Sunday, August 31, 2008
And McCain is crazy if he thinks a pro-life woman is going to get Hillary voters just because she has a vagina.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
An example. I've quoted the passage it's referring to for convenience.
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people...
3 And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian.
4 Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
5 So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
6 And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.
7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
8 And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Via the Friendly Atheist.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It's almost inarguable that a McCain presidency will push policies leading to an increase in illness and homelessness. Last year, McCain voted against expanding S-CHIP, which would have extended pubic health insurance to millions of currently uninsured children. Many of those children will become sicker than they would have if they'd been able to access a doctor early in their illness. Some may well die. In 1995, McCain voted for a GOP plan to balance the budget by cutting Medicaid by $182 billion over 10 years. Many adults would have been tossed off the rolls, been incapable of accessing a doctor, and fallen ill, or even died as unchecked hypertension led to cardiac arrest or a small lump grew into a full-body cancer. You can find similar examples of McCain trying to chop apart the safety net in almost every year of voting since.
There's a tendency to want to sugarcoat the outcomes of elections. You can say you disagree with McCain's policies because universal health care is important and humane and social programs are just and decent and upper-crust tax cuts are regressive and shameful and he's on the other side of all those opinions. What you're not supposed to say is that if John McCain is elected, the policies he has signaled he will pursue will harm the country's health, defund its safety net, lead to untreated illnesses, reduce mitigation of the ravages of poverty, and, in many cases, the outcome will be sickness and death and homelessness and, for those cut off from health coverage and help, probably hopelessness, too. McCain, for his part, would argue that even so, tax cuts are a matter of fairness and it's more important that health insurance is primarily private than that health insurance is actually accessible. And fair enough. But no reason we should ignore the implications of that philosophy.
It's easy to forget the real human cost of the right's political philosophies. They have a rationalization for everything -- progressive taxation is a priori immoral, higher taxes will kill the economy, universal health care will kill the economy, etc. -- but when you put their rationalizations on one side of the scale and the reality of those who will suffer as a direct and inevitable result of their policies, you've got to be awfully confident in the rationalizations for it to balance out.
When they make predictions that fly in the face of experience -- such as the claim that returning the tax code to Clinton's levels will kill the economy -- you really have to question their calculus.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
If TIME is right about Romney being the pick, I think it's also a great choice politically, maybe even better than Obama's. He's a great complement to McCain: he's young and virile-looking, a right-wing Christian, and appears controlled and unflappable. The only risk is if the Christian right or the (already diminished) secular right doesn't come out to vote because he's a Mormon, but they'll likely be more scared of having a secret Muslim/black Christian radical than of a Mormon. It's more about having a "one of us" feeling than about labels. McCain is not "one of them" and they know it, but Romney is. One other potential downside is that Romney will make it harder for McCain to distance himself from the Republican establishment.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
To understand where Obama stands, you first have to know that, for 15 years, Democratic Party economics have been defined by a struggle that took place during the start of the Clinton administration. It was the battle of the Bobs. On one side was Clinton’s labor secretary and longtime friend, Bob Reich, who argued that the government should invest in roads, bridges, worker training and the like to stimulate the economy and help the middle class. On the other side was Bob Rubin, a former Goldman Sachs executive turned White House aide, who favored reducing the deficit to soothe the bond market, bring down interest rates and get the economy moving again. Clinton cast his lot with Rubin, and to this day the first question about any Democrat’s economic outlook is often where his heart lies, with Reich or Rubin, the left or the center, the government or the market.
Obama has obviously studied this debate, and early on during the flight to Chicago, he told me a story about Reich and Rubin. The previous week, Obama convened a discussion with a high-powered group of economists and chief executives. He was sitting at a conference table, with Rubin two seats to his left and Reich across from him. “One of the points I raised,” Obama told me, “is if you just use you, Bob, and you, Bob, as caricatures, the truth is, both of you acknowledge the world is more complicated.” By this, Obama didn’t simply mean that their views were more nuanced than many outsiders understood. He meant that both have come to acknowledge that the other man is, in part, correct. The two now occupy more similar ideological places than they did in 1993. The battle of the Bobs may not be completely over, but it has certainly been suspended.
