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6th-Nov-2012 02:09 am - Predictions for Election 2012
Mickey Che
I haven't posted here since Christmas last year? A shame. I'll have to do something about that. Well, with the election mere hours away, and Dixville Notch already reporting its outcome, there's no time to spare. Without further ado, here are my predictions for the election to come. Maybe if I do a good job here, I can get to be this year's Nate Silver. Here's hoping.

1) People who predicted a Romney/Obama win will gloat over those who predicted an Obama/Romney win, deriding them as partisans, and contend that it should have been obvious that Romney/Obama would win all along.

2) Despite the fact that the election will probably be decided by a very tiny margin, the victors will claim that this outcome is a sign that The American People have turned a corner, decisively rejecting, once and for all, the failed, bankrupt ideology of the Other Party.

3) If Romney wins, Democrats will cry foul, alleging that his victory was only made possible because of voter suppression. Cooler heads will claim their loss was due to a poor candidate on their side, and a failure to get their message out. Some will claim the failure was Obama's, who was insufficiently liberal.

4) If Obama wins, Republicans will cry foul, alleging that his victory was only made possible because of voter fraud. Cooler heads will claim their loss was due to a poor candidate on their side, and a failure to get their message out. Some will claim the failure was Romney's, who was insufficiently conservative.

5) The victor will give a speech thanking the American people for their trust, thanking his opponent for a spirited campaign, and will pledge to work with the other party for the common good. (Any actual cooperation is unlikely to happen.) The loser will thank his supporters for all their hard work, but urge conciliation and cooperation with the victor. (Any actual cooperation is unlikely to happen.) Both the winner and loser will describe the other as a fine family man, an honest, decent fellow, and a patriot, despite all the nasty things they were saying about each other only 24 hours previously.

6) It would not be a surprise if the victor is unknown by the time people wake up Wednesday morning. If Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Wisconsin go for Romney, Romney will almost certainly win the election. If all three go for Obama, Obama will almost certainly win the election. Given that Ohio may take some considerable amount of time to sort out, if we want this godawful nightmare over, we'll have to count on Pennsylvania or Wisconsin going for Romney. That would make Ohio's quagmire superfluous to the outcome.

7) If the economy improves by Christmas, and unemployment figures improve, the victor will personally take credit, and say that this only proves the superiority of his ideology. (This also applies to Romney, who will not have been sworn in by that point. There is a precedent; in 1992, improved economic figures came out after the election, but before Bill Clinton's inauguration. Nonetheless, the incoming Clinton team took credit, claiming that it was a sign that the economy was responding favorably to the prospect of a Clinton presidency, even though most of the activity that the numbers reflected took place before the election.)

8) The economy will, in fact, improve over the next year or so, whomever wins. (This is on the assumption that, if Obama wins, he'll still be paralyzed by a Republican House from enacting any new economic programs, or that if Romney wins, he won't engage in the same.)

9) The victor's supporters will find ample opportunity for disappointment over the next four years. The loser's opponents will eventually sport, “Don't blame me, I vote for The Loser” bumper stickers.

10) Despite that disappointment, the victor's supporters will largely support Romney/the Democrat Nominee in 2016, at which time we'll learn that 2016 is the most important election of our lives, and that whatever fault we may have found during the previous term, it will be vital to prevent the Democrat Nominee/the Republican Nominee from claiming the White House. 2016, we'll learn, simply isn't the year to consider a third party candidate; too much will be at stake.

11) In 2013, the reelected President Obama or the new elected President Romney will kill people abroad with flying robots of death, many of them having no connection to terrorism or the Taliban. Americans will see their civil liberties violated.

12) But who will win? I've danced around that question here. In part, this is because I think it's folly to predict an outcome when the available data is so ambiguous. Indeed, such data will support a wide spectrum of predictions, and wherever the outcome lands, the predictions that happen to be closest to that outcome can be touted as wise prognosticators, when in reality, I don't think anyone can do much better here than make guesses. The data is simply too fuzzy for anyone who gets it right to claim any particular credit from the prediction. That said... I have been predicting a Romney win for months. One reason is the rule that undecideds break for the challenger, and Obama hasn't been able to break 50%, a scary prospect for any incumbent. However, I've also seen that this rule has been challenged; but the reality is, even if we had a large sample of similar Presidential races, and we don't, I'm not sure we should be justified in assuming that people function so mechanistically as voters. Still, as Michael Barone has argued, there are certain fundamentals in place that favor Romney, not just in the popular vote, which many Obama fans are now granting, but even in the Electoral College, where Nate Silver and others have insisted strongly favors Obama. I'm not sure how to measure voter enthusiasm and GOTV efforts in advance, though what little we have seems to suggest the edge is Romney's. If I'm right about this, it may validate my long-held suspicion, that with certain exceptions (Obama 2008 would be one of them), people largely vote against someone or something, and only secondarily for someone or something. As I've previously written:

[Michael] Barone's analysis closely matches my own amateur read, so of course, this must mean he's right. I'm a little more skeptical about Pennsylvania, but it's certainly in play. He writes: "[J]ust about every indicator suggests that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting -- and about their candidate -- than they were in 2008, and Democrats are less so." My thought: this is probably true. But I don't think it's because Romney's a better candidate than McCain; they're both awful. Rather, it's easier to be against an incumbent who's actually implemented policies you may not like, than it is it be enthusiastic against a fresh, unvarnished face at the end of a Presidency that even you didn't like all that much at the end. In other words, two things won in 2008: NotBush, and the fresh start you could project your own political beliefs onto. NotObama didn't have much of a chance. But in 2012, Obama doesn't have either, much as he's attempted to resurrect both. This makes NotObama more viable as a source of enthusiasm, perhaps even inevitable, given that whatever policies he pushed would certainly wipe out much of the clean slate he originally represented.

We'll see. But as I've said before, I think everyone is just guessing, and no one really has enough data to reliably predict how this will turn out.
Jason David Daria
Every Christmas, we're plagued with the same basic set of Christmas songs that grow ever more intolerable every year. And they're inescapable. Even if, like me, you don't listen to music radio stations, you hear them in every store, and at many holiday gatherings. But this doesn't mean that no decent Christmas songs exist. You just have to sort of dig deep for them. I give you a list of some of the better ones out there, that hold up to listening even after all the holiday decorations have been put away. Some are creepy. Some are funny. Some are weird. Some of these are standards that have been done in unique ways. Some are one-of-a-kind originals. And I've even taken the liberty of finding links to all of them, though one was elusive, and you may have to just break down and check it out in the mp3 retailer of your choice. (I use eMusic and the Zune Marketplace, but iTunes and Amazon work as well.)

1. "Back Door Santa" - Clarence Carter

You could argue that it's technically not a proper Christmas song. The protagonist of the song merely analogizes himself to "old St. Nick," noting that while the latter only comes but once a year, he's available all year round. Still, it's more entertaining than 99% of Christmas songs, and if Santa is in the title, it belongs here.

2. "Baby It's Cold Outside" - She & Him

Strange that this has become more and more a song played as a Christmas song, as it technically has nothing to do with Christmas. It's merely about a cold winter day. Or a typical fall or spring day, if it takes place above the Arctic Circle or Antarctica. Still, it's a great song. This version is unique in that it poses a role reversal for the male and female parts: Zooey Deschanel is trying to gently persuade M. Ward that he may catch a cold if he leaves, and that it may be wiser if he stays the night, despite what his neighbors or family think of the decision. This may not have been all that improper if Deschanel's husband, Ben Gibbard, is around. But I heard recently that the two have gotten a separation, so conceivably we might question Zooey's intentions.

3. "Mr. Grinch" - Asylum Street Spankers

Could not, for the life of me, find this on YouTube or any other place, but it should be available in any of the mp3 retailers mentioned. It's my favorite version of the song.

4. "Little Drummer Boy" - Low

Hearing this version of one of the most trite Christmas songs ever - in a Gap commercial no less - led me to investigate this band further, and it's now one of my favorite bands. If they could take such a crappy song and make it this good, I reasoned that they had to be decent. This comes from their 8-song Christmas album. Also worth checking out is their original, "Long Way Around the Sea," a dark song about the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt to escape Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents. (The fact that this never happened, or that it's doubtful that Jesus even existed, don't make that song any less excellent.) As for the Little Drummer Boy, Johnny Cash does a good version too.

