Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Crawling through a Narrow Tunnel

Max Sawicky quotes Joe Biden, Harry Reid, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats with the same message: Bush has screwed up in Iraq, but we have no choice but to carry through to the bitter end.

The analogy that comes to mind is this: Suppose you are exploring a creepy, dark, narrow tunnel. At some point, it becomes too narrow to turn around in. You continue forward, crawling on your hands and knees, or even on your belly, past spiders and rats and bats and other miscellaneous yucky cave dwellers. It's tough going, but you have convinced yourself that you must go forward if you are ever going to get out.

It's a tough call, but sometimes crawling backwards is the better part of valor (or something).
Permalink 5:12 PM

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Sad Time for the Hundred Acre Woods

In a sad coincidence, both Paul Winchell (the voice of Tigger) and John Fiedler (the voice of Piglet) died over the weekend.

Paul Winchell got his start doing imitations of the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. As Tigger, he introduced the tag line "Ta ta for now" (since shortened to TTFN).

Walt Disney had John Fiedler pegged as Piglet as soon as he heard Fiedler's performance as a conscientious (and high-voiced) juror in "Twelve Angry Men".

Ta ta for now, guys. You'll be missed.
Permalink 1:52 PM

Wow! William Kristol Defends the Honor of Liberals

Via the Daily Howler (Monday, June27):

KRISTOL: Look, what Karl Rove said, what outraged people is when he said, "Al Jazeera is broadcasting the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals." He is saying—I mean, that is a very tough and I think inaccurate and—it's just a bad statement to make.

HUME: But that’s not what—

KRISTOL: I'm sorry, that is. “No more needs to be said—”

HUME: Of course it's not—

KRISTOL: Twenty percent—20 to 25 percent of the American people identify themselves as liberals. Are they not patriots, most of them? That is what Karl Rove is saying? “No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals?”

So if neocon William Kristol is defending liberals and Cheney is attacking conservative Chuck Hagel, things are really getting bizarre.
Permalink 12:43 PM

Reliable Sources on CNN Fails to Clarify Durbin/Rove Flaps

I rarely watch TV political discussion shows, but I happened to catch CNN's "Reliable Sources" with Howard Kurtz on Sunday, June 27. Among other things, the guests discussed the twin controversies over remarks made on the one hand by Senator Durbin of Illinois and on the other by Bush advisor Karl Rove. Because I (perhaps) know a little more about these incidents than the average viewer (being a blog junky), I was struck by how little Reliable Sources did to try to clarify what they were about.[Click permalink to read more...]

Conservatives like to talk about liberal bias in the media, as if liberals should be happy that CBS news anchors or New York Times reporters are politically liberal. I couldn't care less about that. What infuriates me is how the media consistently fails to establish what the actual facts are. It's a common criticism from liberal bloggers, but it's true---the media acts as if their responsibility to the truth is discharged by giving a pair of quotes for "balance", one from a Democrat/liberal and one from a Republican/conservative. That should be the beginning of a journalist's research, not the end. You have two different opinions, but are they both equally truthful? Do they both make sense? Maybe neither are informed opinions, in which case you need to look further for the truth.

In this case, it seems to me that Reliable Sources did a horrible job of analyzing what each of the two men said, and in both cases, the sloppiness worked in favor of the Bush administration. In the case of Durbin, they played a recording of Durbin's Nazi comment ("If I read this to you, and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings.") without giving the quoted material that Durbin was commenting on. How does that make a bit of sense? Durbin is saying that some specific behavior sounds more like the actions of Nazis than it sounds like that of Americans. Whether that is a reasonable statement or not depends on what that specific behavior was. Outside of the context of the FBI description of conditions in Guantanamo, Durbin's comment sounds bizarre. If you know the context, you may still believe that Durbin's rhetoric was hyperbole, but at least you can understand what he meant.

In the case of Karl Rove, Reliable Sources quoted these lines: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.", but left off the most outrageous part:
Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.