Among the policy experts and economists who make up the Democratic government-in-waiting, there is now something of a consensus. They agree that deficit reduction did an enormous amount of good. It helped usher in the 1990s boom and the only period of strong, broad-based income growth in a generation. But that boom also depended on a technology bubble and historically low oil prices. In the current decade, the economy has continued to grow at a decent pace, yet most families have seen little benefit. Instead, the benefits have flowed mostly to a small slice of workers at the very top of the income distribution. As Rubin told me, comparing the current moment with 1993, “The distributional issues are obviously more serious now.” From today’s vantage point, inequality looks likes a bigger problem than economic growth; fiscal discipline seems necessary but not sufficient.
In practical terms, the new consensus means that the policies of an Obama administration would differ from those of the Clinton administration, but not primarily because of differences between the two men. “The economy has changed in the last 15 years, and our understanding of economic policy has changed as well,” Furman says. “And that means that what was appropriate in 1993 is no longer appropriate.” Obama’s agenda starts not with raising taxes to reduce the deficit, as Clinton’s ended up doing, but with changing the tax code so that families making more than $250,000 a year pay more taxes and nearly everyone else pays less. That would begin to address inequality. Then there would be Reich-like investments in alternative energy, physical infrastructure and such, meant both to create middle-class jobs and to address long-term problems like global warming.
The article also addresses the Republican/WSJ fearmongering about tax increases on the wealthy:
The second criticism is that Obama’s tax increases would send an already-weak economy into a tailspin. The problem with this argument is that it’s been made before, fairly recently, and it proved to be spectacularly wrong. When Bill Clinton raised taxes on upper-income families in 1993, his supply-side critics insisted that he would ruin the economy. As we now know, Clinton presided over the longest economic expansion on record, the fastest income growth most workers had experienced in a generation and the disappearance of the federal-budget deficit. His successor, Bush, then did exactly what the supply-siders wanted, cutting upper-income tax rates, and the results were much worse. Economic growth wasn’t quite as strong or nearly as widespread, and the deficit returned. At the very least, Clinton’s increases did no discernible economic damage. Rubin, citing academic work on tax rates, made the case to me that rates under an Obama administration would not be nearly high enough to stifle innovation.
And regarding McCain and the Republicans:
Republicans, on the other hand, have an economic strategy that may still sell politically. But is there much reason to think that it would lead to a very different result from Bush’s? There have now been two presidents in the last 30 years — Bush and Reagan — who cut taxes and promised that deficits would not follow. But the deficits did come, and they went away only after two other presidents — George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — raised taxes. It also seems fairly clear by now that tax cuts for the affluent do not necessarily trickle down to everyone else.
For Democrats who want to think the worst about their opponents, McCain’s reliance on these ideas may be affirming. But it’s really a shame. For the time being, only one party is applying the lessons of history to the country’s biggest economic problems. There is no great battle of new ideas, and that can’t make it more likely that those problems will be solved.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
The authors of the Left Behind series say Obama isn't the Anti-Christ.
"I've gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist," says novelist Jenkins. "I tell everyone that I don't think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics."
"I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the antichrist," adds LaHaye, "but from my reading of scripture, he doesn't meet the criteria. There is no indication in the Bible that the antichrist will be an American."
Via Andrew Sullivan.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Mark: Abortion is wrong because fetuses are humans and it's wrong to kill humans.
Me: You're just begging the question by overloading the word "humans." When we say "fetuses are humans," we mean it in a biological sense. When we say "it's wrong to kill humans," we are no longer talking about the biological sense, but a moral one.
Today, I came across a great post at Overcoming Bias that might be helpful. Excerpt:
I think that's brilliant. Let's revisit Mark's argument, replacing "human" with membership criteria. The original argument:
In the game Taboo (by Hasbro), the objective is for a player to have their partner guess a word written on a card, without using that word or five additional words listed on the card. For example, you might have to get your partner to say "baseball" without using the words "sport", "bat", "hit", "pitch", "base" or of course "baseball"...
But then, by the time I discovered the game, I'd already been practicing it for years - albeit with a different purpose.