5. "Christmas at the Zoo" - Flaming Lips

Although the Flaming Lips also did a full movie and instrumental soundtrack for "Christmas on Mars" that's worth seeing, this is great simply as a song.

6. "Give the Jew Girl Toys" - Sarah Silverman

This was an issue that never occurred to me as a child, but then, I didn't really understand the whole "different religions" thing until I was already too old for Santa, and it's not like there were many Jews living in the small New Mexico town where I grew up.

7. "Jingle Bells" - Crash Test Dummies (or "Huron Carol")

This is one of the creepy songs I mentioned earlier. Who'd have thought that Jingle Bells of all songs could sound threatening? The Crash Test Dummies Christmas LP is overall one of the best Christmas albums you'll ever hear. Their "Huron Carol" is also worth hearing.

8. "O Holy Night" - Eric Cartman

The South Park Christmas album is also one of my favorites, and this is a sweet version. Allison and I cannot hear any version of this song without quietly whispering to each other, "It is the night of the Christmas trees and pie."

9. "Santa & Jesus Duet"

For some reason, this little ditty doesn't actually appear on the South Park Christmas album. A shame, because it's pretty awesome. Santa and Jesus, having overcome their rivalry in the South Park pilot, "The Spirit of Christmas," perform a medley duet of their favorite Christmas songs. Things get hairy. And then there's Duran Duran...

9. "12 Nights of Christmas" - Belle & Sebastian

From their Peel Sessions, I think. It gets so silly that the band starts cracking up half-way through the song, but you'll be cracking up by then yourself, so it's okay.

10. "This Time Every Year" - Saturday Looks Good to Me

Although this band is pretty much on hold for the foreseeable future, as Fred Thomas has moved on to work on his excellent City Center project, this was a classic song that deserved to get released as a proper single to replace the tackier Christmas songs you'll hear on the radio instead.

11. "Misty" - Kate Bush

This is just an excerpt from the much longer version of the song, but it's an actual video with animation. And it's pretty new - Kate Bush released this album just last month. This one is more in the weird category, involving a love affair with a snowman. I kid not. And it's actually pretty damn good. Alas, the snow man in question won't last too long...

12. Dennis Wilson, "Christmas Morning"

This one is available on many Beach Boys Christmas compilations, but it's actually the late Dennis Wilson in a solo outing. It's atmospheric, evocative, and pretty, and it's not cheesy. It's more like what most Christmas songs only wish they could be.
Joker Obama
This was the first of the Presidential debates I've managed to catch in full, although I had to watch it in bits and pieces before finally finishing this (Saturday) morning. Before, I've been content to get commentary after the fact, mainly because my current favorite, Gary Johnson, hasn't been invited to the previous debates. How did I think this one went?

Well, all in all, disappointing. With nine candidates, I admit, the threshold necessary to even have my guy there, it's hard for any one candidate to stand out with anything substantive. Johnson made a valiant effort, managing to get a nice quip about shovel-ready jobs in there that even amused the other candidates who were happy to reference it after the fact. Paul was unusually subdued (for him, anyway). He handled the abortion question pretty well. Not perfect, and he's far from the pro-choice champion that Johnson is, but he defended his opposition to bans on “morning-after” with pragmatic wisdom often eluding pro-lifers. Perry came across as scatterbrained and unfocused, though I appreciate that he stuck to his guns, relatively speaking, on immigration. It was cool that the Fox reporters noted that “path to citizenship” seemed to be more popular among the people interested in the debate than the fence-building and deport-them-all talk you heard from the other candidates. Romney was better than expected, but he still strikes me as plastic and well... politician-like, which is surprising given that the only political office he's ever held was for four years. You'd think he'd spent his life in politics. Huntsman did unusually well; he struck me as more informed than most of the other candidates, though he didn't really acquit himself on the natural gas subsidy issue.

Herman Cain was also much better than I expected, though again, this may only be speaking to my low expectations! Still, not bad from him. I'm curious about his 9-9-9 plan, though I liked the remark someone made afterword that it sounded like a pizza marketing promotion. And he didn't say anything weird or creepy about Muslims. See, a low baseline of expectations.

(As an aside: even my guy, Johnson, is pushing the Fair Tax, which isn't my preferred policy. I'd rather have a Flat Tax. But no question, if I have to choose between the status quo and the Fair Tax, I'll happily, cheerfully, endorse the latter. I don't know that I buy the mainstream economic diagnosis entirely, that banks and investors have plenty of capital, but they're just sitting on it, so we need to get them to spend. If that's true, though, than taxing consumption may not be the best policy. People are already restraining their spending and cutting back on luxuries. That's actually the main thing that I wish people would see. The “market,” or rather, the people acting economically in the aggregate, are “correcting” for profligate spending over the last decade and the massive debt they've accumulated. So the slump, while not good in itself, plays the role that a fever plays when you're sick. It's a by-product of this correction, and an information signal in its own right, so it really shouldn't be discouraged (by trying to get people to spend when they otherwise wouldn't) or encouraged (by a Fair Tax). The best thing that can be done is to provide regime certainty and stability with respect to laws and regulations, so people can know that if they are ready to spend and invest, they can do so with less risk of exogenously imposed changes that could render their investments into costly mistakes. But I digress.)

Santorum was slippery. I expected him to stick to his guns on gays in the military, and he kind of did, but deceitfully described his position in a way that didn't sound like it was anti-gay, when it was. Bachmann and Gingrich were two that left little impression of any kind on me; they didn't seem serious to me. The former certainly struck me as ignorant, especially with respect to the HPV vaccine issue, and she didn't really get out of the “mental retardation” comment she was responsible for with any grace.

All in all, the debate itself didn't strike me as a forum for … well, serious debate about the merits of ideas. It was a forum comprised mostly of clowns and has-beens. Which of course means that Obama and Biden would both fit in well there. But it strikes me that the point may not actually be to argue for particular conclusions, but rather merely to look good, or “presidential,” and to make your other opponents look bad. In that respect, I was surprised that Huntsman sort of confessed what his strategy is: allow Perry and Romney to rhetorically beat the tar out of each other, a la Guiliani and Thompson, and then to waltz in for the nomination like McCain, as the last man standing. Of course, for that to work, Huntsman would have to win New Hampshire, which at present would be tough. Last I saw, Romney is dominating New Hampshire with a comfortable 30 point lead. Ron Paul is running second, followed by Huntsman and Perry respectively, but those three are all only in the 10-15 range. Romney would have to seriously implode for that to change, but there are still several months left, so that isn't impossible.

As for Johnson, of course I realize that his candidacy is the darkest of dark horses now. But I'm glad he's there, with all his affable awkwardness and, yes, authenticity. It may be victory enough if he's able to force the other candidates and the media to take him seriously and pay attention to him, and to make sure the things that GOP Presidential primary candidates take for granted and don't want to talk about get said. He may only be the Clark Kent of the candidates, but Clark Kent had a secret power that kept him from getting knocked down. Likewise, Gary Johnson's secret power, his authenticity and reason, mean that whatever blows he takes, he'll just pop back up.

Thus far, I think I can identify precedents for all the people running that seem to provide explanatory templates, archetypes if you will, for the dynamics of this race. Thus far:

Romney: John Kerry '04
Perry: Bush '00
Huntsman: Bob Dole '96/McCain '08. Eagerly hoping Perry and Romney magically transmogrify into Guiliani/Thompson.
Gingrich: A harder one. Trying to be the wise, elder statesman, but more a has-been who has trouble catching a break. Maybe Adlai Stevenson '56
Cain: Forbes '00 (Still the non-politician and successful businessman, but nowhere near as radical or interesting as Forbes '96).
Bachman: A cross between Pat Robertson '88 and Dennis Kucinich '04.
Santorum: Robertson '88
Ron Paul: Ron Paul '08
Gary Johnson: Clark Kent. Maybe Paul Simon '88?
26th-May-2011 03:12 am - Psychosocial Baby, or When I Was 13
Jason David Daria

Here's why this mash-up video works so well. You might think, initially, Slipknot and Justin Bieber? Could they not be more different? Such a mash-up could never succeed as anything other than a novelty! And you would be very wrong indeed.

