, here's a primer.
And here's a decent overview of way anti-evolutionary pseudo-science is, in fact, pseudo-science.
In any case, as long as we're in the business of putting warning labels on textbooks, Majikthise has some ideas for alternative labels.
Big Brother Who?
Well if we can't find out who did this, it's clearly nobody's fault.
Mark Cuban basks in the much-deserved downfall of Donald Trump. Now waiting for the much-deserved downfall of Mark Cuban.
Bye Bye Dan Rather
Unsurprisingly, Wonkette had the best take on the Texas weirdo's departure:
Some old man is going to stop doing this thing on the TV -- that show that airs between fiber supplement ads. Are we the only ones who hope he gets a gig as a Levitra spokesman? What an excellent opportunity for folksy homilies! "Harder than a whore's headboard"! "Longer lasting than August in Austin"! And he said something on election night about a "frog having sidepockets" which we swear is another term for tea-bagging but whatever.
We'll mith you!
I managed to catch the Liam Neeson biopic in Boston over the weekend...a product, I guess, of being in a real city for a change.
Quick review: fuckin' a man, it was awesome.
Somewhat longer (but still short) review: I'm not really a fan of Neeson---I thought Michael Collins was good, the rest (including Schindler's List) was pretty mediocre---so Kinsey is easily his best movie.
I'm hardly an expert on Kinsey himself, although Neeson's portrayal seemed spot on to what I imagine Kinsey must have been like. I'm not sure what the current agreed-upon view of Kinsey's research is, but a lot of it seems intuitively right. Indeed, some of his findings now seem so self-evidently true that we easily forget both that they were contentious and that he was the source of them, e.g. his findings on masturbation frequency in both men and women.
I guess the most controversial of his analyses is that almost all people of both sexes are not exclusively hetero- or homosexual, but fall somewhere within a gradient of bisexuality. My own intuition is that that's a lot more true for women than for men. And even if we assume for the sake of argument that there are very few 0's and 6's (on the Kinsey scale), at least among men, I think there are very few 3's and 4's and mostly 1's and 5's. Female sexuality, if experience and anecdotal evidence are at all reliable, is quite a bit more fluid. Obviously any blanket generalization ought to be taken with a grain of salt, but I'd suggest that the proportion of women who, under certain precisely defined circumstances, couldn't wind up in a sexual relationship with either a man or a woman, is very small indeed. (You have to try to imagine the right psycho-emotive conditions, along with the presence of a strong female friendship, etc. Conversely---I might get into trouble for saying this---but to echo Bill Maher, lesbianism is to some extent the product of women giving up on men.) A corollary to this is the phenomenon of girls kissing girls on a drunken whim or to impress boys or to be caught "going wild" or whatever. There is simply no male parallel to that. Of course, a traditional feminist/gender-theoretic response is that it's all the result of social construction and pressure. As is often the case in gender studies, this is a half-truth. Of course there's a social element enabling homosexual flirtation among girls. But it's ludicrous to suggest that such a thing would be possible, to the extent that it is possible, without an underlying biological element.
My best guess is that Kinsey's own bisexuality influenced his approach to the study of male bisexuality. And, one would certainly concede, the fact that his researchers were having sex with the subjects of his study on female sexuality renders those findings just a bit suspicious. (OTOH, Kinsey has a point in saying that there's no way to study the female orgasm without observing it.)
To revert to the movie itself, the reason it's good (in addition to the acting) is that there is irony, and indeed comedy, running through every scene, including the serious and tragic ones. At times, the line between the humorous and the appalling was quite blurred, although I guess part of the point of the film is that nothing in it should be shocking. Still, like Kinsey's assistant, I stopped laughing at the man who could go from flaccid to ejaculating in 10 seconds, who had had sex with most of his extended family, multiple species of animals, thousands of men and women, etc., when he turned to discussing his own experiences in child rape and asked Kinsey if he knew what a "boy orgasm" looked like. That, I thought, was a bit much even for the most open-minded observer.
So see this film. And (*spoiler alert*) enjoy the true masterstroke, casting Tim Curry as Kinsey's moralizing antagonist.
Free Market Failure
At Crooked Timber, John Quiggin wonders what went wrong in New Zealand. In the same period that Quiggin discusses, the late 80s to mid 90s, it's worth keeping in mind that the really successful developing economies---the Asian tigers---all thumbed their noses at the pro-IMF, free trade package they were offered. Meanwhile, look where full-throated embrace of same got Argentina. Not, btw, that I think there's any coherent alternative to free trade and globalization, but that we need to study specific instances of its failure.
Cubism meets the Pistons/Pacers riot.
The Big O
Today is the 66th birthday of the greatest basketball player ever, Oscar Robertson. He averaged a triple double in his second season in the NBA and holds the career record for triple doubles. There have been great playmakers like Magic and incredible point-scorers like Jordan, but Robertson did it all, did it first, and did it best. (He also turns out to be pivotal in NBA 2k5, since the key to the game is having a solid 3-point shooting point guard. But that's neither here nor there.)
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
More On Semantics
For those who wondered, yes, I was indeed referring obliquely to George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant. Kevin Drum has thoughts on it somewhat similar to mine.
I think the descriptive argument, about the semantics behind Republican success, is on the right track, but I find the positive argument, about using alternate moral values framing, fairly unpersuasive (ditto for the Thomas Frank book).
Rather than try to sell liberal policies as moral imperatives---as if there's a Kantian strain in the American electorate---the Democrats need to reframe them as an appeal to the very things Republicans have made their own, in other words, to borrow the Karl Rove strategy of attacking your opponents at their strongest. Democrats have allowed Republicans to be the "anti-tax," "small government," "personal responsibility," "individual freedom" party, even though they do not believe in nor do they support policies conducive to lowering taxes (for most people), shrinking government, or expanding the spheres of responsibility and freedom. It's just boneheaded of the Democrats to concede this territory---the territory that has won the presidency with few interruptions since 1968---on the vain hope that exhortations to subsidize the very people who are the targets of white working class resentment is somehow going to be a magical formula for electoral victory.
The Persecution Of Christians
CPAs Go To Jail For This
Kevin Drum's perfectly reasonable fears have materialized. In order to finance the transition costs for Social Security privatization, the administration is testing out plans to move the costs off the budgetary accounts entirely, and pretend more-or-less that they don't exist. I guess that's what you get to do when you have a mandate.
UPDATE: Brad DeLong explains WTF is going on here.
I spent a really unproductive morning at the DMV waiting to replace the drivers' license that will expire on Dec. 31. In addition to a valid US passport with photo ID and my (then-)current license, I needed a credit/debit card bank statement to serve as proof of address. Because, you know, a terrorist with a fake passport and license couldn't possibly get a bank statement.
And after all that waiting, what I got back was my old license with a hole punched through it and a new one that was laid out vertically rather than horizontally. The reason? I won't be 21 until November 27 (this Saturday). So they gave me the under-21 ID, which I'm presumably stuck with. Had I known, I would have waited until after my birthday to get the license (and no thanks, I'm not a retard---when I first got my license, there was no distinction---this must be a post 9/11 "improvement"). Of course, it doesn't help matters much that the DMV is closed Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
So, as was the case when I saw payroll taxes deducted from my first paycheck, I get why people vote Republican. If they thought about it for any length of time, though, they'd realize that this sort of DMV nonsense is the upshot of Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft making us more secure. [They'd also realize that Republican semantic dishonesty about income taxes prevents them from ever reducing payroll taxes or placing them on a graduated scale--ed.]