This last quote goes beyond the standard complaint that liberals are too wimpy to fight terrorism, it actually accuses them of actively desiring to put soldiers in danger. He says that putting them in danger is the motive behind remarks by Durbin and other liberals. Reliable Sources left off this accusation of treason, and only discussed the line about "therapy and understanding".

On the show, the conservative guest (I can't remember her name) suggested that Karl Rove was talking about liberals and not Democrats (who unanimously supported the war in Afghanistan in response to 9/11). But that clearly makes no sense in the context of Rove's remarks. Rove was clearly attacking Democrats, not liberals. He cites Durbin by name. On the other hand, if his target was not Democrats, but the radical left, then it still made no sense. Yes, some radical leftists said that 9/11 was America's own fault, but SO DID A NUMBER OF PROMINENT CONSERVATIVES. In particular, I'm thinking of this exchange between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell:

Falwell: "What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."

Robertson: "Well, Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror, we haven't begun to see what they can do to the major population."

Falwell: "The ACLU has got to take a lot of blame for this. And I know I'll hear from them for this, but throwing God...successfully with the help of the federal court system...throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad...I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America...I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen."

So is it fair to single liberals out for blaming Americans for 9/11? Of course not. Reliable Sources failed to provide any context for the statements of Durbin and Rove, and (as usual) fuzzy thinking works to the benefit of the administration in both cases.
Permalink 11:21 AM

Bush World: Chuck Hagel is a Pansy Hippie Peacenik

Via DailyKos

Wow! In the bizarro world® of the Bush administration, it's not just the Democrats who are soft on terrorism. They consider conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to be a liberal, anti-American peacenik hippie. On CNN Sunday (June 26), Vice President Cheney said this

Since 9/11, we've had people like Chuck Hagel and other politicians and we've had people in the press corps and commentators who've said we can't do Afghanistan... [Washington has] got a lot of people in it who were armchair quarterbacks or who like to comment on the passing scene. But those who have predicted the demise of our efforts since 9/11 -- as we have fought the war on terror, as we have liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan -- did not know what they were talking about.

Nevermind the fact that Hagel was 100% supportive of the war in Afghanistan. Nevermind the fact that Chuck Hagel served in Vietnam (unlike Cheney and Bush). Of course, Hagel has been very critical of the war in Iraq, but it seems to me that Iraq and Afghanistan are two different countries.

Bizarro World® is a registered trademark of DC Comics (or it could be).
Permalink 9:10 AM

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Nation Gone Bonkers: Reaction to Durbin

It's an unsettling feeling when you find out that your reaction to something is completely at odds with those of the majority of your countrymen. You wonder: Am I missing something, or has the country gone completely bonkers?

This was my reaction to the reaction over Durbin's speech on treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo. To me, Durbin was standing up for American values, for decency. But if you do a Google news search for "Durbin", you find that, apparently, a huge majority found Durbin's remarks insane, traitorous, or worse. You have to wade through 100 sputtering, rabid anti-Durbin editorials and letters to the editor to find one thoughtful response.

To me, Durbin's point was very simple: there are certain things (in the treatment of prisoners) that he thought only the "bad guys" did (where "bad guys" means the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, Stalin's USSR, etc.), but he was shocked to find that the US did those sorts of things.

Why is it outrageous to hold the US to high standards of behavior?

Durbin didn't say that the US was as bad as Pol Pot. He didn't say that conditions in Guantanamo were as bad as those in Soviet prisons. He drew a line, and said that the "good guys" shouldn't cross that line, and the US crossed it.
Permalink 11:04 PM

Friday, June 17, 2005

Bush's Poll Troubles

According to a NY Times/CBS poll, Bush's approval rating is down to 42%. Interestingly, that's about where he was a year ago. It briefly climbed to 51% just before the November elections (how convenient). He is at under 50% in terms of his handling the economy, Iraq, foreign policy in general, and Social Security (a whopping 62% of those polled disapprove of how he is handling Social Security, and 66% say they don't have confidence in his ability to make the right decisions for SS---I'm not sure why those two numbers aren't the same). The only area where a majority approves of Bush's performance is the War on Terror, where 52% approve. That seems a little strange to me: Bush made Iraq the major front in the war on terror, so if you disapprove of the Iraq war, how can you approve of his handling of the WOT? Maybe the public just assumes he's doing something right, since there have been no successful domestic terrorist acts since 2001?