You see, both have in common that they are, perhaps from different sides of the spectrum, pop music – a very derivative, artificially constructed pop music, honed with all manner of studio pizazz until all traces of the organic have been thoroughly eradicated.

Now, a dig at Bieber, while satisfying, is kind of a cheap shot. Of course, with the haul of money he's bringing in, he can laugh all the way to the bank, but I digress. The point is, there's no illusion of authenticity with his music. We may, of course, quibble over whether there even is such a thing, whether there's any difference between what he does and what, say, Bob Dylan does. But we can at least agree that Bieber doesn't have it, doesn't pretend to have it, and his fans don't really seem all too concerned. It's standard top-40 disposable pop trash, with elements of R-n-B. Nothing you haven't heard for decades from boy bands, Britney, the Spice Girls, new jack swing, and countless bands since the 70's that I'd personally rather forget.

I can't say I'm acquainted with Slipknot or its fan base, but I'm guessing that it doesn't actually skew much older than Bieber's, for the most part. This is because there's nothing Slipknot does that hasn't been done by superior musicians for decades past. You could go back to Korn, or a bit earlier to Marilyn Manson, but in reality you could go back much, much farther, at least to the early 80's, where you'd have Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Slayer, and countless others playing heavy metal, often with masks, stage theatrics, and pyrotechnics. (A telling point of comparison is Gwar, which was satirizing everything Slipknot does … in the late 80's and early 90's, well before Slipknot ever existed). Slipknot, at least to judge from this one video I've seen from them, are nothing more than a distillation of a formula, with zero innovation. Anyone older than a teenager who likes this kind of thing will prefer whatever it was that they listened to at that age. (I recall Penn Jillette saying this once, but he was quoting someone else I don't remember. It was simply this: whatever music was new when you had your first serious, umm, I'll say, physical romantic experience, will always been your baseline for cool music. That is, it will always seem cool to you.)

The mash-up keeps Bieber's music (though it's maybe a stretch to call it “his” – it's more his producer's and studio musicians'), and provides Slipknot's vocals instead. That the rhythm matches as well as it does, particularly with the chorus, is part of the charm of the mash-up. One thing at least suggested here is the common roots that Bieber and Slipknot share in major label pop formula informing their very song structure, as if their respective lyricists merely filled in the blanks for their songs. The structure was similar enough that one could, as our mash-up remixer has, swap them out and still have a coherent song, despite the difference of genres.

To what end? Well, part of it is humor and charm. But just in case anyone, perhaps Slipknot fans in particular, needed a reminder of how disposable and vacant Slipknot's work is, that it is far more similar than different from Bieber, this mash-up provides irrefutable evidence: Slipknot's vocals are a fit with disposable teen pop. But we also have the lyrics themselves.

Two observations are in order. First, the lyrics are much easier to follow here, and they clearly come across as the kind of teenage attempt to sound profound, the typical stuff of teenage journals, what alienated teenage boys scribble as what they think are expressions of rebellion.

That the intended audience is teenaged comes across directly in the first verse:

Go tell your classes,
Go dig your graves
Then fill your mouth
With all the money you will save

There's the chorus:

And the rain will kill us all,
Throw ourselves against the wall
But no one else can see,
The preservation of the martyr in me

Not especially clever or unique, but enduring themes for disaffected teens. Teacher, leave them kids alone. All in all, you're just another brick in the wall. Of course, I also thought of “Balls to the Wall,” the 1983 song from the German band Accept, so richly ridiculed by Beavis & Butthead. The funny thing is, I could see those two really digging Slipknot, who after all, would be part of the target audience.

Second observation: One of the few vocal elements retained from the original Bieber isn't actually Bieber, but a guest rap from Ludacris. The first line gives everything away: “When I was 13...,” and a description of Ludacris's first crush. Why retain that? Well, maybe it was a good fit for purposes of a mash-up, but I think it hints at the whole point of the mash-up. It's a combination of the mentality of a preteen/teen girl, with the mentality of a boy about the same age who wants to sound tough and rebellious. The mash-up, in short, is a mash-up of the respective teen boy and teen girl musical fads. Although the mash-up is titled “Psychosocial Baby,” it very easily and accurately could have simply be entitled “When I Was 13.” The boys and girls who identify with Slipknot and Bieber respectively are engaged in the same enterprise, and the record companies behind the two artists have skillfully learned how to craft music that will appeal to both groups in search of a musical identification.

Of course, I have a habit of reading far more into things than is actually there. But if I'm right, this could explain why this particular mash-up video currently has over 5,000,000 views on YouTube – it's a little something more than just a clever mash-up of two different artists who make such opposing forms of music. If I'm right, they aren't so different after all, and that's why the mash-up works to create something greater than the sum of its parts – as a satire of the teenage music experience.

Update: A similar, far more pithy observation was reached here: "Furthermore, it confirms three basic tenets of the Universal Law: a) Slipknot have always been a pop band with a shitty metal backing track; b) the Biebs is death metal to the core; and c) it’s still really creepy when Ludacris raps about his 13-year-old girlfriend waking him up in the morning.".
Mickey Che
MARCH 19, 2011
OBAMA: 'Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world'...

MARCH 19, 2003
BUSH: 'American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger'...

Courtesy of the Drudge Report

I'm trying to remind myself that there are major differences with Iraq. Libya is a much more limited operation against a conventional military, not nation-building, not counter-insurgency, and what's been put forward is just a "no-fly zone" plus some missile strikes against tank columns and assorted military targets - more Yugoslavia (or Iraq circa 1991-2002) than Iraq circa 2003. The aim seems more about aid to a beleaguered rebellion, to prevent a massacre and give the rebellion a fighting chance - charitably, analogous to French aid to the American colonials. And one could scarcely find a more deserving target than Gadhafi. Still... this is unambiguously an act of war, UN authorized or not. And as Obama seemed to realize back in 2007, acts of war require Congressional authorization in the form of a declared war. There hasn't even been so much as a Congressional resolution to authorize action, something at least Bush bothered to get for Afghanistan and Iraq. I really hope this works out, but this is still very troubling.
Mickey Che
Earlier this week, I was thinking about posting a follow-up to my original post explaining the nature of the deadlock between in the Wisconsin Senate. One strategy that I had been thinking about was that the Republicans could put forward a Right-to-Work law - one that would be radical enough to lose the support of 3 or more Republicans. That would insure that if the Senate Dems didn't return, it would pass with a majority of the Senators present, but would fail if the Dems returned. That, I had been thinking, might do the trick - fight fire with fire, as it were. And I had been thinking about whether such a move would pit the power of private sector unions against public sector, and see if that would do get Dems to return to keep the bill from passing.

Events, of course, outpaced my reflections. Scott Walker and the Republicans look like they may have engaged in a rope-a-dope. They offered many concessions to the Senate Dems, watering down their proposals, but the Dems rejected them outright. This was a mistake. At first, it looked like it was the other way around. Walker and the GOP were showing weakness by offering such concessions, and the Dems simply folded their arms and stood firm, giving nothing up. The accounts I'm reading now suggested that what this did was actually spur angry feedback... from the GOP base, castigating the GOP for showing weakness. This may have played a big role in what happened on Wednesday night.

How so? Well, consider the recall efforts the unions are spearheading against GOP Senators and the Governor himself. If they succeed in forcing a recall election, vulnerable Senators will need their base to come out and vote in what would be an irregular, off-year election, when base turn-out is crucial, as they will face well-funded union-backed challengers. The last people they need to alienate here is precisely their base, and their base couldn't be happier if their Senators do what they've had the power to do all along - pass the portions of the budget repair bill that don't have anything to do with appropriations. When the Senate Dems made it clear that their concessions got them nothing, and they realized that they now risked losing their base, what gave was their own desire for self-preservation. Of course, I don't doubt that many to most of the Republican Senators supported the wisdom of the legislation sincerely - that's not at issue. What is at issue is the means available for breaking the deadlock, and here, they had good reason to believe that compromise wasn't going to be a viable option.

So that's what I mean when I say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Had there been no recall campaigns against the Republicans, they might have been willing to give the Dems more time to show that they might be amenable to compromises. But with election in mind, particularly one in which base GOTV and financial support will be so important, the Dems basically created the very outcome they were trying to prevent. By standing firm, they lost everything, and will have to return to Wisconsin having failed to achieve their objective of defeating the bill.
Mickey Che
I think the answer is something we'll see in Wisconsin, or perhaps, at least what we are seeing now. For various reasons, I don't think there is any give for either side.