I've encountered a bit of skepticism about the ability of the Democrats to position themselves as the "anti-tax party" (notice that I mention the term rather than use it; that will be important). How, if the Republicans have for so long railed against taxation and strangled the political lexicon so thoroughly as to impute a positive interpretation of their fiscal policies into the very framing of public survery questions, can the Democrats possibly attain credibility as an "anti-tax party"?
The answer, I think, is for the Democrats to wise up to the semantic turn in Republican politics and make similar moves themselves. Everyone with few exceptions---certainly a supermajority of voters---is "anti-taxes." That doesn't mean that anyone, including the Republican party, is necessarily anti-taxes.
Look at these posts by Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum, especially the latter. Have the Republicans not created an opening to criticize them as being explicitly in favor of raising taxes? Surely they have. But the Democrats, as I keep saying, are so wedded to an outdated substructural ideology that they haven't got a clue about how to attack the Republicans in "anti-tax"-theoretic terms.
Every speech critical of Republican fiscal policy should make no more and no less than two points: Republican policy is destroying the very notion of fiscal solvency, and it is increasing the average taxpayer's tax burden. Forget about appealing to an ideal of selflessness or public duty or charity; and certainly forget about a 24 point comprehensive rebuke of the minutiae of the Republican plan. Talk about naked self-interest, about how Republican tax policy is inimical to the finances of the individual voter/taxpayer. That way lies victory.
Best Poker Hand Ever?
Matthew needs to get over himself, but quick.
Monday, November 22, 2004
There's a punchline to a David Cross joke that goes, "But I think dogs are smarter than women." Cross was kidding (I think), and so am I (I think), but the things you can learn along these lines while watching tv never get stale.
Case in point, last night I tuned into "My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss" (which might be the greatest reality show ever, incidentally). The "boss" was having a conversation with a modely-looking female contestant, in which he tuned out everything she was saying, and just responded with "that's fascinating" or "you are fascinating" or "I am fascinated by you." During his cutaway shots, he said explicitly that that's what he was doing. During hers, she kept going on about how good it made her feel everytime he called her "fascinating." And then the other shoe dropped. She said, with tears welling up, "nobody's ever called me 'fascinating' before." I couldn't have choreographed it better.
Mel Gibson, perhaps America's premiere anti-Semite bar none, is going to be making a lot of money really soon. How? By franchising the death of Jesus. His latest venture: The Passion video game. (I'm not fucking kidding.)
But isn't this, really, evidence of how far we've come as a society? In past ages, those who were persecuted for their religious beliefs were subject everything from harrassment to torture, and some (this sounds wacky but it's true) were even crucified. But here and now, a victim of such persecution, as Gibson surely was (just ask him), is guaranteed to have lucrative marketing opportunities awaiting him. Isn't America just grand? Somewhere a bald eagle is soaring majestically.
The Horsewhipping, Er, Game
Wow, that sure was atrocious. Yale couldn't even keep the game within 2 and a half touchdowns to protect the people who bet on them. Patrick Belton does an admirable job trying to spin the results: okay, we got our asses handed to us on the football field, but the YDN had much better Game coverage than the Crimson, and besides, Yale controls the government so who cares about football anyway?
Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias, who belongs to the Bad Guys, tries to spin away the Blue team's iron grip on the levers of power by denigrating the quality of leaders Yale produces. Who was the last Harvard man to become president? Oh, that's right, it was the spoiled, drug-addicted, intellectually lightweight son of a powerful family with embarrassing ties to the wrong side in WWII. Looks like we're not so different after all.
Friday, November 19, 2004
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Does it exist on the left? Sure. Does it exist on the right? Like you wouldn't believe. I can confirm that this isn't an isolated incident. I belong to a mailing list on which a particularly right-wing member also hinted at executing this journalist. There's a non-trivial proportion of the electorate that would consider accurate reporting of American war crimes to be itself an act of treason. In fact, wasn't that what Zell Miller's RNC speech was basically about?
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Eric Muller notices what might be a new low for the post-modernist right wing:
I'm all for a moment to reflect on the memory of the men who died in the cause of spreading National Socialism around the globe. Only some of these POWs were supporters of the Nazis; many were young conscripts who undoubtedly cared little for Hitler's plans for world domination and racial purification. Even those among the dead who were Nazis led full human lives that included more than just their support for the Reich. It is fitting to remember these human lives.Indeed. "Say what will about the tenets of national socialism dude, at least at was an ethos...but fucking nihilists, man?" as the great Walter Sobchak once said.
What is not fitting, however, are the quoted comments of Lt. Col. Herbert Sladek, of Fort Benning's German Army liaison team, on the fallen Germans buried in the United States:"They were educated in another time period, with another political guideline. In their opinion, they also fought for freedom, liberty and for their fatherland. That's why these people gave all they had -- their own lives."You will not find a German publication or official who speaks of Vertrauerstag in this way, and with good reason. This day does not commemorate the cause for which these soldiers served, or the nobility of their efforts in support of a cause that in "their opinion" was just. They did not "also" fight for "freedom" and "liberty."
Prequel To The Platform (1a)
Matthew Yglesias has good advice on the imperative of the Democrats to organize themselves a parliamentary opposition party (here and here). It's more a point of tactics then of programme, but it touches on some crucial elements of the platform which I want to elaborate on in a bit (i.e. when I'm done with this damned epistemology essay).
The bastards who killed Margaret Hassan are the comrades in every sense of the word of the bastards who killed Theo Van Gogh. If you don't get that, you don't get the conflict we're in.
The reason I haven't said more about this is that I can't sit down and write calmly about it. If I'm ever able to, I'll have a lot to say.
UPDATE: No Andrew, the response is "Well fuck you, too."
This WaPo op-ed doesn't harangue the Republicans with a recitation of their stomach-turning rhetorical abuses of gay people. Nor does it invoke any theoretical schema by which to validate gay civil rights. It merely demonstrates concretely that gay people are people, and just as capable as heterosexuals of being good people, and that they are not some scapegoat-able "other" but in fact our own friends and family. The lesson is clear. Rhetorical abuse, once unleashed, is not easily contained, and transposes without much difficult into very real abuse.
Perhaps this is the most effective line of argumentation of all.
Because I'm An Insomniac
...and because even now after nearly a year to cool down emotionally, I still have a hatred for the Wachowski brothers that burns hotter than the absolute center of a trillion blue-white stars, here are couple (one and two) of hilarious reviews/fiskings of the disgraceful first sequel to the Matrix. (The second sequel was so bad that no word sufficiently describes it. I suggest "the opposite of scrumtrilescent.")
