Monday, January 28, 2008

Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth

If mere Global Warming isn't enough for you, and you'd like to see how to truly annihilate the planet, LiveScience has a handy slideshow of the Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tom the Dancing Bug vs. IQ Racists

Not only does Tom the Dancing Bug rule, generally, but it also, specifically, ruled more than usual in this December 29, 2007 strip satirizing those who think IQ tests prove that white people are inherently smarter than blacks.

Three-Fifths Compromise?

Jack and Jill Politics discusses the media's "three-fifths compromise" with regard to the black vote in South Carolina. Now, this is predicated on prognostications not only of how today's primary vote will turn out, but also on the media's predicted spin of that vote, but it's worth noting nevertheless that South Carolina - the largest state yet contested by the Democrats - may have to be a big win for Obama for him to reclaim his momentum going into the February 5 votes.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lyrical Ambiguity

So, in the Oasis song "Wonderwall," when Liam sings,
I don't believe that anybody
feels the way I do about you now
, does he mean that he is the only person who feel the way he does about the particular person being discussed in the song, or does he mean that the feelings he has for this person are so special that he thinks he is the only person who has this feeling about anyone?

In other words, is it:
I don't believe that anybody
feels the way I do (about you now)
I don't believe that anybody
feels (the way I do about you now)

The former would make more sense, and the latter would be very egotistical, but the song was written by Noel Gallagher, so that's not out of the question.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Don't believe McCain

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic takes on John McCain on supply-side economics. My quibble is that there's no evidence that McCain is lying about higher taxes leading to lower revenue (in the sense that he knows the truth and is saying the opposite), just that he's demonstrably wrong. I would've also liked to see a longer timeline that shows more times when taxes were raised or lowered, what the effects on revenues were, etc.

But two broader points remain: 1) The supply-side talking points just aren't true, and 2) the press lets John McCain get away with saying anything. The corollaries to point #2 are very important to the election. The media likes to take a narrative and stick with it, and doesn't do much fact-checking at all. Politicians say things that are either misleading or out-and-out lies all the time on the campaign trail, and whether they're held accountable for it depends greatly on how the story will play out. I'm not saying that John McCain misleads more than other candidates, just that the press is a lot more likely to give him a free pass.

That's why I'm hoping the Republican nominee is anybody but McCain. He's better than the other Republicans on certain issues, but by and large, John McCain's policies would be the same old crap we've had since Bush was in office, just marginally less bad. But the press and the public see him as some sort of straight-talking maverick on a white horse, so he'd be the toughest to beat in November. Mitt Romney would be much easier to dismiss, and Mike Huckabee is likable but isn't going to win many votes outside of the South, regardless. Rudy "Il Duce" Giuliani is scary but seems to be fading in the polls, but let's wait until after Florida to count him out. Conversely, Barack Obama is a good story to sell, whereas Hillary Clinton sets off too many voters' (and reporters') heebie-jeebie alarms.

MORE: My assessments of debates before the New Hampshire primaries and the Iowa caucuses. Plus, to be honest, I get most of my political talking points these days from Matthew Yglesias's blog.

BONUS: On the other hand, it would be a great addition to lists of trivial oddities to have a President born in the Panama Canal Zone.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

George C. Wallace Comic Book

Check out this comic book that Alabama gubernatorial candidate George C. Wallace produced to tell his story. Beyond the biographical details, the gist of the story is that he promises a load of economic stimulus programs, and will fight hard against "every troublemaker backed by the NAACP. " It was in his inaugural speech after winning this race that he promised "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
Objectionable message aside, I do like the idea of sending out a comic book as a campaign mailer.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Torture and Abortion

As seen on Andrew Sullivan's blog, Mark Shea compares the right's new affinity for torture with the left's affinity for legal abortion.

Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog*

A fellow who goes by the name Synth Baron has done the world a big favor and made excellent-quality digital transfers of Andrew Kazdin and Thomas Z. Shepard's marvelous LP Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog*. This Columbia album is, with all due respect to Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita, my favorite example of the late-60s/early-70s phenomenon of adapting Classical pieces to the Moog synthesizer. I think a lot of that has to do with the choice of works to include, all very colorful "Spanish" pieces (actually, the composers are three Frenchmen and a Cuban) that lend themselves well to the Moog's ability to create a wide variety of sounds. My parents had a copy that I listened to all the time as a little kid, and it still fills me with joy to hear it today.