On the Governor's side, there are issues of face and precedent. Should he backtrack on his proposals for public-sector unions, his credibility would be shot. No one would take him seriously on any issue. There might be a few voices from the political center praising him for listening to his better angels, for being willing to compromise with the minority party. But these voices would quickly fade. Conservatives would abandon him as a serious champion of fiscal discipline and as someone who will take on the unions. It'd be Scott Walker, meet Arnold Schwarzenegger. Liberals would realize that they never need take his ultimatums seriously, and that they had a pliable cipher in the Governor's office from whom they can always extract concessions, and at the same time, blame for whenever things go badly - the best of both worlds, in effect. And even worse, a horrible precedent would be set: whenever the minority doesn't agree with the majority's agenda, they'd only need re-enact their stunt of bolting the state. Or even just threaten to do so. The minority, in effect, would always have a veto on the majority. And Walker and the GOP, after all, believe that they won the election fair and square - why should they have to give up their own majority power, when it was exercised against them for so many years by previous Democratic-controlled state governments?

The 14 Senators, for their part, are stuck as well. They never really had an endgame in mind when they fled - they just knew that it was the only avenue open to them that would allow them to halt the budget fix bill. So now, on what basis could they return? I heard one interviewed on the radio who insisted that Republicans would need to "consider" amendments they want to offer. When the host pressed him on that, and asked what if the Republicans agreed only to debate the amendments without committing to actually pass them, the Democrat kept to the talking point of "considering" the amendments, more or less confirming that he would only return if the amendments were agreed to in advance by the Republicans. At this point, with the debate so polarized, any Senator who returned would, in essence, be giving up, making their little stunt useless, which is not something any probably can psychologically accept. Even worse, however, would be the fallout from the union and the Democratic Party. Any returning Democrat would immediately be labeled a turncoat, even if he or she voted against the bill. And he or she would probably have to face a well-funded primary challenge in the next election, as well as an end to any financial support from virtually all unions, public and private, as well as the Democratic Party faithful. Returning, in essence, would be political suicide. As with the other scenario, there would probably be Republicans and centrists who'd praise the Senator for coming to his or her senses, for putting the good of the state first, and all that. But it would probably mean that the Democrat in question would have to accept the very, very strong possibility that he or she would not ever be reelected or appointed to any significant office. It would mean at the end of their term, their life in elected politics would be over, and they'd probably even had a hard time getting work as a lobbyist.

So... given those constraints, how is the situation to be resolved? Scott Walker tried to point out that the original justification for fleeing the state that the Senate Democrats provided, among others, was that the debate was happening to too quickly, and that there needed to be more time for a public discussion about the merits of the budget fix and the modification of collective bargaining rules for state employees. Well, Walker offered, isn't that what we've had these last few weeks, as Wisconsin has become top-of-the-fold news across the country? Since none of the Democrats have returned yet, I'm guessing it's fair to assume that none of the 14 found that persuasive. There is a kind of Prisoner's Dilemma in effect here too. If all 14 Democrats returned at the same time, it would blunt any negative reaction from unions and the Democratic Party. But if any single one returned, they'd be doomed.
8th-Feb-2011 01:53 am - The Amish Argument Against Obamacare
Mickey Che
I just wanted to make a brief note that I'm thinking about what should be at least a philosophical argument against Obamacare. This can probably be formalized, but the basic idea has to do with the observation that the bill creates an exemption from the individual mandate for certain religious groups, such as the Amish. The idea - which I'm still sort of working out - is basically this:

Take whatever argument is put forward to defend the Amish exemption. Generalize it to arguments that carve out religious favoritism or exceptions to laws - conscientious objectors given preferential status for religious reasons, exemptions from drug laws for Native American religions, that kind of thing. And then, put forward that this is impermissible as a matter of equality under the law. It's wrong, after all, for conscientious objector status to be extended for religious reasons unless secular philosophical reasons are granted equal consideration. So apply this to the Obamacare exemption. Wouldn't secular philosophical reasons be sufficient here too? But then, we get this tricky problem that applies for any set of laws that people believe should grant exemptions for people on a religious basis. How do we decide what reasons are good enough? The religious basis is an insufficient bright line.

The point this argument reaches is this. If there is a set of reasons that are sufficient for any one group to be exempt from the law, they are sufficient for all people to be exempt from the law. This makes compliance with the law voluntary - and thus, no law at all, because no one who objects to the law can be legitimately compelled to follow it. Thus, Obamacare cannot be considered just law as a matter of equality under the law.

Now, this is easily defeasible if the interlocutor defending Obamacare is willing to concede that the Amish exemption should be dropped. But I sense that this was a pretty important exemption, and would not have passed had it not been included. After all, it was such a tiny margin of votes upon which it got through. My only point is that if legislators had moral qualms about enforcing this mandate against the Amish, then they should have qualms against enforcing it against everyone if they also endorse equality under the law. My sense is that the answer to this issue is that despite legislators and perhaps even voters endorsing, as a matter of principle, equality under the law, that people don't actually believe in it on a consistent basis - which, of course, means that they don't believe in equality under the law at all. And for what it's worth, there have been a flurry of exemptions granted to various large corporations to many of the provisions of Obamacare thus far.

(And yes, I realize that I've just made a general argument against standing Supreme Court precedent that explicitly exempts the Amish from truancy laws, Native American exemptions from drug laws, and the like. But the conclusion I draw, note, is not that the Amish should be forced to go to public school. Rather, I argue that their exemptions should be granted to everyone, and thus no one should be compelled to do the things that the law compels all other persons to do.)
13th-Jan-2011 10:59 pm - Godwin and the Climate of Hate
Mickey Che
Not that I want to be in the position of defending Sarah Palin... but I just noticed an interesting incongruity in the post-Giffords shooting "climate of hate" controversies. The fact that Jared Loughner was more accurately described as a supporter of the Party of Crazy than a conservative or a liberal didn't stop Paul Krugman and countless others from taking to the airwaves, opportunistically attempting to exploit the tragedy as an opportunity to make people they hate, such as Palin, as themselves somehow purveyors of a "climate of hate" that supposedly played some imprecise causal role in the shooting. You, dear reader, are probably already aware of this much. But unless you saw some of the commentary about Krugman's missive, you might wonder about this term he uses, "eliminationist," by which he seems to characterize violent conservative rhetoric that aims to eliminate the other side from the debate by any means possible. It turns out that the term derives from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by which Goldhagen meant to describe the kind of rhetoric by which Jews were understood in the Nazi-era, in which Jews weren't just bad, but needed to be eliminated altogether. Eliminationist rhetoric is that rhetoric that is so hate-driven, it lends itself to a seamless transition into Holocaust-levels of violence. Yes, you could then say, in a roundabout way, Krugman and his acolytes are guilty of committing a Godwin violation against Palin and other Tea Party types.

So now the controversy seems to be that, in defending herself, Palin has used the term "blood libel" to characterize the hateful way she's been characterized. And this is bad, because it trivializes the real blood libel that historically existed against Jews, so there's been some umbrage against her for this word choice. Oy vey. I wonder if anything, short of Palin ritualistically committing seppuku on live television for her supposed crimes, would provide these folks with something other than a reason to kvetch about her. (At least one Rabbi thinks Palin's use of the term was, err, kosher, as Judaism rejects collective notions of guilt. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes, "The expression may be used whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder.")

Anyway, what strikes me is that the very people who mere days ago referred to Palin and her rhetoric as "eliminationist" now seem offended that she used "blood libel" as a metaphor, even though Palin wasn't the first to used that metaphor in this context. Granted, "eliminationist" is a term of very recent vintage, and doesn't have the fraught cultural history of "blood libel." Though it strikes me that if one is willing to commit Godwin-level violations of discourse against someone, one's already lost the moral ground to be offended by the other's language. It's not different, in principle, from Person A calling Person B a Nazi, and then being offended that Person B retorted that Person A was an anti-Semite. How dare they call me that!

And if you, dear reader, disagree with me, you, sir, are worse than Hitler.