Yesterday we saw how replacing terms with definitions could reveal the empirical unproductivity of the classical Aristotelian syllogism:
All [mortal, ~feathers, biped] are mortal;
Socrates is a [mortal, ~feathers, biped];
Therefore Socrates is mortal.
But the principle applies much more broadly:
Albert: "A tree falling in a deserted forest makes a sound."
Barry: "A tree falling in a deserted forest does not make a sound."
Clearly, since one says "sound" and one says "~sound", we must have a contradiction, right? But suppose that they both dereference their pointers before speaking:
Albert: "A tree falling in a deserted forest matches [membership test: this event generates acoustic vibrations]."
Barry: "A tree falling in a deserted forest does not match [membership test: this event generates auditory experiences]."
Now there is no longer an apparent collision - all they had to do was prohibit themselves from using the word sound. If "acoustic vibrations" came into dispute, we would just play Taboo again and say "pressure waves in a material medium"; if necessary we would play Taboo again on the word "wave" and replace it with the wave equation. (Play Taboo on "auditory experience" and you get "That form of sensory processing, within the human brain, which takes as input a linear time series of frequency mixes.")
The illusion of unity across religions can be dispelled by making the term "God" taboo, and asking them to say what it is they believe in; or making the word "faith" taboo, and asking them why they believe it. Though mostly they won't be able to answer at all, because it is mostly profession in the first place, and you cannot cognitively zoom in on an audio recording.
When you find yourself in philosophical difficulties, the first line of defense is not to define your problematic terms, but to see whether you can think without using those terms at all. Or any of their short synonyms. And be careful not to let yourself invent a new word to use instead. Describe outward observables and interior mechanisms; don't use a single handle, whatever that handle may be.
Mark: Abortion is wrong because fetuses are humans and it's wrong to kill humans.
I'll let Mark respond for himself, but my guess is that he'd replace the first "humans" with something like [membership test: contains a certain subset of DNA or carries the potential of becoming the animal homo sapiens if carried to term.] When we get to the second "humans," though, it's clear there is a problem. Why should it be a priori wrong to kill [membership test: contains a certain subset of DNA or carries the potential of becoming the animal homo sapiens if carried to term?] Since when do we base morality on that sort of thing?
When I think "killing humans is wrong," I mean that "killing [membership test: is an animal that has consciousness and feelings and self-awareness] is wrong." (Obviously, there are exceptions even to that, like self-defense, but that's tangential to this post.) So the question then becomes, does a fetus pass that test? My answer is no. (It's also interesting to note that animals who are not biologically homo sapiens may pass that test, like intelligent aliens or possibly apes and dolphins. Mark would have to use a separate argument for why it's wrong to kill those creatures if in fact he thinks it is wrong.)
Now Mark has rightly pointed out that people in comas also don't have consciousness, feelings, or self-awareness, but we still think it's wrong to kill them (at least while there's hope of recovery.) That just gets into what we mean by "having" consciousness, feelings, and self-awareness. Coma patients have had it, and may have it again, so we treat them as "having" it, as far as the question of killing goes. Fetuses have never had it, although they may have it in the future.
It's perfectly rational then, to argue that "killing [membership test: is an animal that has consciousness and feelings and self-awareness or will have them]" is wrong as well, but then one would have to justify that claim, rather than relying on the humans-humans argument. I'm not trying to prove that abortion is okay in this post, just that the humans-humans argument is sophistry.
- Putin's a bad guy. This should surprise nobody but George Bush, who looked into his eyes and saw his soul.
- When there are no plausible military options, talking tough just makes you look stupid.
- The new domino theory about Russia is just as wrongheaded as the old one.
- According to the neo-cons, every war is World War II and all diplomacy is appeasement. The argument from analogy is perhaps the most dangerous of all logical fallacies.
- They also seem to be excited about the prospect of a new cold war.
- I hope and tentatively believe that more good will be done by letting China have the Olympics than would have been done by refusing them or by boycotts.
- The opening ceremony was just gorgeous, an unbelievable spectacle. It was also kind of creepy and disturbing on several levels.