The Messianic Style In American Politics
I've done submitted a new YDN column on the fusion of the Christian right and the Republican party, and the semantical games that are used to mask the awfulness of that phenomenon. The piece is about 250 words too long, so when it does come out it will be fairly substantially attenuated. I thought I'd provide my loyal readers with the piece in full, so here goes. The difficulty in writing in this genre, i.e. criticism of the politicization of religion or influence of religion in politics, is towing the line between sufficiently sharply attacking the perniciousness of politically activist fundamentalism and keeping one's rhetoric from getting overheated. I think I did a reasonable job, though you can be the judge. I'm very partial to the last line, though a lot of people won't be:
In his YDN column of October 27, Mike Slater, parroting Senator Joseph Lieberman, wrote that “[t]he First Amendment guarantees all Americans the freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.” As a matter both of jurisprudence and of intuitively reasonable interpretation of the establishment clause, this is utter nonsense. Freedom of religion of course encompasses freedom not to believe, and the First Amendment could not any more clearly enunciate a prohibition against the endorsement of a particular faith by the institutions of the state. Yet it seems to have escaped the notice of legislators and commentators in both parties that the state sponsorship of all religions simultaneously is just as fatally incompatible as the state sponsorship of one religion with the values of liberal, secular democracy according to which the Constitution was written and the United States founded.
I used the word “values” advisedly to denote the principles according to which the Founders created the separation of church and state, because it is apparently the issue of “values” itself, and not any particular set of values, that was the decisive factor in George W. Bush’s re-election. To sketch the situation rather roughly: Republicans have values, and Democrats do not, or so the punditariat has informed us. But it cannot be true that Democrats believe in nothing; they avow beliefs in the right of women to have legal abortions, the right of gay couples to attain some sort of dignified status in civil law, the responsibility of the government to advance potentially life-saving research on embryonic stem cells, and indeed, Democrats may just believe in a variety of other things as well.
However reprehensible these beliefs may appear to some people, are they not values? Perhaps, in fact, they aren’t, if the word “values” has somehow come to be synonymous not with “guiding moral principles,” but instead with axioms of religious belief that are inaccessible to reason and by their very nature immune to analysis. What follows from such a redefinition of “values” is strikingly simple: To have moral values is equivalent to being religious, therefore any political party whose religiosity is insufficient is necessarily immoral.
It’s worth noting that the pan-theocratic ecumenicism Slater (and Lieberman) defend is exactly the wrong way to understand the Republicans’ equation of moral values with religious faith. Their religious base will not be satisfied by the profession of any faith at all, so long as it is genuine; one must pay homage to the True Faith. The imperatives to legislate homosexuality out of civic life, to confer citizenship on amalgamated cells in petri dishes, to micro-manage the permissible content on radio and television, to assert the validity of “creation science” in public schools, to regulate against pre-marital sex and also to deny contraception to those who engage in it, etc., are not the values of the benign, undifferentiated faith that every national office-seeker must affirm regardless of his or her politics. They are the specific tenets of an ultra-politicized fundamentalist Christianity, whose adherents are unreservedly certain that their social agenda is God’s plan for the United States, and that the recent success of the Republican party is evidence of His will in action.
There is nothing at all surprising, therefore, about the wave of triumphalism among the religious right and the forms in which it has been expressed. Charles Colson, an erstwhile Watergate felon turned born-again advisor to the Bush campaign, said of Bush’s re-election that it represented God “giving us a chance to repent and to restore some moral sanity to American life.” The president of Bob Jones University, in a clear invocation of religious humility, reported that “God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism.” James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, and the de facto domestic agenda-setter for the Bush White House, has already virtually destroyed the bid of the pro-choice moderate Republican Arlen Specter to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and made it clear that any Republican dissension from the religious right’s platform on social policy will be a career-destroying move.
How, exactly, is one supposed to argue with those who think that their political positions bear the mark of divine ordination, and for whom, consequently, things like self-criticism, rational persuasion, or the need to ground one’s beliefs in observed evidence, are the vain tools of the Devil and of liberals that can only serve to lead people into waywardness and heterodoxy? The Democrats are likely to avoid sustained engagement with these forces for fear of being God-baited in future elections. The Republicans, meanwhile, are in a position in which it is impossible even to try to argue with the religious right.
Though all Republicans are by no means fellow-travelers of the Christian Coalition, and there remain, especially in states where the Democrats are competitive, a fair number of Republicans who are moderate on social issues, the number of prominent Republicans who will stand up to the religious right is small and shrinking. The large majority of elected Republicans either believe, in full or in part, in the Family Research Council’s vision of social transformation, or else are both too ambitious and cowardly to resist taking the party line. More importantly, perhaps, the Republican president is a member of his own religious base. His rejection of empiricism has both served as a tool for crafting policy—there is no other way to understand what went wrong in Iraq, for example—and as a badge of honor, a signifier that he has “values,” whereas things like evidence and rational justification are only for the likes of those who never had any morals in the first place.
There is a deeper conflict of values underlying the various disputes on issues of bioethics and sexual/marital relationships. The beliefs in individual autonomy, natural rights, and the inherent worth of the scientific method, i.e. the Enlightenment values at the core of our nation’s founding documents, have always coexisted uneasily with a subcultural stratum of religious fundamentalism. Those of us who cling to the former set of values—and who recognize that the classical liberal principles of governance are and have always been genuine values—are in for a grim four years, if not longer. What’s new about the contemporary iteration of fundamentalism is its interest in and inextricability from politics. This year, the Constitution itself came under attack by those who would amend it to include their own private interpretation of Leviticus. And faced with a changing social landscape and the eventual inevitability of gay civil equality, a number of voters sufficient to determine the outcome of the election decided to reinstall George W. Bush in the White House. His victory was a down payment on their messianic deliverance.
Jamie Kirchick and Dan Munz are having an argument about something really inconsequential---the appropriateness of President Levin's salary. Since they're both friends of mine, and if I said I care about this I'd be lying, I'm not going to take sides. I just want to point out that Levin not only saved Yale from fiscal insolvency, but restored its endowment to a status competitive with Harvard's. That definitely counts for something.
OTOH, he's presided over the disintegration of its athletics---I think that's something the president can exert influence on---and I can't forgive him for allowing the wrestling program to get axed because of Title IX pressure (wrestling is my family's ancestral sport; my father and grandfather were both bulldog wrestlers). The solution? Compensate him adequately and hire somebody else to overhaul athletics. Fundraising is time-consuming enough as it is, and those who are great at it are seldom very good at anything else (Terry McAullife anybody?).
Oh yeah, one more thing. A sentence that begins with "Henry Ford, great capitalist that he [was]," achieves its telos by ending with "used his fortune to set up book mills posing as publishing houses for the distribution of anti-Semitic propaganda including the Protocols of the Elders of Blah Blah Blah." Not that I'm overly sensitive about Jew-hatred. I'm willing to judge art and literature and philosophy completely apart from whatever anti-Semitic bile its creators had stored up. But Ford was a Know-Nothing who made himself fabulously wealthy by selling crappy ugly cars for low prices. That's not a world-historical achievement. "Time," as Auden wrote, "worships language and forgives all those by whom it lives." But it doesn't forgive the fascist sympathies of a second-rate robber barron. Let's please not transform him into a paradigm for civic responsibility.
(First) Prequel To The Platform
I've been trying for days to assemble my thoughts on the next manifesto (or "platform" if we're required to use a synonymous term that the heartland doesn't view as treasonous) for the Democratic party. I want to offer some kind of bullet-point presentation, but so far my ideas are either a bit too scattershot or theoretically complicated to be adumbrated into that format.