On the Republican congress, the verdict of the public is even more negative: Only 33% believe that Congress is doing a good job. That sounds abysmal, but it is pretty meaningless as a predictor for future Congressional shakeups. Voters may disapprove of the behavior of other congressmen, but for the most part, they believe that their own congressman is doing a good job.
Permalink 10:52 AM

Chris Matthews' Opinion of the Democrats

Supposedly, Chris Matthews is a Democrat (having worked in the Carter White House), but his contempt for Democrats seems almost as over-the-top as that of Zell Miller. Here he is talking about the chances for Arnold Schwarzeneggar's special election in California:

"I bet he wins this fall and I bet he wins next fall, because the best thing going for him is the Democrats. They‘re still a party of raising money and pressure groups and the same old crap."

He may have only been talking about California
Democrats; I'm not sure.
Permalink 10:50 AM

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Poker Model for Public Goods Funding

I became aware of this issue through Jim Henley.

To quote from the Wikipedia article on "Assurance contracts"
The free rider problem is a term for the fact that there may be actions that would benefit a large group of people, but once the action is taken, there is no way to exclude those who did not pay for the action from the benefits. This leads to a game theoretic problem: all members of a group might be better off if an action was taken, and the members of the group contributed to the cost of the action, but many members of the group may make the perfectly rational decision to let others pay for it, then reap the benefits for free. The result of this rational game play is paradoxically, lower utility for everyone.

Assurance contracts operate as follows:

In a binding way, members of a group pledge to contribute to action A if at least N-1 other members also make the same pledge. If N members sign the pledge (perhaps by a certain expiration date), the action is taken. If the quorum is not reached, the parties are not obligated to carry through on the action.

Liberals have an easier time with the notion of public goods than libertarians do. For the liberal, if it really is a public good, then you tax people to pay for it. But for the libertarian, taxation is unwarranted coercion, backed up by the threat of violence. So how does a libertarian expect to pay for something like a fire department, which benefits everyone, even those who didn't pay for it?

I'm not a libertarian, but I find it an interesting theoretical exercise to ask how something might be accomplished within the constraints of libertarianism. Here's my solution to the fire station problem.

Suppose we want to raise $1 million to build a fire department. If you don't provide some kind of incentive for making a donation, everybody will sit around hoping other people pay for it. How do we give people an incentive for contributing? I suggest we can structure it like a game of poker.

We start with a $1 per person ante on the first round. If we raise $1 million, we’re done. Otherwise, we increase the stakes to $10 per person for the next round. If $10 is too rich for your blood, you drop out, and your money is split among the remaining players.

Eventually, either we raise the $1 million, or else the last guy in gets all the money. So there is an incentive to contribute each round: if you are the only one to contribute, then you win the pot of money so far.

All the fun of Las Vegas, and all for a good cause!
An interesting side-effect of this protocol is that the richest citizens would end up paying the most for successful fundraising, but would gain the most for unsuccessful fundraising. So rich guys might have an incentive to start impossible projects: “Hey, guys! Let’s put our money together and build our own Mars rocket!”
Permalink 1:29 PM

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Guess Which States Have Rising Wages?

From The Yellow Dog Blog

In the top map, the states in blue voted Democratic. In the bottom map, the states in blue have rising minimum wages.

Almost looks like the same map, doesn't it?

Via Avedon Carol
Permalink 5:23 PM

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

In England, Wrist Tags Monitor Workers

via Disinterested Party

(Pretend that I introduced this article with a witty reference to 1984 or Brave New World...)

From the (London) Times Online:

“BATTERY FARM” workplaces are springing up in warehouses and distribution centres with employees made to wear electronic wrist tags to monitor and direct their actions, a report said yesterday.

The surveillance tags pick up satellite signals that tell employees to move or pick up goods and monitor the time taken to perform tasks.