The cover art, incidentally, is by Tomi Ungerer.

*but were afraid to ask for

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In today's newspaper

1. Michael Kinsley writes on how Libertarians are kind of bonkers in taking principles to logical extremes, but they perform a useful function in forcing us to think through the theoretical underpinnings of our political positions. I agree. For example, I disagree with Milton Friedman on a lot of things, but reading his Capitalism and Freedom caused me to do a lot of rethinking of the foundations of my own thoughts on economics and politics. (Basically, I agree with him that economic freedom should be the default position, but I would set the bar for where government intervention is justified much lower than he does.)

2. Gemina, the crooked-necked giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo, has died at the age of 21. I saw Gemina on a trip to the zoo a few years ago; it's a very pleasant small zoo.
3. Carl Karcher, founder of Carl's Jr., has died at the age of 90. We didn't have any local In-n-Outs until I was a teenager, so for me, Carl's Jr. predates them as my fast-food burger of choice. My mom's family attended the same church as the Karchers, and she went to school with some of his kids (The Surfaris played at Carleen's graduation party!) So while you can read the obituary to learn about his ultra-conservative politics and how he lost control of his company, I'll remember him for reminding me of my grandpa and for running the place that may not have crinkly fries any more, but does have the Western Bacon Cheeseburger, which I order (without cheese) nearly every time I go.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Today's Voting

Goose Gossage was finally elected to the Hall of Fame! Good job; I think for a while voters were only looking at his save totals (310), which were overshadowed by more recent pitchers who got their saves only pitching one inning at a time. Gossage was possibly the most feared pitcher of his day and had a remarkable number of long saves:
In his career, Gossage had 193 saves of more than one inning, 126 saves of two-plus innings and 25 saves of three-plus innings. He earned a three-inning save in his final major-league appearance.
While they ultimately let the right guys in most of the time, I don't quite understand the rationale behind the year-to-year changes in the BBWAA voting. Gossage didn't pitch an inning between 2003, when he appeared on 42.1% of the ballots, and today, when he more than doubled that to win induction to the HOF. If he's a Hall of Famer now, then he was a Hall of Famer eight years ago when he was first eligible. A certain amount of changes in opinion over time are to be expected, but the changes from year to year are vast.

One guy whose vote totals didn't change, though, was Mark McGwire. I have to wonder if something of the boost Jim Rice and Andre Dawson got this year was the recognition that they performed their slugging feats in the days before steroids.

BONUS: Googling "Gossage moustache" got me to the MLB Facial Hair Hall of Fame.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Spoiled Rotten

I'm sure they're playing it up for the camera, but this 15-year-old pageant queen is definitely on my short list of the most spoiled kids I've ever seen. I didn't watch the show, but I hope to God that the other mom they brought in was able to knock some sense into her. I think maybe a stint in prison would do her some good.

Incidentally, what the hell were they thinking when they titled that show "Wife Swap?" How much of their potential audience won't tune in because of the ick-factor of the name, and how many people do tune in and then get disappointed because they were expecting some sort of HBO Real Sex show?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New Hampshire Debates

Saturday night, ABC televised debates from St. Anselm College near Manchester featuring first six Republican candidates, then four Democratic candidates. The debate format was a bit more free-form than other ones, which I think led to a more interesting debate, with more of the candidates talking to each other, more in-depth answers, and fewer soundbites. I watched the whole thing.

The Republicans disagreed more on the issues, again; with the Democrats it was again more a matter of who was the best messenger, and the policy differences were in the details. The focus of the Republican debate was Mitt Romney, as the other candidates all went on the attack against him. To Romney's credit, I think he did a good job fending them off - he showed that he was knowledgeable of the issues and able to defend his positions well. There's still a lot I don't agree with him on -- besides civil liberties and the war, there's things like his bizarre belief that we can deport all the illegal immigrants in the country now, and that it would be a good idea -- but he looked like a competent, serious candidate where the others just offered platitudes.

He was strongest on health care, outlining how the plan he managed in Massachusetts could work nationwide. He threw in a cheap shot about the country not needing "Hillarycare," but in reality his plan isn't that different from what the Democrats are proposing. Good job dismissing McCain's "straight talk" (more accurately, knee-jerk) demonization of the pharmaceutical companies, too.