As an entry into doing so, let me endorse, unironically, Kevin Drum's semi-serious proposal for a Constitutional amendment against gerrymandering. Such an amendment would be good policy---gerrymandering is terrible for reasons too well known to enumerate---but it would also be a sound Constitutional principle. It is utterly consonant with the requirement of equal protection under law. The gerrymandering of districts is a furtive way of stripping huge numbers of citizens of the basic civil right to legislative representation. And furthermore, the Democrats, by (in this case) doing the right thing, risk nothing and stand to gain a great deal by taking an uncompromising position against a party that views gerrymandering as inseparable from, and more or less equivalent to its own outreach programs.
Secondly, I wish to semi-seriously endorse the notion floating around of a Constituional amendment against states either paying more in federal taxes than they receive in subsidies or vice versa. Of course I'll acknowledge that the right place for the implementation of such a policy is not the Constitution. But the issue itself is a very real and pertinent one, and is perhaps a means by which the Democrats can grab a foothold back into the electorate's assessment of credibility on tax issues specifically (as opposed to economic issues generally, where Democrats always poll well and to little avail).
Yale-Harvard is here again, and even though the football team is, alas, playing out of its league, we Yalie upperclassmen have our last opportunity, at least as undergrads, to defile Harvard's home ground. Don't hesitate to let me know of any cunning schemes. Failing that, I can at least expect to go out in a blaze of alcoholic/high-as-a-kite glory over the weekend---since injury prevents me from playing rugby, and therefore from having a sober Friday night, and since Boston is governed by puritanical social legislation, and since I don't give a shit about having my ID confiscated because I'll be 21 by the time we get back from break anyway. Attica or nothing!
So Goddamn Close
This weekend, at the Northeastern championships, Yale rugby fell one match short of qualifying for nationals. We lost 10-0 to Middlebury, which has been until this year an almost uncontested regional power, and whom we had beaten in the New England tournament by a similar score. (I know the system is fucked up. Teams can qualify out of both New England and the New York Metro area for the Northeasterns, and even though we beat them the first time, their win is the one that ultimately counts). In our second match of the tournament, we vented our frustration and beat St. Bonaventure 60-0.
I bring all this up partly because I'm a chauvinist about my own interests, but mainly to point out that a team that gets regularly dissed by the school's administration has been by far its most successful this fall. I expect (though anyone can hope irrationally) that this weekend, Harvard will embarrass Yale football, completing the first four-year sweep in the history of the Yale-Harvard rivalry. We've reached a stage---I've confirmed this by talking to my despondent friends on the football team---where any kid who's reasonably competent at Madden NFL video games would be an improvement over our current offensive playcalling situation.
Something needs to be done. We need a new AD and new coaches across the board. Remember how F. Scott Fitzgerald portrayed Buchanan as just another asshole Yale jock? That's because Yale used have the proudest and broadest tradition of athletic excellence in the country. To paraphrase someone (I can't remember who), Yale can do better. Is help on the way?
As for the rugby team, we just barely missed out on the big show, and my triumphant and sure-to-be injury-free return to the pitch will sadly not include national championship glory. But this team has so much to look forward to in the Ivy League tournament in the spring. And we have the very relevant task of dispatching Harvard on Saturday (the Match is at least as old as the Game).
The Dean Visit
I managed to miss the Dean (plus what were their names?) symposium, work and all, but Dan Munz blogged it here. My take on Dean is that he's basically a centrist deficit hawk with progressive (in the best sense of the word) social values, who became so enraged about the administration's conduct in Iraq that he became spokesman for a movement that would disdain a lot of his positions. In other words, I think the guy is fundamentally sound.
I wish he would take some time over the next two to four years, if his plan is to run again, to engage in a fair-bit of self-criticism. Sure, Bush's misadministration of the Iraqi occupation is unforgiveable. That doesn't justify lending creedence to the idea that Saddam Hussein's capture wasn't a fantastic advance in the cause of international justice, or any of the other silly things he let slip because he is not practiced enough at bullshitting to make photo-op executions of self-lobotimized inmates or indecent assaults on despised minorities into demonstrations of core values.
The 2008 field is wide open, as it will be the first election since 1952 when neither a sitting president nor vice president has headed one of the national tickets. I'm going to be optimistic about the various possibilities (though I will of course be disappointed). Maybe, just maybe, an eagle will emerge (discounting the Constituionally-prohibited and insufferably egomaniacal Arnold Schwarzenneger, who I'd like to see run for the Republican nomination anyway so he can appreciate just how strong the Dobson-Weyrich wing's control of the party really is.) Whatever party he belongs to---though it's inconceivable to me that he will be a Republican---that will be my man. If Dean can temper his own ego, and craft a sensible position on security, he might just be the one.
Excuses, Excuses, And A Statement From The Heart
We're getting down to crunch time in the semester. A boatload of academic work, as well as a blossoming career as a YDN editorialist, and an accelerating weightlifting schedule that no mere mortal would have reasonable odds of surviving, let alone completing, have really wound down my blogging output. I don't have much to say in my defense, except that I'm not getting paid for this beyond the pittance that Adsense brings in, and while I enjoy it immensely---blogging is, as I've said before, cyber-therapy---priorities do start to kick in after a while.
All this is to say that I'm going to make up for lost blogging time as soon as possible, which probably means the upcoming week of vacation. But tonight is---you might have guessed this based on the hour of this posting---another happy fun funny time with adderall. I'm slogging my way through a very silly paper on the Shroud of Turin for my godawful archaeology class, and then I'll be making my way to a criticism of Quine's proposal for the naturalization of epistemology. That is, of course, way more up my alley. In this case, I think that Quine's attack on doctrinal reduction (the principle of deducing epistemic laws from observational data) is subject to criticism in light of Kripke's "discovery" of the necessary a posteriori, propositions that are true in all possible worlds but that can only be known through experience. The classic examples are "water is H20" and "the evening star is the morning star." You might be able to come up with others. The point is fundamentally a Humean one: no amounted of repeated observation of the phenomena of water's composition, or the identity of the planet Venus to itself at different times, is sufficient to establish its necessity. A further step, a philosophical one, is required. Perhaps we would not want to call such propositions laws, but they are something more than mere observations, and until that gap can be closed---I don't think it can---philosophy, and epistemology in particular, are not doomed to be relegated to branches of empirical science. Instead, in fact, philosophy remains the only tool that can yield intelligible natural language understanding of scientific phenomena.
[If you've only tuned into this blog recently, take note---politics is a secondary interest for me, unless the results of the 2004 election turn out to be as personally radicalizing as I fear they might be. Though I am by no means a traditional left-liberal Democrat, and feel no special allegiance to the Democratic party, it seems to me to be, at least for now, the only institution capable of protecting us from an ingrown, culturally poisonous, philistine, anti-Enlightenment, democracy-devouring fusion of Christian fundamentalism with electoral politics. My wish, and what would be my prayer if I had any use for traditional theology, is that the Democrats begin to understand that external fundamentalist threats to the liberal way of life are very real, clear, and present, and that no peace deal in Palestine, or withdrawal from Saudia Arabia, or receptiveness to UN multilateralism, will be enough to dissuade the Jihadists from planning to murder us all, religious conservative and secularist alike. We had better, therefore, figure out how we can most efficiently reduce their numbers, both by killing them (let's not mince words) and by fierce and unrelenting ideological combat. George W. Bush sees the war on terror as a conflict between proponents of the True Faith (and some good Jews and Muslims too) and adherents of a false one. Too many Democrats see it as a routine function of international peace-keeping. In truth it's a struggle over the justification of secular liberalism, the greatest creation of which is the United States itself (yes, patriotism that is neither nationalistic nor xenophobic is a good thing). I long for the day when young Arab, Persian, and Hindustani men will resoundingly tell the Jihadists trying to impress them into service to go fuck themselves--ed.]