(Update: Alan Dershowitz defends Palin's use of the term. So does Jonathan Chait. Not exactly conservative firebrands, those two. Glenn Reynolds lists a few more examples of the use of the term as a metaphor from speakers who weren't Sarah Palin, that elicited no controversy at the time, such as New York Times columnist Frank Rich in 2006.)
18th-Dec-2010 02:28 pm - Christmas Elves
Hello Cthulhu 2!
So my Aunt, bless her heart, thought it'd be pretty funny if she took a photo of yours truly, and used it in one of those JibJab Christmas videos that OfficeMax offers. So if you see that video, you'll see five Christmas elves, who have photos of the faces of myself, my brother, my sister, and two of my cousins, dancing in way that I believe only their own website would characterize as "HipHop." Disturbed as I was to see my image used in this way, the experience nonetheless gave me a great idea for one such video that I could create myself. No, not merely to create one with my Aunt's image. But rather, why not see what it would look like for five religious icons to be dressed as elves, doing a Christmas disco dance? I give you my creation, starring, in no particular order, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Charlton Heston as Moses, Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh of Mecca (pbuh), and the Elder God Cthulhu. The stars, indeed, were right for him this Christmas. Enjoy.

13th-Dec-2010 03:50 pm - Quick Post - Obamacare and SCOTUS
Joker's Boner 1
At long last - a federal judge in Virginia has ruled that Obamacare's individual mandate is unconstitutional. About time, too. So, what are the prospects for the inevitable Supreme Court ruling? On Facebook, writing a response to a posting, I found myself thinking about the prospects, and it occurs to me that our chances are good.

I double-checked the records of the needed majority, who will almost certainly need to be Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Kennedy. I'm encouraged by the fact that Kennedy voted the right way in Morrison and Lopez, though oddly, he signed off on Raich. So the funny thing is, there's probably more reason to wonder about how Roberts or Alito will come down, if only because they haven't ruled on the commerce clause (I think) as SCOTUS members. Roberts, on the appellate circuit, affirmed Lopez against the Endangered Species Act, so there's hope for him. Alito, also on the appellate circuit, affirmed Lopez against a federal ban on machine guns. Scalia, like Kennedy, signed off on Raich, but he likes having firm, bright-line rules, and there's a pretty obvious one that applies to Obamacare, so he could re-affirm his support for Lopez and Morrison here. I don't think we have to speculate about Thomas. So, there's a very good chance here of getting to 5-4. Plus, as Randy Barnett has observed, the Courts usually feel more empowered to overturn unpopular laws, which is certainly the case with Obamacare. It's apparently, according to new polling, at its most unpopular since its passage, with a 43/52 approval rating. I'm not a betting man, but this looks very encouraging. The real issue is severability. There's certainly a good case that, in the absence of such a clause, and the fact that it depends on universal enrollment, that the whole thing will have to be chucked, but I don't know if that implies the Court will feel the same way.
Penn Teller WTF
Saving the Planet means saving what's left of the non-human Wildlife by decreasing the Human population. That means stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies!

Manifesto of James Lee, Discovery Channel protester, ecoterrorist

Maybe the incident with the Discovery Channel a few days ago just made me even that much more attuned to the casual misanthropism common to the environmentalist left, but I was was still taken aback tonight when I met a woman who sounded for all the world like Lee's manifesto.

Context: Allison and I met up with some of her old friends tonight, one of whom brought some old friends of his, including a lesbian couple. After dinner, several games of “Anagram” (a Scrabble-like word game) ensued, and these two ladies seemed okay. But between games, things got a little hairy.

The conversation started innocently enough, with a comment about the weather. These two ladies were from Seattle, but indicated that they hated the time they spent there recently, in that even in the middle of summer, the weather was very cool. The chief conversationalist (whom I'll call “Mary,” which is not her real name) said they far preferred hot and humid conditions, especially in the summer. To which I responded that they should consider Houston. No, I was told, Houston has no GLBT community (?!), it's in Texas, and you know what that means: no communities of color either.

I explained to them that they totally had Houston wrong. Indeed, the climate is the primarily thing I have against it, but it's otherwise a fine place, I tried to explain. But if you like that kind of climate, you've got it made there. Houston, actually, has a vibrant GLBT community, especially in the Montrose area, and has an amazingly diverse array of cultural groups living there, ranging from South Asians, several distinct East Asian communities, Middle Easterners, Hispanics and African-Americans, not to mention newer African immigrants as well. (Incidentally, these two women seem to have a racial hang-up, in that they kept making reference to me as a privileged white male with power, and only seemed to back off when they discovered that I'm actually multi-ethnic with partial Hispanic ancestry.) As for GLBT, in retrospect, I should have remembered to mention to them that Houston now has a lesbian mayor.

Somehow, the conversation drifted form Houston itself, to how Joel Osteen is based there in the former home of the Houston Rockets (and where I saw the Cure perform in 1996!), to whether he manipulates his audience, to finally whether he's comparable to Oprah Winfrey in that respect. After I indicted Winfrey for being liable for crap like The Secret and uncritical, fawning publicity for the anti-vaccination movement, Mary wanted to know what was wrong with the latter. I tried to explain the basic issues, with the claim that vaccines caused autism being demonstrably false, and using Penn Jillette's argument on the matter, observing that even if it were true (WHICH IT IS NOT), 1 of 110 odds of autism look pretty good compared to much higher odds of death with the revival of whopping cough, polio, and other diseases. Mary responded at first with typical incoherent leftist twattle about corporations controlling everything, implying, somehow, that studies proving the effectiveness of vaccines couldn't be trusted.

And then reveal: she said that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if deadly diseases like whopping cough, rubella, and so forth came back and killed off lots of people. I couldn't believe my ears. I think my eyebrows must have been extended up, and I can only imagine the look of incredulity on my face. Motioning to her partner, Mary also said as much as she loves her, that her death would not trouble her, for the simple reason that there are too many humans on the planet, and their number needs to be reduced by some means. So if that could be accomplished by people refraining from vaccinating their children, why not?

I explained to Allison later that there are very few people I've met personally that I would honestly consider evil in the truest sense of the term. Obnoxious, perhaps. Ignorant, yes. Assholes, sure. Evil, though, is at least in my experience a rare quality, something I normally only reserve for sociopathic serial killers, both of the conventional variety and for political leaders like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, and their Eichmann-like henchmen. This woman, though, seriously freaked me out, because as I thought of it later, I realized that she could well be of that variety. I can only wonder about her partner, how it must sound to here that Mary would not be troubled by her death, but then, her partner also made a comment about “waiting for her parents to finally die.” So perhaps, indeed, they belong to each other. And perhaps, too, evil is not truly confined to the examples I cited. There are also the James Lees out there, and those who think as he does.
29th-Aug-2010 02:22 am - Scam Schooled
Penn Teller WTF
On Friday, I was in a coffee shop in DC waiting for Allison to finish an appointment. A dude waltzes in, identifies himself as a taxi driver, and asks me for change for a $20 (2 $10's for my $20). This happens pretty quickly, and I don't really have time to think anything of it. Finding that I have a $20, I agree to do the swap with him, and I'm about to pocket the 2 $10's when he stops me, and tries to tell me that I gave him a $1 instead of a $20. So he's still waiting on his $20, looking incensed.

For a split second, I was worried that I had screwed up, but then, I remembered that I had just visited an ATM, and knew that I only had one $20 on me, and since that bill was no longer in my wallet, I knew that was what I had handed him. I didn't fall for it, and told him so, insisting that I didn't know where the $1 he was producing came from, but that I had given him a $20. He finally relented, and tried to explain it was a misunderstanding, that he had really wanted was 20 $1's. Right. He returned a minute later, and said he needed $5 to get his tire fixed, just wondered if I could "lend" him that. No, I told him.

I have to admit, he almost got me, because I didn't stop to second-guess the transaction at first - why, for example, was he coming up to me, a customer, instead of going to the clerk at the coffee shop, or one of the two banks on the very same block? So it's a simple enough scam - get someone to "take back" a $1 that he swapped for the first $20, and ultimately pocket 2 $20's for 2 $10's and the $1. I was probably more assertive than he expected, and perhaps he feared my causing a scene and drawing attention to him. I suspect, though, that this scam has probably worked on others. I was almost taken because sounded like such a simple and trivial thing to request, and I didn't really exercise any critical reasoning before taking out my wallet. I'm thinking this experience has some strong symbolic power to it - about literal scams and poor consumer choices alike. The fact that I was almost taken, even for a split second, was certainly humbling in a way, and I do feel lucky that I realized what was going on before any damage could be done, and that he was intimidated enough to back down.