- Some of the Chinese gymnasts look 8 or 9 years old, and I don't believe their claims that all are 16. I also believe that every country 's gymnasts have had their growth artificially stunted.
- I love that basketball is becoming so popular around the world.
- George Bush is, as ever, an embarrassment. (n.b. I do not necessarily endorse the claim that these pictures are evidence Bush was drunk.)
- LeBron James's greeting to former President George H.W. Bush was hilariously inappropriate: "What's up, pops?"
- The men's 4x100 m swim relay was incredible. Track down the video if you can.
- I hate having to think that world records keep falling because the drugs are getting better, but that seems like the most reasonable conclusion.
- I find Suskind's claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter alleging a connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda and that "a high-level American intelligence agent" admits the U.S. "knew" there were no WMDs before the invasion to be somewhat credible.
- Those allegations dovetail with Sy Hersh's report of a meeting in Cheney's office discussing ways to trigger a war with Iran:
HERSH: There was a meeting. Among the items considered and rejected — which is why the New Yorker did not publish it, on grounds that it wasn’t accepted — one of the items was why not…
There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.
And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of — that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.
- Looks like we Democrats (and Americans) dodged two bullets in the primaries. One, John Edwards turning out to be a douchebag and the other, Hillary turning out to be just as bad as some of us feared.
- Why hasn't McCain's extramarital affair been a bigger story? (I'm talking about the one with his now-wife during his first marriage, not the unsubstantiated, more recent claims.) Is it the liberal media?
- Speaking of the "liberal" media, I've been watching more cable news than usual lately to follow the war in Georgia, and, well, it really sucks. Lou Dobbs is out there on CNN giving his opinions as fact, while CNN coyly pretends that its viewers carefully differentiate between journalists and
know-nothing blowhardsopinion columnists.
- It's funny watching the McCain camp trying to find an attack that will stick, ranging from the lies (Obama will raise middle class taxes!) to the bizarre (Obama's really popular!)
Friday, August 01, 2008
Link Roundup: Secrets in the Orthodox Community, the DOJ Scandal, McCain's Dishonesty, and Corruption in Congress
- Abandoning Eden on the secrets in her family, which I think is applicable to the majority of Orthodox families.
My dad's parents have 8 grandchildren. Now that I have this new information, I know that at least four of them are not religious, including 3 dating non-jewish people. 50%. And yet the other 50% (plus our parents, so really it's 4/12, or 33.34%) completely controls our actions. We disguise ourselves, my brother and Y with kippas and me and N with skirts and high-cut 'modest' shirts, and do it so well that we don't even know the other people are exactly the same as us, until some third party, still religious, but totally in the know about everything, lets out the big secret...
[M]ost of the people I was friends with as a teenager are no longer religious, and many of them are dating not-jewish people. And not telling their parents about it. The people my age who I wasn't friends with all seem to be having thousands of babies and their facebook profiles all say "Jewish- orthodox". And yet us non-religious folks bow to the will of the religious ones, by keeping our situations private or secret.
Have they socialized us so well that even though we completely disagree with them, we have internalized the shame they feel about us?
- Illegal and disturbing hiring practices at Bush's Department of Justice:
For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a "farm system" for Republicans at the Justice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.
That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department's second-in-command.
An extensive report by the department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility concluded yesterday that Goodling and others had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in "misconduct," a finding that could expose them to further scrutiny and sanctions. The report depicted Goodling as a central figure in politicizing employment decisions at Justice during the Bush administration. [Previously on Goodling and the hiring of incompetent Christianists.]
- Via Matthew Yglesias, McCain's dishonest attacks:
Obama’s cancellation of a visit in Germany to visit wounded U.S. troops has been adequately explained: that his campaign was advised by the Pentagon that since Obama was on a campaign trip and spending campaign resources, it would be viewed as using the wounded as props whether cameras were allowed in the hospital or not.