So anyway, I'll be blogging coterminously with the essay writing. And also playing Halo 2 on XBox live, which is scrumtrilescent.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Devil In The Details
Block That Simile
No, Jesse, dropping $2000 on computer repairs doesn't even remotely feel like learning that your mother was having an affair with John Ashcroft.
Instapundit Fucks Up
I know that all bloggers commit typos, but you'd think that a cheese as big as Glenn Reynolds could at least be bothered to read his own posts. I quote from his endorsement of Condoleeza Rice at State:
I think she's a good choice...Upside: She's up to speed on the issues. Downside: She's been working awfully hard for the past 4 years. She's probably tired. But hey, when Cheney steps down, she can be moved to the Vice Presidency and get a little rest. . . .[snip]...I think she's a good choice. I also think she should take a week or two at the beach.Talk about running on empty.
"I Will Not Be God-Whipped"
Leon Wieseltier's new piece in TNR on the Republicans' equation of morality with faith is, alas, subscription only. But I'm going to risk the legal ramifications of reprinting the whole thing, because it's A) so good that it makes me question my right to comment on politics, and B) the most salutary piece I've yet read on this subject. Here goes:
Perhaps the most odious feature of contemporary conservatism is its equation of success with virtue. In the realm of economics, this long ago resulted in the strange belief in the moral superiority of the wealthy, a vulgar Calvinism according to which money is a proof of merit and riches are a mark of righteousness. How else is wealth acquired in America, after all, except justly? And now, in the aftermath of the election, the equation of success and virtue, the conflation of outer worth with inner worth, has been extended to the realm of politics. We are instructed that the Republicans won because they have "values" and the Democrats lost because they do not have "values." (Or quantitatively speaking, 59.5 million Americans have "values" and 55.9 million Americans do not have "values.") Winners are good, losers are bad.
It is not the triumphalism of the Republicans that is so distasteful (victory indeed is theirs), it is the sanctimony; and this is owed to a further refinement of the Republican worldview, according to which moral values are finally religious values. It is philosophically and historically obtuse, of course, to think that morality cannot exist without religion, or that immorality cannot exist with religion; but for the Republicans "values" are the entailments of "faith." The good are with God, the bad are without God. And since winners are good and losers are bad, it follows that the winners are with God and the losers are without God. What clarity!
In the days after the election, the losers seemed to be falling for the winners' clarity. Democrats, it was everywhere observed, are catastrophically wanting in "respect" for American believers. They must immediately "learn to talk about" moral questions and "learn to talk to" religious people. Suddenly the most significant obstacle to political power in America is secularism. It is certainly the case that John Kerry was not exactly a man with the common touch; and that liberals more generally have trouble imagining common people except as poor people. For this reason, liberals have once again been harshly taught that homo economicus--more concretely, homo Shrumicus--is a fiction. Money is often not the most important thing in the world for poor people, perhaps because they have so little of it. They do not define themselves only, or mainly, by what they lack; whereas they are rich in loves and principles, and so the communal and national and cultural and spiritual dimensions of their identity may loom larger than the economic dimension. (The Bush administration has demonstrated, by contrast, that economic man is more likely to be found among the wealthy, for whom money often does seem to be the most important thing in the world, perhaps because they have so much of it.) So liberals must indeed develop a fuller and more vivid comprehension of the Americans whom they rightly wish to help; but that is all the intellectual contrition that they need muster. For they have values even when they do not have faith; and they should not contrive to have faith so as to gain values, unless they wish to degrade faith by promoting it mainly for its political utility, as some conservatives do.
I will not be God-whipped. For a start, it is not at all clear that the "values" analysis of George W. Bush's reelection is correct--my splendidly unquantified suspicion is that he owed his majority to the tiresomely predictable failure of John Kerry to persuade 3.6 million people that he would unambiguously commit American power to the cause of American security--even if the cunning referenda on gay marriage did bring more conservative voters to the polls. (If this were 1960, Karl Rove would have arranged referenda on segregation.) Moreover, the "faith" that is being praised as the road to political salvation, the Bush ideal of religion, is a zealous ignorance, a complacent renunciation of proof and evidence and logic and argument, as if the techniques of reason were merely liberal tools. A few weeks before the election David Brooks explained to his readers that Republicans and Democrats have different notions of leadership. Republicans admire "straight-talking men of faith," whereas Democrats prefer leaders who are "knowledgeable and thoughtful." Brooks was serenely unaware of what a damning admission he had made. There is no reason why liberals, even in defeat, should entertain such a surrender of intelligence.
The faith fetish, the belief in belief, is an insult not only to the mind, but also to the soul. For there are many varieties of faith, and the "faith" of the Republicans, which does not grasp the old distinction between fideism and faith, represents only one of those varieties. Not all religion in America is as superstitious and chiliastic and emotional and dogmatic and political as this. And not all religion in America is as Christian as this. When the spokesmen for Bush's holy base call for the restoration of religion to a central position in public life--for the repeal of the grand tradition of mutually beneficial separation that began with Roger Williams's heroic alienation from the theocracy of Massachusetts--they are usually calling for the restoration of their religion.
Consider the bioethical controversies. In the discussion of stem-cell research, reproductive technologies, birth control, and abortion, politics has collided, and colluded, with theology. Liberals are regularly castigated for insensitivity to religion when they articulate their views about the proper use of these scientific powers. But they are not being insensitive to religion. They are being insensitive to Catholic and evangelical Christian religion. It happens that the Jewish understanding of the sanctity of life leads Jewish law to rule much differently, and much more "liberally," in all these matters. Why, then, are so many conservatives insensitive to my religion? The question answers itself. They have no choice. They believe what they believe. They do not mean to wound me; but all the ecumenical talk about respect, and all the political talk about healing, cannot dissuade them from their consciences. I understand this. I expect them to think as they think. But they had better understand this, too. I think as I think. Like them, I cannot be dissuaded from my conscience. I intend no disrespect, but I also intend no phony respect: Like them, I believe that on certain fundamental issues facing American society, those who think as I think are right and those who think as they think are wrong. The liberal conscience is not a human failing. It is another kind of conscience. It has reasons. It is a thing of principle, not a thing of taste. The religious right complains of liberal condescension, and often properly; but then it condescends to liberalism by reducing it to class or to culture, and by regarding it not as a moral creed but as a moral corruption. The offense that religious conservatives regularly take from secular liberals is a little ridiculous. Why do they care so much about our disapproval? They are also in the business of disapproval. The truth is that this kind of conservatism is sustained by its feeling of victimization. Grievance makes it glad. It allows the right to combine the power of a majority with the pity of a minority.