Oh, and for what it's worth: I highly doubt he was actually a taxi-driver. This kind of transaction could've been handled by his taxi company, and they'd probably have their own people to take care of broken tires. Why would a taxi driver have to ask random people for help paying for a tire repair? And why on Earth did this only occur to me after he had gone instead of at the moment, when I could've asked him these questions?
29th-Jul-2010 12:13 am - Anti-Immigration Dental Work
Ikari Instrumentality Obama Parody
I think this may have been the first time I had an appointment with a dentist who, while cleaning my teeth, started talking to me about immigration policy. Now, he knew that I was studying philosophy of law, and that this was what my dissertation was on, but I didn't tell him anything about my actual thesis or beliefs. I was unclear about whether he was originally from Texas or just had been stationed there. It seems that he was a dentist for the military – Army, I think. And he spoke about the need in modern society for everyone to have an ID for everything, not just driving, such as for buying liquor, and even suggested something that sounded like he thought there should be a national ID. He seems to be under the impression that there's a lot of crime connected to immigrants, though he acknowledged, during one of the few times that speech was actually possible for me, that places like El Paso have very little violent crime. Still, he maintains that they have a lot of burglary, and that if people leave their garden tools or bikes out, they'll be swiped by immigrants right away. He has a friend, it seems, who has a house close to the border, and who had all of his electronics and valuables stolen, along with his two cars (which were parked in the garage at the time). Though how he knows that illegal immigrants were involved was something he didn't specify.

So I'm basically just sitting there, listening to this story. I can sort of nod, but that's it. I suppose it's for the better that I couldn't really debate him or respond at all, but it was a very strange moment for an otherwise excellent dental appointment. No fillings or problems with my teeth, despite it being well over a year since my last check-up. He, and his wife who worked as his receptionist, were very friendly. I can only wonder, though, if he speaks about his politics to any other patients. Granted, he didn't say anything specific about the political parties or any particular political leaders, and didn't strike me as particularly extreme. But we live in a fairly liberal area, Jim Moran's district, in fact. I can only wonder if my dentist feels so free to speak about what I thought was a very controversial set of positions with his patients, is this an indication that the anti-immigration position is more popular than I had imagined?
18th-Jul-2010 11:21 pm - Thoughts on New Phone Research
Scion box
So two things have happened that mean it's time for a new phone. First, my two year commitment is up, meaning I'm free to get a new phone at the standard intro rate. I might've waited until my wife's phone hit that stage in December, so we could do this at the same time (we're on a shared Family plan with Sprint). But there's the second thing - my phone's battery has been getting very weak suddenly, as if on cue for the two year date. And as things stand now... if I had to guess, I'd say that I'm going to go with the LG Rumor Touch. And not necessarily because it's the successor to the Rumor 1 & 2 [I currently have the Rumor 1], but more because it seems to be the best overall deal. I'm indifferent to touch screen technology, but what I like about this phone is that it still has a slide-out Qwerty keyboard, so unlike other touch screens, I'll still have tactile phone dialing and texting.

(Some background - I'm not really interested in getting a smart phone just yet. The good ones, like the HTC Evo 4G, are too pricey, and even the free ones demand a data plan that I'm loath to commit to, especially considering that I don't think I would use it often enough to justify the expense. Besides, I already have a TomTom GPS for my car, and a Zune 120 for all my multimedia needs. It's rare that I really need my phone for anything more than calling or texting, and on odd occasion, photography or video.)

It's strange, though, what I've uncovered. The Blackberry Curve was a very strong possibility as a very low-end smart phone, and to be fair, I still haven't entirely ruled it out. If I get it from Best Buy, it's actually only $1. But it turns out that there's a catch. It seems that if you buy a smart phone, you MUST pay for the data plan as well. They simply do not allow you to purchase a phone classified as a smart phone, and not get the data plan too. And here I thought I'd be clever in getting the Blackberry, because it has wifi, and I thought if I ever wanted to use the smart phone features that require the internet, boom, I've got wifi at home. It seems that this is more for if you're in a building that has bad reception, and you want to use Skype applications, or if the Sprint network is running slow. (Though that's more a hazard for AT&T users, but I digress.)

The flip side of that, though, is that Sprint's data plan is $30 for both of us. It used to be $30 a phone, but on the shared plan we have, adding the data plan is kept at $30 for the plan, effectively $15 a phone. I'll consider it, but even at that reduced rate, I'd rather skip the data plan for now.

So, I'm going to do a little more research. Yes, I've been compiling a spreadsheet - I'm that analytic. That's how I've been handling major purchasing decisions like apartments, cars, and laptops. I'm looking very closely at the Palm Pixi. It's a relatively "old" phone (in that it came out, I think, at the end of last year), and Best Buy doesn't even carry it anymore. I'd have to get it from the Sprint Store. But it may be just what I want in a phone that gives me a personal calendar I can assemble on my PC, and USB hotsync with the phone, just like I did on my Palm Pilot before that stopped working, without having to mess with a data plan. Otherwise, it's probably going to be the Rumor Touch, and I'll have to give up on the personal calendar feature for now (or find an old Palm Pilot on EBay that will work).
12th-Jul-2010 05:07 pm - Help Me, I Am In Homeopathy Hell
Teller Weird
There comes a point at which someone says something to you that betrays so much scientific illiteracy that you don't really know how to respond. Case in point:

really? you think homeopathy as placebo? what mind over matter, is this what you are referring to? Hmmmm I have used homeopathy as my first defense with my children since they were babies and I have never had to relsult [sic] to antibiotics with my childrens [sic] illnesses and have knocked out most anything we have come across within days- umm I don't think a baby/toddler gets the whole placebo concept. further more the ability of water to hold memory has been scientifically proven.

This is the daughter of my mom's best friend. I had a crush on her when we were teenagers (she was two or three years older). She's now a happily married wife and mom, and we're Facebook friends. I'm sort of at a loss as to what to say to her. She posted a link to a Homeopathy organization, and I just cracked something about it being an organization for placebo purveyors. And this is what she responded with. Should I tell her about James Randi's homeopathy "overdose" experiment? Just provide a link?
Mickey Che
This piece by Steve Chapman, writing for Reason, alludes to a concern I have. Chapman suggests a false dichotomy at the end - that the Arizona law could either be the basis of a fascist-style, "Papers, please" police state, or it could merely be a hoax, sound and fury that, contrary to what both its opponents and supporters think, makes no real difference to law enforcement. I wonder if instead, in addition to psychological intimidation toward immigrants, it's more like another layer of legalese that can justify any arrest or interrogation after the fact. The law's opponents would, in that case, only be wrong in thinking that this would amount to overt racism or fascism; rather, it plays a more insidious role by piling on yet another level of laws - such that, in addition to the plethora of other victimless crimes, almost anyone will be guilty of some crime or another at all times. This is how law actually works in places like China. The idea is NOT that you want to arrest everyone guilty of a given crime - you don't have the resources for that, and after all, the point is NOT universal enforcement. Rather, the point is to give police and prosecutors unlimited discretion to go after whoever crosses them, whomever they simply don't like, or whomever they want to serve as an example to others. The law's very unpredictability is, thus, more a feature than a bug.
10th-Feb-2010 04:08 pm - Snowpocalypse Now
Jason David Daria
So I don't know that there's a lot I can tell you about the blizzard that you haven't already heard on the news. I can tell you that here in Alexandria, the snow plows have now stopped running entirely, by order of the city authorities. The blizzard is apparently so bad, that the plow-drivers can't actually see where they're going. In DC proper, they're down to rationing salt, and a quarter of their plows have already broken down. I should have some photos up soon, but they are just of my apartment building, where we are remaining warm and dry. (Some from Phase I of this blizzard, from the weekend, are already up on my Facebook profile.)