The best Republican on illegal immigration was actually Rudy Giuliani, refusing to scapegoat the illegal immigrants at all, but falling short of questioning the moronic system that supports the free trade of goods while restricting the free trade of labor. On everything else, though, it was a litany of 9/11 this, Islamic terrorism that, etc.

Easily the lamest of the bunch was Fred Thompson, who looked like he had just woken up from a nap every time the moderator called him, and never offered much of any reason to vote for him that went beyond what one could presumably find in the opening paragraph of the Republican Party platform. Actual quote: "...for the first time on September, uh, 11th..."

It was fun to watch Ron Paul call the others idiots for their continued support of Bush's disastrous foreign policies, but seriously, the American public doesn't care about monetary policy and going off the gold standard has nothing at all to do with making health care affordable.

In the Democratic debate, I was most impressed with John Edwards, who did a great job of coming forward and making the case that Hillary Clinton was not the best person to effect change in Washington. I'm not on board with all of his talk against special interests, though. Obviously I don't think the government should be for sale, but in my book an intelligent candidate will learn to work with interest groups for the public good and not dismiss them outright. Hillary, for her part, though, looked on top of her game, made her points without being grating about it, and even showed a sense of humor at one point ("That hurts my feelings.")

Others have said it, and I agree, that Obama isn't anywhere near as dynamic in debates as he is giving a solo speech. That's not a fatal flaw, but it'll prevent me from having any illusions that he's a perfect candidate. In addition to the standard things like abortion that I disagree with most Democrats on, I think the health insurance mandates advocated by Edwards, Clinton, and even Romney are more sound than the optional health insurance that's in Obama's plan. He looked strongest, however, early in the debate when they were talking foreign policy, and I believe that as President he'd do the most to improve our standing on the international scene.

Obama's approach to public appearances seems to be to inspire people in his speeches while giving explanations as to what more precisely he'd do in the debates. His opponents will see the speeches and then say he's nothing but an empty suit, but I think the substance is there. He just doesn't see a victory speech as a time to outline policy; it's a time to build on his popularity and get people on his side. And he did a good job in the debate of laying out this strategy when Clinton said that her record spoke louder than his words; she may have more experience, but being persuasive is crucial to getting things done as an executive. People resist Clinton, but they see Obama and want to join his brigade.

Network Neutrality

This post by Matt Stoller argues in favor of Obama over Clinton because of their relative stances on media issues, particularly Obama's support of net neutrality. Which is great and all, except that I have no idea what it really means. OK, it means that broadband providers can't discriminate against different types or sources of data passing through their network. But what are the practical implications of that? Who exactly would be affected and how? Why is that important? The Wikipedia entry seems to be written for people who already understand what it is. Can someone out there help me on this?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Obama wins Iowa

Hillary's gotta be pissed. I think a good chunk of her campaign was basically, "Look, it's inevitable, I'm going to be the nominee. Vote for me because I'm a winner, and let's just get this over with quickly." So, she's lost the air of inevitability.

Here's Obama's victory speech. It's good.

And here he is pressing the flesh at a polling place (do they call it that for a caucus?) in Iowa.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iowa Caucuses

It seems like they've been campaigning forever, but tomorrow the presidential candidates will finally face the voters for the first time. In all likelihood, everything will be decided after February 5, and there'll be a lot of farting around until the party conventions in the summer.

My trip out to Flagstaff and back offered me an opportunity to listen to both parties' most recent debates in their entirety. In something of a reversal from previous years, the Democrats all pretty much agreed with each other while the Republicans couldn't have been a more disparate bunch. In recent history the Republicans have generally been a lot better at maintaining "party discipline," keeping the candidates in agreement and nominating the next guy on the list. This time with the Democrats the message is more clear and the debates are more about who can best make that message work. On the other side, it's hard to believe guys like Giuliani and Huckabee are even on the same stage.

First, the Democrats. I still like Obama best. As I've said before, I think a lot of presidential politics is not necessarily a matter of voting for the guy with the best resume or whose platform most closely resembles your own, since you can't predict what sort of challenges they're going to encounter in the White House. But I do like Obama's approach - reaching out across the aisle not by compromising his values, but by listening and paying attention to people while still disagreeing with them.

There was a while where I felt like I was waiting for him to make his move, where I thought maybe he'd hit a ceiling and America just wasn't going to vote for a young, unabashedly liberal half-African guy whose middle name is "Hussein." But while some may think he still needs more "experience," as if hanging around in the Senate for another election cycle would make him a better candidate, I say, "What better time than now?" I don't have any illusions that he'll be able to accomplish everything he sets out to do, but it will be nice to see somebody actually inspiring in the White House, something I've never seen in my lifetime.