This ad asserts a McCain campaign talking-point that Obama wouldn’t make time for wounded troops unless cameras were allowed to follow him, but did make time to work out at a gym. This, of course, is a lie. It’s a blatant lie. Steve Schmidt, a disciple of Karl Rove’s who worked on George W. Bush’s 2004 ad/communications effort, though, is playing the Rovian playbook that says that it doesn’t matter if it’s true as long as your target audience (non-college educated white working class voters) won’t bother to find out the actual truth, and believe that it “sounds like it might be a true.”
For the second time in a week the non-partisan www.factcheck.org takes McCain to task for a false ad [false, btw, is another word for lie].
And USA Today wrote an editorial about last week’s ad scam from McCain, blaming Obama for higher gas prices. The paper wrote: “Even by the elastic standards of political ads, this is more than a stretch. It’s baloney. It’s also a marker on the path toward the kind of simplistic, counterproductive demonizing that many expect will poison the fall campaign.”
What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was...wait for it...using wounded troops as campaign props. So, no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch. I guess that’s political hardball. But another word for it is the one word that most politicians are loathe to use about their opponents—a lie.
- Lawrence Lessig has a great post about Congress, Ted Stevens, and Corruption:
On Tuesday, Senator Ted Stevens was indicted by federal prosecutors for failing to report gifts he had received from an oil company to help him renovate his Alaskan home. The charges were not a surprise, though official Washington mustered its collective, and requisite outrage. Senators Dole and Sununu were quick to return campaign contributions from the now-tainted Stevens. Editorials across the nation were quick to condemn the obvious graft targeted by the government.
But I confess, I don't get it. Not that I don't see the wrong in what Stevens has done. That's obvious. What's not obvious to me is why this wrong is so different from everything else that DC thinks is right.
The concern with the gifts that Stevens allegedly took from oil companies is clear enough. If a Senator takes a gift from a special interest, he's less likely to weigh the interests of that special interest properly. If he's getting gifts from an oil company, for example, he's less likely to weigh concerns about global warming properly. He's more likely to ignore those concerns. He's more likely, in other words, to put his private interest (in continuing the gifts) above the public interest (dealing with the threats from global warming)...
So far, so good. But what about the other ways that oil companies act to make it less likely that a legislator weighs in the interests of special interests properly? How do the laws and ethics of DC police this?
Consider the most obvious example first. Ted Stevens was elected to the United States Senate in 1968. As the Republican with the longest tenure in the United State Senate — ever — he had perfected the business of getting reelected to serve his state. Individuals and special interests helped him secure that tenure. Since 1989, those contributions have exceeded $11 million. Close to $1 million in that eleven has come from the Energy and Natural Resource sector. Oil and gas has given him almost 1/2 of that.
These "gifts," of course, were not to Stevens personally. They were gifts to his campaign, for the purpose of securing Stevens' tenure. But as someone for whom tenure is quite important, it is bizarre to me that anyone would see this distinction as a distinction that matters. If Microsoft gave Stanford $1 million to persuade Stanford to give me tenure, or if the RIAA gave Stanford $1 million to persuade Stanford not to give me tenure, there'd be no doubt that I would be disqualified from judging whether either was entitled to special benefit. Yet in DC, the doubtless is not. There's nothing wrong, in the world of DC, with Stevens' voting on matters that affect the industries that have worked so hard to secure his tenure.
And the gifts don't stop there. As Ken Silverstein described in Harper's last March, despite their relatively modest salary, many Congressmen and Senators live a life of extraordinary luxury. Not because these representatives come to Washington with their own private wealth (though more and more often, of course, they do). Rather, they live a life of luxury because more and more of their day to day existence is paid for by their campaigns. As Silverstein put it, "[t]he most lavish benefit of winning a congressional campaign is, ironically enough, the right to keep on campaigning—and therefore to keep raising and spending donor money." And that spending increasingly substitutes for the sort of stuff most of us have to pay for out of our own salary. Again, Silverstein: "[T]he FEC has permitted virtually any expenditure, from a night on the town to a resort stay with big contributors, to be drawn from [campaign] funds." Thus while it is a crime for VECO Corporation to pay to have Stevens' house renovated, there's no problem with VECO's PAC and senior executives giving Stevens' campaign many times more than that which Stevens' is then free to use to fly to a resort in Montana, or entertain senior executives at DC's most expensive restaurants.