When I complain about the scanting of my religion in the bioethical debate, I am not being altogether serious. Obviously I do not expect Congress to act on the sanctity of Judaism when it makes laws about stem-cell research or abortion. This is not only because Judaism has too few adherents to carry the day. It is not the politics of a democracy, but the philosophy of a democracy, that requires me to accept these limitations upon the reach of my faith. For my faith is my faith, even if I believe it to be universally true. The reasons of my religion cannot compel the assent of people who do not share my religion. They have the reasons of their religion, which cannot compel my assent. That the Pope, or some distinguished evangelical divine, holds a certain view is a matter of indifference to me. The Pope may be right and he may be wrong. I may be persuaded of his view, but not because of his authority. I need to be given arguments that I may rationally consider. (I harbor the same skepticism--the same liberalism--about authority in my own tradition. Reason is not an instrument for criticizing other people's religion.) This is what Adam Michnik meant when he wickedly remarked, in support of the American war against Saddam Hussein, that if Jesus is telling Bush what to do, He is giving him some very good advice.
John Kerry, and his recreational complexity, made the simplicity of George W. Bush look like clarity. This clarity seems perfectly consistent with the president's religiosity; but in fact the relation of religious faith and political clarity is much less edifying and much more onerous. The belief in God does not guarantee the knowledge of God's wishes. This is the most elementary lesson of the history of religious faith. The believer lives in the darkness more than he lives in the light. He does not wallow in God's guidance, he thirsts for it. And when God's guidance comes, it does not take the form of policy recommendations, unless he has created his God in the image of his desire. What deity is this, that has opinions about preemption and taxation and Quentin Tarantino? In this regard, there is no more ringing refutation of the religion of George W. Bush than the religion of Abraham Lincoln. "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other," Lincoln proclaimed at the beginning of his second term, and in the middle of a war. "The prayers of both could not be answered--that of neither has been answered fully." For Lincoln, his party was not God's party; or rather, the other party was as much God's party as his party was. And he explained this repudiation of human certainty this way: "The Almighty has his own purposes." He did not know what they were, he knew only that they were. Beware the politicians, and the politics, that know more.
Monday, November 15, 2004
The Bull Moose Blog and Phillip Carter's excellent Intel Dump blog have been added to the links. Read them both, you won't be sorry.
Red State Values
Sunday, November 14, 2004
That Was Weird
Pretty good episode of the Simpsons tonight...and just when I'd abandoned all hope for the show.
Line of the night belongs to Marge: "When Virginia Woolf wrote that every woman needs a room of her own, she must have been talking about the kitchen." That gets funnier the more you think about it, no?
Gettin Ink Part II
A mere two hours under the needle, and the Faravahar tattoo is done. I think I have an inkling of what childbirth feels like. Fortunately, I'm a pretty sinewy guy. If I were a pencilneck, I would have passed out in the chair.
If you're curious, the design looks roughly like this. And if you're interested in getting a tattoo, I'd highly recommend making an appointment with Sebastian at the Edge on Chapel Street.
Turns out that shaolin shadow boxing can't last forever.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Fuck The South (.com)?
No doubt you've already seen this website. I'm not going to endorse any of its arguments, but I will say that the links it provides on the actual practice of "heartland" moral values are instructive.
For example: the Blue States have much lower divorce rates than the red states, and Massachusetts has the lowest of all.
Alongside their high divorce rates, red states also have inordinately high murder rates.
Last, it turns out that red still stands for socialism---because the red states (for the most part) take in far more revenue in various federal subsidies than they pay in federal taxes. Guess who pays for all that. I won't tell you. Just guess.
P.S. I don't have the statistics off-hand, but I'm pretty sure that the red states do a lot worse on drug addiction than the blue states [not too surprising when it's a lot easier to cook up crystal meth than to drive to the nearest city a couple hundred miles away--ed.]. OTOH, red states do tend to be quite a bit more generous in terms of charitable donations---though if red states paid their fair share of taxes, that might not be the case.
Friday, November 12, 2004
For The Record
It looks like the Bull Moose and I are on pretty-much the same page when it comes to Democratic strategy:
The Democrats must become the anti-Washington Party. For instance, the donkey must join with John McCain and even Senator-elect Coburn (that is not a typo) and oppose pork barrel spending and corporate welfare. Democrats must become the party of fiscal restraint and make the G.O.P. the spendthrift big government types.
The Southwest Strategy
Following up on my recommendations for the ideological realignment of the Democratic party (see here and here), I want to talk about what the Democrats concrete electoral strategy for presidential elections ought to be.
First of all, the Democrats already have three bases of power, in the northeast, the upper midwest, and the west coast. Unfortunately, two of those three regions have been bleeding electoral votes since the middle of the last century (in 1960, e.g., New York was worth 45 EV, Pennsylvania was worth 32, and Illinois was worth 27). Conversely California has steadily gained electoral votes ever since it first became a state, and if immigration rates are steady, it could well crack 60 electoral votes within a couple of election cycles.
What the Democrats have control of, in other words, is the ancestral base of the Republican party. It's prosperous, self-sufficient, and rich in electoral votes. That ain't a bad start, as many wise men have said before me. Based on this year's EV apportionment, I estimate that any Democratic presidential candidate should be able to win a bare minimum of 211 electoral votes, consisting of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, D.C., Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii. These are the states that, due to the fracturing of the electorate, even Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale should be able to carry if they somehow head the Democratic ticket again. Kerry won three further states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, which I didn't include in my list of Democratic locks (let's use the terms "blue-lock" and "red-lock" hereafter) because President Bush would have won the first if not for a preternatural GOTV effort in Philadelphia, and because the latter two have been trending Republican recently. Whereas New Hampshire is included because even though it was close, it's been trending towards the Democrats.
So: Step 1 of the electoral strategy is consolidation. The Democratic party apparatuses in all the blue-lock states need to begin right now to turn their states deep, deep blue at all levels of government. The Republicans spend the four years in between elections ensuring that the Republican candidate will carry the red-lock states by 20 points. Democrats can't afford not to do the same thing. Step 1a is a parallel campaign in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the purple-blue states, to make them into locks. In these states, and neighboring red states like Iowa and Ohio, that effort will require appealing to exurban and rural (but not evangelical) voters. The best way to do that, I think, is to position the party as friendly to gun ownership rights, which means everything from running candidates who (gasp) get NRA endorsements, to advocating symbolic measures that are cognizant of a Constitutional right to bear arms. (More on gun rights in another post; I know how controversial it's going to be.) With all the Kerry states locked down---and again, that doesn't mean running with a high probability of victory, it means running with nothing more than a trivial probability of defeat, we're up to 252 EV. Twenty more shouldn't be too hard to find, right?
Step 2 is expansion into the red states (duh). I think about this process in terms of different tiers, representing the urgency with which the Democrats have to campaign in a particular state. To begin with, perhaps the biggest tactical error of the Kerry campaign was to bank everything on the ability to carry the Gore states plus one of Ohio and Florida, and conceding everything else to the president out of hand. Nevertheless, they have 47 EV between them, and Florida is poised to increase its EV share on the basis of a rising non-Cuban Hispanic (hence Democratic) population. These are the tier 1 states, hands down.