As for us, we are provisioned with pretty much everything we need for days if not weeks. We've had to cancel most of our social plans this week, as you might expect. My arm is still sore from digging my car out of the snow on Monday, so I'm not looking forward to repeating the experience. What else... we had mail delivered yesterday, Tuesday. That's the only day we've received mail since Friday. I thought the Post Office was supposed to be all about, "Neither rain, nor snow..." but I guess not here in Northern Virginia. Allison subscribes to the Sunday New York Times, but as of today, there's still no sign of it.

I realize that this experience is hardly roughing it. Apart from losing power for five hours last Sunday, and hot water being a little unreliable lately, at worse, you could say we've been inconvenienced. It is strange, though, seeing things you count on so easily disrupted by a few feet of snow. This wouldn't have been nearly as big a deal in Wisconsin, though I suppose that's probably because they have snow management down to an art. People in DC and Northern Virginia, in contrast, don't know how to drive in this stuff, and they certainly don't have enough snow plows and salt to handle it all adequately. Temperatures will break over freezing starting tomorrow - not by much, but they will - so I can only speculate about how long this will all take to melt, what problems that will cause, and how long things will be before they've gotten back to normal. If I may be allowed one political observation - I can't say that the shutting down of the federal government has proven to be all that traumatic for the American people or us. Ah, but to be either a kid in school or a federal employee this week! Kids throughout the region seem to have secured for themselves a whole week off. I wouldn't be surprised if federal employees get the same deal, especially if they can't get public transportation up and running until Friday. At that point, the feds might just decide, well, why make everyone come in for just one day before they get to go home for the weekend?

As for me, work on the dissertation is coming - too slowly, but it's coming. More as news breaks!
Rand Obama Parody Shrugged
Ordinarily, abortion is an issue I'm normally happy to stay away from. Growing up, I was originally pro-life, but by my undergrad years, I had more or less converted to the pro-choice position, and I'm currently about as pro-choice as you can be. As long as the fetus is, well, a fetus, then it's a guest, and can be evicted by the mother at will. Still, I've had a soft-spot in my heart for the pro-lifers, since, having once been one of them, I sort of know where they're coming from. Most of them, I assume, take their position on good faith, and I don't begrudge them for it. Indeed, though it would be a worrisome point for me, I wouldn't vote against a candidate merely for being pro-life.

So that's me. I don't generally see pushing the issue to be a valuable enterprise, because people are generally so emotional about this. (I suppose I should be more optimistic – after all, I changed my mind when I had the opportunity to fully consider the arguments – could not other pro-lifers?) While I realize that many people can be persuaded to change their views based on emotional rhetoric and imagery, and that therefore, even well-intentioned people will use that tactic, it never fails to bug me when it is as over-the-top as the new Tim Tebow ads. And I know that many on the pro-life side feel the same way. A friend of mine from my undergraduate days at Texas, who is pro-life, but otherwise politically a liberal Democrat, once worked at National Right-to-Life, and at least according to her, they don't think those people who wave photos of aborted fetuses are doing their side any favors. From her tone, it sounds like if anything, they're embarrassed of those people, the way you might be embarrassed about your alcoholic Uncle Steve. He may be family, but he doesn't project the image you want people to have of your family.

So what"s the deal with Tim Tebow?Collapse )
Rand Obama Parody Shrugged
The Peikoff podcast offered this new nugget of wisdom. A letter writer asked Lenny what he thought about watching the films of Michael Moore for an audio-visual media course the guy was taking. He explained that he worried about any kind of moral or financial sanction he'd be giving to Moore if he consumed anything he made. Lenny responded by saying that of course, he should feel free to watch and study those films. Lenny, it seems, really liked Fahrenheit 911, and thought that even if Moore was an unobjective leftist, there could be great value gotten from studying his films, just as Lenny himself got value by buying books of Kantian scholarship for his Ominous Parallels book. But he had a caveat. This is a direct quotation, not a paraphrase from Episode 96, January 25, 2010, roughly 2:40 into the podcast:

If I know that it is, in other words, to use a technical term, "crap," as a lot of stuff written by Ayn Rand is, I certain won't read that. And I certainly do regard, within my [inaudible - lights?], I wouldn't give a penny, morally, to the authors, but then of course, you have to decide according to what you know about these people, you don't have the advantage of having dealt with them in advance, as I have.

So, the self-designated intellectual heir to Ayn Rand, having had the advantage of dealing with her in advance, won't read any of the crap written by her.

Okay, kidding aside, it's clear that he just goofed speaking, and plainly meant "a lot of stuff written about Ayn Rand." Still, once again it's stunning that his hatred of the Brandens [who else could be referring to, with the comment about having dealt with them personally?] still burns with the fury of a thousand suns, and more importantly, he still feels the need to justify not reading their books. One might forgive him for having a personal grudge against them. But it's also amazing that this also extends to the new biographies written by Anne Heller and Jennifer Burns. He dismisses them as being without merit or value, without even having read them, and seems to think even the act of reading them would be immoral. Meanwhile, the films of Michael Moore are perfectly kosher, and as long as Moore is attacking Bush 43, even recommendable. I sometimes have to wonder what it must be like to live in the world of Leonard Peikoff.

Don't get me wrong - his podcast has some value from time to time, though this irrational myopia manages to rear its ugly head far too often. If the Brandens are so bad, one wishes he could simply take up Howard Roark's attitude, and refuse to think of them. But somehow, they managed to get under his skin, and even now, he can't let them go.

Update: I was just posting this, and then I noticed that Peikoff's website now acknowledges his goof. He's promising a corrected podcast on Monday.
22nd-Jan-2010 03:46 pm - Unexpected direction for Apple
Joker Obama
I've long thought Apple products, while not necessarily sucking, are certainly overrated. The cultural position they occupy is bothersome. Nonetheless, some of their products and innovation are interesting. What's fascinating now is that they now seem poised to enter the market of feminine hygiene products, with a new offering they call the "iPad." I am kind of curious about whether this will have any functionality with other Apple products. Will women now be able to load up music on their hygiene devices? It's supposed to debut officially on Wednesday, I think, so it should be interesting to see.
22nd-Jan-2010 12:40 pm - The Worst Person in the World
Mickey Che

Maybe it's less the Left eating its own, and more the fact that Olbermann is such an ass that he can no longer be ignored by people like Stewart.
22nd-Jan-2010 01:16 am - The Hope and Change Hangover
Mickey Che
Short version: The election of Scott Brown, the new Republican Senator from Massachusetts(!) and subsequent death of Obamacare, the Citizens United decision killing campaign finance reform, and the bankruptcy and shuttering of whatever is left of Air America. Oh, and now, Arlen Specter screwing his own reelection campaign, insuring at least that he won't be coming back in 2011. All of these happened in a 72 hour period. And these may only be harbingers of things to come!

Long version. Come on, you know you want to...Collapse )
16th-Jan-2010 11:07 pm - Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In
Joker Obama
I have what you could call a “suspicion” about the Congressional Democrats – that may sound like a perverse idea. But hear me out: what if the surging of Scott Brown in Massachusetts is no accident? Sure, the man seems to be doing almost everything right, and Martha Coakley has managed to make costly gaffe after gaffe. Obamacare is less popular by the day, even in Massachusetts, and Brown is being seen as the means to stop this monstrosity in its tracks. Yet part of me thinks that Congressional Democrats may be secretly rooting for Brown – perhaps even donating to him surreptitiously, or behind the scenes asking Coakley to take one for the team.

Why would Democrats do this? Consider the bind they are currently in. They've already sort of passed the point of no return with Obamacare. Politically, they are damned if they do, damned if they don't. In real life, once you realize you're in a hole, the thing to do is to stop digging. But in the fevered Bizarro world of politics, Dems realize that if they abandon their health care plans now, even if they are unpopular, they risk voters hating them anyway, not only for trying to do something they opposed, but for wasting all this time and energy, showing up empty handed to the voters, with nothing to show for their work. Why bother reelecting these guys if they're just going to screw around and ultimately get nothing done, even when they had control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency? This, I think, was the kernel of truth in Bill Clinton's warning to today's Congressional Dems, on why, if they pass nothing, voters will punish them for it. What's also true, unfortunately, is that they will punish them for successfully passing it, as it has and will continue to spur outrage amongst voters.