Unions have complained that the tags are being used to monitor breaks and even trips to the lavatory, turning workplaces into “battery farms”.
Permalink 1:33 PM

Friday, June 03, 2005

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Takes on Rome, Georgia Case

Via Avedon Carol

Counsel for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have submitted four motions to dismiss the charges against retailer Gordon Lee, owner of Legends in Rome, GA. Last February, the Fund initiated Lee’s defense against charges resulting from accidentally distributing Alternative Comics #2, a Free Comic Book Day book from 2004, to a minor. The anthology includes the story “The Salon” by Nick Bertozzi, which contains a segment depicting Picasso in the nude. The Fund has already spent in excess of $20,000 defending this case.

Rome is where Kyle and I grew up, and where Kyle once owned a comic-books store.
Permalink 6:50 AM

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Furor in Saudi Arabia over Woman Drivers

Associated Press via the Ithaca Journal

Council member Mohammad al-Zulfa's proposal to give women the right to drive in Saudi Arabia has unleashed a storm in this conservative country.

Conservatives, who believe women should be shielded from strange men, say driving will allow a woman to leave home whenever she pleases and go wherever she wishes. Some say it will present her with opportunities to violate Islamic law, such as exposing her eyes while driving or interacting with strange men, like police officers or mechanics.

"Driving by women leads to evil," Munir al-Shahrani wrote in a letter to the editor of the Al-Watan daily. "Can you imagine what it will be like if her car broke down? She would have to seek help from men."
Permalink 10:53 AM

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Liberal Media Quote Of The Day

"I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data." --Daniel Okrent, former NYT public editor.

This is the guy the Times chose to be its in-house watchdog. The guy who was supposed to keep them honest refrained from criticizing the editors because he believed they had the right--no the mandate--to lie? Now that he is no longer public editor, he feels free to do what I thought he was hired to do 18 months ago. Just what is the public editor's job anyway? Apparently it's to portray the Times as liberal. Funny, I thought that was Brent Bozell's job. I guess if you're a tool of the conservative propaganda machine you can't have too many people calling you liberal.

Seriously, the main reason that people believe the media to be liberal is that the media portrays itself as liberal--Mr. Okrent is just exhibit A. But portraying the media as liberal is itself a conservative act (again see Mr. Bozell and his crew), an act that both indicates their conservatism and which clearly benefits the conservatives.

By the way Danny, you still haven't backed up your claim that Krugman leaves himself open to substantive assault with any substantive assault. No self-respecting journalist would ever admit to being unfamiliar with a study that might (if correct) weaken his argument? Puleaze!
Permalink 10:07 PM

White = Red?

Via Avedon Carol

This article in Tapped points out a hard truth about the Democratic Party: It has lost the support of white voters (except among the poorest of white voters; those making less than $23,700 per year prefer the Democrats). I remember being struck by the margins that Democrats lost the Red states. The Republicans typically won 60% or more of the vote. It's tempting to explain this in terms of a red-state/blue-state cultural divide, but it's a mistake. Republicans won all white voters by similar margins. The red-state/blue-state discrepancy shows up simply because places like Wyoming or Utah have so few non-whites. Residents of all-white suburbs of California or New York or Massachusetts vote pretty much like Nebraskans. Empirically, it seems that White = Red.

This is sobering data for progressives to keep in mind. When you look at the overall margins in 2000 and 2004, things don't look so bad. Gore barely won the popular vote, and Kerry barely lost it. It seems that a few tweaks to win over a couple of more percentage points should do the trick in the future. But if you look at the demographics, you realize that Democrats are nowhere close to winning a majority of white votes (and the Republicans are much farther from winning a majority of the nonwhite vote).

Should Democrats do anything about these trends? It's not clear. In my view, the Democrats make only symbolic gestures towards the poor and the minorities. Their focus has always been the white middle class. Yet that middle class rejects them overwhelmingly. In contrast, Republicans have consistently sold out the middle class to benefit the wealthy, and the middle class (at least white middle class) love them. I have no idea what to do.
Permalink 12:40 PM