Tier 2, however, is where the long term hopes of the Democratic party lie. Currently between them, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada have 29 EV. That number is sure to grow along with a rapidly growing Hispanic population. Moreover, the majority of voters in these states are right-leaning independents and libertarians. It is the perfect arena for proposing a small-government left-libertarian ideology. Transform the southwest into a fourth Democratic stronghold, and it will be the Democrats who hold the structural upper hand in elections. Doing so will be impossible without the something like the ideological shift I laid out (and this is not just pride of authorship---it's ground-level understanding of regional politics and culture).
The third tier is perhaps the most interesting. At some point in the future, Democrats will be (if they're smart) competitive in some of the former Confederate states. On the one hand, there are states where Democrats were competitive not too long ago---Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Those are becoming fading prospects, but might still be within reach if there's a particularly strong swing towards Democrats in a particular election. The better prospects, especially long-term, are Virginia and North Carolina, which are slowly becoming mid-Atlantic (i.e. non-Southern) states. From the Maryland+ area of northern Virginia to the research triangle of North Carolina, there are blue-positive demographic indicators in both states. In the immediate future, I don't expect Democratic candidates to be able to win there...but if they can run aggressively and force the Republicans into rearguard action (as Kerry was forced to do in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc.), their chances will be manifestly stronger. Moreover, doing well in those states carries the ancillary benefit of bridging the gap between the Democrats and the so-called heartland, such that strong performances in Virginia and North Carolina will have coattails in terms of future local and national elections in places like Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
Speaking of which, the fourth tier is those states---West Virginia, Missouri, Iowa and Kentucky (West Virginia especially, which voted for Dukakis), where economic populism should have allowed the Democrats to run a lot more strongly than they did. The Thomas Frank proposal is to create economic wedge issues. I'm not sure what those would look like, but if it means protectionism, it's a terrible idea. Much better, and much more decent, is to repackage liberal culture in a way that demonstrates to West Virginians et al. that the Democrats are not inimical to their "moral values." Once again, I think gun-rights libertarianism is the key.
Look back at the tiers. Give Kerry tier 1, and the electoral college score is 299-239 in his favor. Concede tier 1, but capture tier 2, and it's 281-257 (likely to get more lopsided as the population of the southwest increases). Add tier 3 to tier 2 (I don't think tier 3 is winnable without tier 2), and the score becomes 309 to 229, or 355 to 183 if you include Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Hopefully not too long from now, a Democrat will win the Kerry states plus all four tiers of red states. That would yield (according to this year's apportionment) an electoral vote count of 413 to 125, give or take about fifty depending on the completeness of a Dem sweep of those states.
Okay, if you're keeping track, we've just now made through step 2. Step 3 is a process I like to think of as Illinoisization (or Illinois-ization). The point is that Illinois used to be a paradigm battleground state, and it simply isn't any more, because Chicago and the surrounding suburbs go so strongly for the Democrats that they are unbeatable in a statewide race. Let Illinois be the model for all the teetering blue states as well as the target red states (in the correct order of urgency), and let us mimic on a vaster scale the success of the Illinois Democrats in effecting a socio-cultural transformation in their state.
Step 4 is candidate selection. This has been more crucial for the Democrats in recent elections than any of the other steps, largely because they've been skipped. Consider what the Republicans have accomplished with George W. Bush, easily the most feeble and embarrassingly incompetent public speaker to run for president in at least a hundred years---and this is out of a field that includes some real doozies. Bush's weaknesses haven't even mattered because the Republicans have transformed their party into a parliamentary coalition, and they've convinced the majority of voters not to support individual candidates, but rather to vote for the Republican party in toto itself. With the ground game laid by success in the prior steps, candidate selection won't have quite the tactical primacy that it bears today. Even so, there are a few considerations the Democrats should make. First of all, they should not pick a token southern governor. It will look like a naked attempt to cleave away regional support by birthright, because that's exactly what such a campaign would be. Advocating the presidency of Candidate X on the basis of his southern roots is even stupider than advocating the presidency of John Kerry on the basis of his Vietnam experience.
At the same time, let's be a little more careful to choose candidates who can correctly pronounce the names of football stadiums and know the starting lineup of their hometown baseball team. Should that matter? No. Does it? Obviously. I think the ideal states to draft future candidates from are New Jersey, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Illinois. That said, Wesley Clark (of Arkansas) is probably the Dems' best hope for 2008, if he can get his act together as a speaker on the stump. (Did you hear his speech at the Democratic Convention? It was the best one after Obama's and Clinton's, and arguably even better than Clinton's). What Clark has going for him, obviously, is that he's a general. What he has going against him is still that he's a general. The temptation will be omnipresent, as it was for Kerry, to spend all his time talking about his military service. At least in Clark's case, that's very extensive service, and constitutes the whole of his previous career. But I think it will be quite enough for the punditocracy to universally refer to him as "General Clark" in order for him to establish his military credentials in that big red space.
Incidentally, during the Democratic primaries there were rumors circulating on the right-wing of the blogosphere that Clark left the army under dubious circumstances. They died down once he lost the nomination, but you can bet your ass that he'll be smeared if he runs again and gets the nomination. So, assuming he still has presidential aspirations, Clark would be well advised to leak all pertinent information about that right now. He should use surrogates to create a mini-scandal, just so that all of this is aired out and discredited long in advance of the election.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Gettin Ink Part I
I just got back from The Edge. Now that I'm done with my third tattoo, I think it's okay for me to refer to the process as "getting ink" (much like it's only okay for people who fought there to call it "Nam").
It's a medium-sized Star of David on the outside of my left upper arm. And yes, I do already know about the whole Jewish cemetary thing. Two points about that: 1) the train left the station a couple of years ago; 2) I really don't see why I should care (or how I could care) about what happens to my body after I'm gone. I quite agree with Heraclitus about the uselessness of corpses, and regarded veneration of remains as idolatrous and decidedly creepy.
Part II is on Sunday, when I'll be getting a fairly sizable tattoo on my back. If anyone is interested in getting ink (that's "getting a tattoo" to you people), make an appointment with Sebastian at The Edge (203-777-8288). You won't be disappointed.
Glenn Reynolds Credulity Award
Despite a bunch of candidates, this one goes to...Glenn Reynolds.
Professor Reynolds thinks that this remark by James Wolcott was homophobic.
When was the last time instapundit.com had anything critical to say about groups like James Dobson's Focus on the Family, which is intimately connected to the Republican party and maintains "outreach" programs like this one:
Focus on the Family is promoting the truth that homosexuality is preventable and treatable — a message routinely silenced today. We want people to know that individuals don't have to be gay. That's why we've developed a one-day conference for those looking for answers on this often-divisive issue. Whether an educator, parent, concerned citizen or even a gay activist, Love Won Out will inform, inspire and offer hope.For the unreality-based community, it's simply axiomatic that if the (gasp) MSM don't report on homophobia among liberals, that's a clear indication that homophobia among liberals is widespread. Meanwhile overt gay-haters like Dobson...well at least they have a post-September 11 view of the world [Sept. 11, 1683--ed.].
Bainbridge Pseudo-Populism Award
For background on the Bainbridge prize, read this. Today's winner is David Brooks, who attributes John Kerry's defeat to the inability of blue-staters to buy his book. Timothy Noah reports:
Brooks doesn't actually write, "If you read one book this year, read On Paradise Drive." Instead, he berates himself for failing to "adequately describe the oxymoronic attraction these places have for millions of people." On the one hand, they're conformist and orderly. On the other hand, they're the wild, wooly frontier. O speak, Muse!To reiterate: can I have this job please?