Dems, up until this last week or two, were consigned to this outcome. They aren't stupid, and they've read all the same polls you've seen. And they don't want to lose Congress or potentially the Presidency in 2012. But as they see matters, they've crossed the Rubicon. They need to pass something, anything, even if no one likes it, and even if it's an unconstitutional porkfest that makes their name mud. In their calculus, it would be worse if they did nothing. At least this way, they have an accomplishment they can point to, with hopes that peoples' attitudes may soften toward it once it's a fait accompli and Dems have time to perform 11 months of damage control until November.

Enter Scott Brown. A man no one really noticed, no one took seriously, not even his own party, because, after all, this is a race in Massachusetts for Teddy Kennedy's seat. The state that happily reelected the man even after Chappaquiddick, and remained defiantly the bluest of the blue, the state where Republicans are outnumbered by Dems 3 to 1, and by even more than that in the state legislature, where they barely even have a caucus. Gradually, over the weeks and months, Brown's 30 point disadvantage to the Kennedy heir apparent shrinks, and before anyone knows it, the man actually has momentum. Have the Republicans, up until now powerless to stop the juggernaut of a filibuster-proof majority, finally gotten the answer to their prayers – the means to finally stop Obamacare? Or have Democrats? Democrats, who had faced the ugly prospect of passing legislation everyone hated, or nothing at all, suddenly have one more vote in the loyal opposition – just enough to sustain a filibuster. Suddenly, Dems find themselves with a third scenario: they tried their darnest, but wouldn't you know, there were too many obstructionist Republicans! It's the Republicans, the supposed “Party of No” – that's why we couldn't get anything passed this year. That's why we need you to send more money to help us defeat these obstructionists! Dems, it would seem, now have a way out, that involves neither taking responsibility for unpopular health care law, nor appearing too weak-willed or fickle by abandoning the effort.

Mind you, it's hardly a cost-free scenario for Dems. They will still face anger for even trying to do what they tried, and on the flip side, there will be those who hate them for fumbling the thing so badly that a Republican could get elected from Massachusetts to replace Teddy Kennedy and stop them. But perhaps some Dems see it as an opportunity to start over on health care, to abandon an idea they never really liked in the first place – either conservative Dems who know that Obamacare would kill their reelection bids, or more liberal Dems, who actually loath the private insurance companies as much as they say they do, and prefer the public option or outright single-payer, but pragmatically realize the time just isn't right yet. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more than a few Dems who considered this the best option of a very bad lot, and who might be silently cheering Brown from the sidelines, even to the point of secretly donating to him, giving Coakley bad advice, and manufacturing bad PR by thuggishly knocking down reporters who they know full well would hand footage over to people like Andrew Breitbart and Pajamas Media. Perhaps there are people on the Democratic side who really are as smart as they pretend to be, and realize that Brown's victory may be the only chance they have to stop digging.
11th-Jan-2010 02:26 am - The Long, Dark Daybreak of the Soul
Lovecraft Obey
Despite a few problems here and there, overall I liked Daybreakers as a film. Apart from just stylistic considerations, I'm not sure why they kept so many of the traditional, more magical elements of vampires for a film where the “vampire plague” is supposed to be a scientific problem. If we're going to the trouble to make vampires invisible to mirrors, super strong, have zero pulse, body temperatures at room temperature, and have them explode if stakes are fired into their hearts, why not also give them the ability to turn into bats or smoke? Garlic and crosses make no appearance in this film, so it's unclear if these vampires have any adverse reactions to those. Thematically, it's probably most comparable to I Am Legend (the novel, not so much the Will Smith version - Vincent Price's was closer), and you might even think of it as what the vampire society speculated about at the end of the novel might ultimately look like. Like I Am Legend, it's a role reversal of the traditional Dracula scenario, of a monster or small groups of monsters living in hiding from a society of humans. What would it be like if the entire society were monsters, and the remaining humans were in hiding? Willem Dafoe's character offers one witty and apt, if graphic, observation – humans in a world of vampires are in a situation about as dangerous as going bareback with a five-dollar hooker. Somehow, I can't imagine any of Stephanie Mayer's characters, even her villains, using language of that kind, and in its own way, it's a nice change of pace.

I also have to make a confession here. I don't know if there's something about vampire movies that makes me do this, but I committed two, egregious puns tonight after seeing this film. The first was utterly unintentional, I swear, though I don't think my wife believes me. We were talking about the movie's philosophical themes and worldview, and I mused that perhaps the idea is that the world would really suck if vampires took it over. Perhaps I was channeling the spirit of Billy Corgan? The other has to do with the fact that we saw Twilight the previous night, albeit enhanced with RiffTrax to make it an enjoyable, endurable experience. I told Allison that the difference between the quality of Twilight and Daybreakers as films is like night and day.

Perhaps I deserve some begrudging for the puns, though I think my point was sound – the films really are nearly polar opposites. Even putting aside the vast difference of the quality of the films [as hard as it may be to ignore Twilight's goddawful teenage girl crappiness, compared to which Daybreakers approaches Citizen Kane quality], and just considering the scenarios the two films present as such, it is striking. This can even be seen in the [unintentional?] irony of the film's titles. Twilight is a film about the sunny, even sparkly side of vampires, a very human world of loving families and [Mormon] teenage angst. The world of Daybreakers is a very dark one, of humanity fighting a losing battle just to survive as the dominant vampire race itself is losing every last spark of its humanity as it descends into madness, betrayal of family and friends, cruelty, and even animalistic behavior. The protagonist of Twilight longs to be turned into a vampire in a world of humans, whereas this is reversed in Daybreakers. The one similarity might be only in that both films feature reluctant vampires with hearts of gold, who eschew human blood for inferior animal blood, even to their detriment, until circumstances force them to take some, fortunately without lethal results for their respective donors.

I'm sure that the makers of Daybreakers had as their target some typical leftist villains. There were huge hints that the villains were modeled after your typical corporate types – only slightly disguised swipes at the military-industrial complex, tobacco companies, suppliers of fossil fuels, Big Pharma, and health insurance companies were everywhere to be found. Of course, one of the “good guys” is a vampire politician who supports the human cause, good-natured enough to joke about how hard it is to get people to trust a person who is both a Senator and a vampire. Though their analogy, as is usual when films try to make leftist social commentary, falls apart. There's talk of governments worldwide rationing blood supplies, for example, and the kind of hypocrisy common to socialized health care systems, where powerful and well-connected people continue to get the best of care. Surely, even in a situation as absurd as a vampire plague converting 99% of the world's population to vampires, mechanisms would arise to manage potentially depleteable resources the same way forests are managed by lumber companies.

[The timeline was probably chosen more for dramatic reasons, as it's not especially realistic. Somehow, the world converted to vampirism in less than a 10 year period, and this had to have happened very quickly, because the characters of the film seem to have endured a vampire-dominated world for a long time by the 2019 of the film's setting, yet the blood supply is only just then dwindling. It's never said how much blood a vampire needs to survive and function, though going without turns Hawke's gardener into a monster in a mere two weeks – and this transformation due to lack of blood seems to surprise everyone, even Hawke, who as a scientist surely would've figured this out by then. Wouldn't things have degenerated at an even more rapid pace in the developing world or in Detroit? The scenario of the film might have made more sense with a smaller population and economy, say, a single city, with a much larger population of humans still around to provide blood at a pace they could replenish for up to 10 years to arrive at the point where the film takes place.]

The world's last humans are rounded up, not by Hawke's evil corporate overlords, but by the jack-booted thugs of the state, who merely outsource the harvesting of blood to Sam Neill's company. The harvesting of blood from human victims resembles a cross between the alcoves of The Matrix's human batteries and concentration camps from any 20th century totalitarian state, awkwardly and literally placed inside a high-tech 21st century corporate headquarters. If there is an analogy that makes any sense here, it's more to the vampirism of authoritarian regimes that drain the lifeforce of their people, or perhaps to collusion between rentseekers and politicians in mixed economies toward similar ends in principle. I haven't seen Avatar yet, though at least this film doesn't engage in any “Noble Savage” mythmaking or outright mysticism, and again, in contrast to Twilight, there are no Christian analogues to the fear of sexuality.

Anyway, I'm thankful for the existence of this film. With any luck, this film will help restore the good name of vampire films, and undo the damage wrought by Stephanie Meyer.
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