John Edwards is hanging on better than I thought he would. I saw him on Jay Leno several months ago, where he seemed okay but still very much a politician, a bit of a phony. Since then, though, he's seemed better at articulating his little guys vs. the corporations theme and I've liked him more. And his wife is genuinely spunky and should be a real asset on the campaign trail, assuming her health keeps. But I still have to wonder if his nice-guy class-warfare approach is really what the general public wants. I read somewhere a while ago that voters' perceptions are that Edwards is the most centrist of the Democrats' top three, while in actuality he's the farthest to the left. Are people just conditioned to believe that a white Southerner with a slick haircut is the conservative kind of populist rather than the liberal kind?

Then there's Hillary. If she ends up as the nominee -- probably still the most likely outcome -- I'll support her, but it would be the grudging, "Well, she'll be a lot better than the alternative" kind of support that I've grown to loathe heading into an election. On the issues, she's close to the other Democrats, though perhaps more willing to take a compromise position where Edwards and Obama would be more idealistic. Personally, though, she seems like the sort of robo-candidate who responds to nothing but polls and handlers, like her husband without the charisma.

Any three of the above could end up with the nomination. Bill Richardson is leading the rest of the field --- he's got the best resume but seems pretty lackluster as a national candidate. I think Richardson's best hope is to shoot for Secretary of State in somebody else's administration. Even as a VP candidate, I think he's likely to be something of a dud on the campaign trail. Joe Biden, on the other hand, would be a great complement to Obama or maybe Edwards on a ticket. Biden could be the ticket's attack dog in the campaign, letting Obama keep his hands clean. He's the consummate Washington insider the way Obama isn't, and his experience with the Senate would help him actually implement his ideas.

As for the Republicans, I think the most likely candidate is Mitt Romney, who is in many ways as a candidate the GOP version of John Kerry, a bland, rich, flip-flopping Massachusettsian who has the same follow-the-polls behavior of a Clinton. He's exactly the kind of oatmeal candidate I've become accustomed to the Democrats nominating, and losing with, for decades.

Six weeks ago, Mike Huckabee looked like an ascendant juggernaut, which got him noticed enough to start getting criticism, and now he seems to have peaked maybe a month early. He certainly seems like the nicest of the Republicans, but his economic policies are anathema to conservatives, and his social ideas are anathema to just about everybody else. Not living in the South or Midwest, maybe I'm just underestimating the appeal of conservative populism. I think he's going to be a factor in the race for a while, but I seriously doubt he'll actually become the nominee. Check out this recent flub.

Fred Thompson peaked even longer ago than Huckabee. For a while there seemed to be this idea that he'd come riding in on Ronald Reagan's horse to reclaim the "real conservative" position, but since actually becoming a candidate, he's been nothing but fizzle. I don't really see him even being a factor.

Another guy whom I think has peaked is Rudy Giuliani, maybe the scariest of the viable GOP candidates. An authoritarian like Giuliani might be able to get some good accomplished as a mayor, but once he starts appointing judges, civil libertarians will be nostalgic for the days of Alberto Gonzales. If a big-city serial adulterer like him somehow won the nomination, he'd completely alienate the Christian Right, maybe even to the extent that they'd split the vote with a third-party candidate. Incidentally, this is a guy who's said he favors using public funding to pay for poor women's abortions, not a popular stance popular with economic conservatives, social conservatives, or, for that matter, many Democrats. (It's probably popular with eugenicists, though.)

One of the few Republicans on the uptick is John McCain. I'm not really sure what he did to piss off the GOP establishment and earn a reputation as a "maverick" -- was it really just campaign finance reform? Anyway, I think he's looking like a familiar old face to Republican voters unhappy with their other choices. He may yet have his moment, and he'd be a tougher opponent in the general election than the other Republican candidates, but it may just be that his time has passed. Even my "well, I disagree with him, but at least I respect him" feeling for this guy took a blow when he caved in to Bush on torture.

Well, of course, anything here will certainly be revisable pending the results of tomorrow's caucuses, and the rest of the voting over the next few weeks. This is our last chance to pontificate on these things without any real, you know, votes to get in the way of our theories.