Barbara Bush: Fag Hag
Who says the New Haven Advocate doesn't do any reporting?
Incidentally, what's the reward Larry Flynt is offering to anyone with a video of her at a naked party?
The 11th Hour Of The 11th Day Of The 11th Month...
On Veterans', nee Armistice Day, John Quiggin gives us a healthy reminder that WWI is not over.
Whither The Culture War?
A lot of the people who have either looked at the column or gave my ideas a hearing seem to come back with the same question. I wrote:
If the Democrats...can transform church/state separation and pluralistic tolerance into indispensable tenets of patriotic loyalty, the cultural battle so skewed in the Republicans' favor will be half-won.Inevitably I'm told: Well yes, that's true, but how could it be done?
My gut reaction is to say that this is the sort of problem that think-tanks are founded and books are written to solve. Let's be Kantians for the sake of argument: Isn't it self-evidently true that this is the crucial question? Mustn't we, therefore, devote our energy to answering it?
I do have (don't worry) my own preliminary proposal. The way to establish secularism as a secure cultural value is to include it alongside a package and a platform that unerringly appeals to other cultural values of that enormous red swathe. In the same way that the Republicans have made homosexuality and gay rights into tokens of everything the culturally conservative voter hates, we have to make secularism an associated token of a worldview that the center-right leaning voter at the very least doesn't immediately find suspicious, sinister, or un-American. In other words, make secularism palatable to the middle by including it in a platform that is in specific and concrete ways friendly to their values. The neat thing about secularism is that wherever tolerated, it necessarily becomes regnant.
Whither The Democrats?
Here's my latest YDN column. The title I proposed was "How the Democrats Can Become the Majority Again," and though I'm a little attached to it, I can see why it would seem presumptuous to give that name to a 900 word column. In any case:
There are dangers of reading both too much and too little into the outcome of this year's presidential election. On the former count, the fact of the matter is that this election does not signify a major shift in the body politic. Since 1988, when George H. W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis by about 10 percent of the popular vote, the total votes garnered by the center-left coalition and the center-right coalition have been split roughly evenly. In 1992, the Bush vote plus the Perot vote exceeded the Clinton vote, as was the case in 1996 if the Dole vote is added to the Perot vote. In 2000, Al Gore and Ralph Nader together won a slim majority of the popular vote. So a 51-48 victory for the Republicans does not mark the beginning of a new era.
By the same token, the 2004 election cements the proposition that the Republican Party is, like it or not, the national majority party, controlling all branches of government via legitimate democratic processes. And as is the case after every one of these quadrennial fiascos for the Democrats, various liberals, leftists and donkey-loyal centrists will be asking the same question they asked last time: Does the party need to move left or move right? I would suggest that the question is flawed, and the answer is neither.
The practical consequences of moving left are self-evident, and have been since Nixon's evisceration of McGovern in 1972. The reality is that the Republican Party is an efficient machine designed specifically to destroy anything resembling a traditional left-liberal politics. As for moving right, the tactic that brought Bill Clinton to power in the 1990s, its advocates are trapped in an a priori fatal error. However far to the right they move, whether in terms of jettisoning New Deal social policy, cozying up to corporate interests, or embracing traditionalist cultural values, the Republicans are always able and more than willing to move farther right. The net effect is to push the median political position in the wrong direction, and the widening Republican control of the legislative branch testifies to this fact. The Republicans cannot be out-Republicaned, and Clintonian triangulation will produce not only diminishing returns, but will strengthen the electoral hand of the Republicans on a fundamental level.
Since they can't rely on finding another singular phenom of public coolness and charisma like Clinton, what the Democrats need is their own counterpart to the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party. They need an intellectual elite that can unpack their current mishmash ideology and rebuild it from the ground up. Though they were abetted by world events, neoconservatives owe their success to their ideological galvanization of the Republican Party and their unification of its socially and fiscally conservative wings. The neocons abandoned the guidance of Burke and Kirk in favor of Strauss, Bloom and Hayek. On that basis, they refashioned all the traditional (often inconsistent) values of conservative anti-communist Republicanism, rejected so strongly by voters in 1964, into coherent and self-justifying advancements of the national interest.
The Democrats could -- must -- learn a lesson from this history. Just as there is no electoral advantage to be gained by tweaking liberalism to suit the left or right wings of the Democratic Party, there is zero further mileage to be gained by appeal to the Democrats' traditional axioms, from their justification of social welfare to their increasingly hopeless cause in the culture war. My proposal is this: If the Democrats are to regain majority status, they have to reject traditional liberalism in favor of a kind of left-libertarianism. The overarching goals of the liberal project can then be couched as the collective pursuit of individual interest and the enjoyment of individual freedom. Successful moral persuasion will require awakening voters to the fact that their own personal, selfish interest does not lie in the current top-heavy redistributionist scheme, but in a trim and non-wasteful mixed economy that rewards productivity with a favorable tax situation and basic social provisions such as health care and retirement savings.
This reconstruction will allow the Democrats to position themselves as the party of small, non-intrusive government and personal freedom, the party committed to fighting "waste, fraud and abuse," and the party directly and unmistakably representative -- in terms even of naked self-interest -- of the widest cross-section of the electorate. If the Democrats, furthermore, can transform church/state separation and pluralistic tolerance into indispensable tenets of patriotic loyalty, the cultural battle so skewed in the Republicans' favor will be half-won. It's George W. Bush himself who has opened the door to a successful realignment, through profound fiscal indiscipline, a social policy designed to punish the heterodox, blinkered misconduct in Iraq and enforcement of partisan loyalty so strict as to block any Republican criticism of the administration.
Bush has, in other words, planted the seeds of his own party's demise. But for them to grow, the Democrats will have to get serious about curtailing pork-barrel spending, about significant reduction of property and sales taxes, about -- take note of this -- rejecting the washed-up politics of group identity and victimization, etc. Furthermore, the Democrats need to lay out an intelligible, practical position on national defense, recognizing both that security is vitally important for reasons more profound than partisan aggrandizement, and that Michael Moore-ist apologetic pacifism is not a viable alternative. We'll know soon enough if the Democrats are up to the task.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
One of the things I discovered while playing around with the LA Times interactive electoral map as a visual aid for gaming future elections is that the election of 1880 would have flipped results if electoral votes had been apportioned then as they are now. (Warning: only political history junkies will be interested in the following.)
In 1880, James Garfield, the Republican candidate, carried all but one of the Union states plus Oregon and a couple of prarie states, for 214 electoral votes. Winfield Hancock, the Democrat, carried the Confederacy and border states, plus New Jersey, Nevada, and California, for 155 electoral votes. (A lot of present-day rocky mountain/western states were not yet states.) The final popular vote margin, however, was less than 10,000 in Garfield's favor.
If you assign electoral votes based on today's apportionment, Hancock wins 265-209. That's largely because he carried California, Texas, and Florida, which in 1880 were worth 6, 8, and 4 EV respectively (55, 34, and 27 today). And yes, I am aware that this is not a legitimate ceteris paribus case.