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Archive for November, 2004

Musings on the Ukraine

[ 0 ] November 29, 2004 |

I’m in more or less complete agreement with Matthew Yglesias on the Ukraine issue. The interests and ideological convictions of the United States dovetail nicely in Eastern Europe. It is good to favor a transparent, reliable electoral process in the Ukraine both because democracy is good and because such an outcome will be favorable to the United States. Moreover, the one doesn’t necessarily pollute the other, and it really doesn’t matter which motive is more important to US action in this case.

So, if the United States is supporting the opposition in Serbia, the Ukraine, Georgia, or wherever else, great! If the opposition wins, even better. Skepticism about US motives shouldn’t detract from the celebration of positive outcomes. The alternative isn’t some sort of “natural” democratic process; it’s power in the hands of autocrats who themselves are supported by an increasingly autocratic Russia. There’s really no way that I can see to come up with a leftist justification of that outcome.



[ 0 ] November 29, 2004 |

Regular reader Kat points out that someone has finally stood up to the greatest menace afflicting the University of Washington community; those goddamn Larouchies. Photos here, discussion here.

It is possible that those living in more sane parts of the country may think that launching an anti-Larouche protest is a bit like using a Humvee to squash a cockroach. In Seattle, however, the Larouchies are a real force. They’re all over the UW campus and the University District. Indeed, I’ve even seen a Larouche stand in front of the Post Office in Wallingford. Whether the concentration of Larouchies represents a similar concentration in the population or a conscious decision on the part of the movement to focus on Seattle is beyond my knowledge.

However, I do know that the bastards are damned annoying. They often take up positions right next to the Political Science Department and badger everyone entering and leaving. As far as I can tell, they’ve toned down the anti-royalist rhetoric in favor of warnings of impending economic disaster. Three or four months ago, one placard proclaimed that the entire financial system would collapse within sixty days. Making a specific prediction is not a good strategy for an apocalyptic organization, especially when there are no exclusive benefits to joining said organization. I decided just to wait the sixty days, then join when the financial system collapsed. Still waiting.

Perhaps most indefensibly, the Washington 32nd Legislative District Democrats actually allowed a Larouchie to take the stage at the 2004 district caucus. I’m all for letting the Larouchies blather on in public, but political parties tend to have a specific agenda and space for debate. We would not, for example, have allowed a Republican to speak in front of the meeting. Larouche followers are, if anything, far less representative of the Democratic Party than, for example, Dino Rossi. Although this perhaps goes some distance towards explaining the general ineptitude of the Washington Democratic Party. . .

The majoritarian ‘difficulty’

[ 0 ] November 29, 2004 |

poll about the Supreme Court yields typical findings:

The survey found that 59 percent of respondents said they favor choosing a nominee who would uphold Roe v. Wade, while 31 percent wanted a nominee who would overturn the ruling.

While the public is generally divided on the abortion issue, polling consistently has found a clear majority of people who think abortion should be legal in at least some cases. The preference for Supreme Court nominees who would uphold Roe v. Wade could be found among both men and women, most age groups, most income groups and people living in urban, suburban and rural areas. Fewer than half of Republicans, evangelicals and those over 65 said they favored a nominee who would uphold the abortion ruling.
“While I don’t have a strong feeling about abortions personally, I wouldn’t want the law overturned and return to the days of backdoor abortions,” said Colleen Dunn, 40, a Republican and community college teacher who lives outside Philadelphia.
The survey found that 61 percent of respondents said Supreme Court nominees should state their position on abortion before being approved for the job.Most of those who have taken a position on whether a nominee should uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade say they wanted a nominee to state his position on abortion before confirmation. Almost two-thirds of each group said they would want to know.

So, most Americans 1)support Roe v. Wade, 2)believe that it’s legitimate for justices appointed for political reasons to have the political implications of their legal beliefs scrutinized, and 3)care more about the outcome of the case than its judicial reasoning.

Of course, all three of these results are completely unsurprising; they’re worth pointing out only because so many progressives routinely assert the opposite on all three points. I can understand why Robert Bork asserts that if the court disagrees with him it must be counter-majoritarian; why so many progressives go along with this is baffling. Roe may be right or wrong, but it is not “counter-majoritarian” in any meaningful sense.

Later today: why Roe was right on the merits.

It’s the Passing Game, Stupid

[ 1 ] November 28, 2004 |

This is obviously of trivial importance compared with the feeble attempts to debunk the Lancet article, but I’m glad to see David Leonhardt tackle a form of reactionary innumeracy that becomes an annoyance on Sundays: the argument that running is the key to success in the NFL. Part of this is just old-fart prejudice, but it is sustained by the fact that winning teams rush for more yards than losing teams. This is, of course, the wrong metric to use. It just tells us the obvious fact that winning teams rush more often, hardly surprising given that once you’re ahead running the clock and avoiding turnovers is more important than scoring. The relevant question is whether good teams run more effectively. When you do this, it’s clear that pass offense and defense are vastly more important than rushing, as Allan Barra demonstrated a couple decades ago. As Leonhardt notes, the evidence remains unambiguous:

To uncover the secrets of N.F.L. success, Roland Beech, a former investment company researcher, has correlated teams’ statistics in key categories with their overall records. Passing yards per attempt does a far better job of predicting which teams win than almost any other statistic.
Having a good rushing average is obviously better than having a bad one, but it says far less about which teams win, said Beech, who now runs

People who think that running are the key to NFL success are the rough equivalent of those who think that “moving the runners” and “making productive outs” are the key to winning baseball. I can’t wait for Tech Central Station to publish an article defending the received wisdom in both sports…

Bad Arguments

[ 0 ] November 27, 2004 |

I can’t decide if Ampersand at Alas, A Blog is a saint for the time and patience he devotes to refuting bad anti-SSM arguments put forth in various quarters of the blogosphere I have no inclination to visit, or a sucker for being drawn into these parlor games. Like Matthew Yglesias, I think it’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of anti-SSM sentiment is theological and/or prejudicial in origin, and the attempts to construct serious public reason-style arguments are secondary and strategic for anti-SSM folks.

On the other hand, it’s hardly my place to claim to know such arguments are being made in bad faith; many people pride themselves on having good, serious reasons for their policy preferences, that aren’t faith or prejudice-based. If we (and by we, I mean Ampersand; I’ve got too many blogs I actually want to read to spend my time at the family scholars blog) can decisively show that these alleged public reasons don’t stand up to scrutiny, anti-SSM folks who hold want to consider themselves reasonable, serious, non-bigoted participants in public discourse may be forced to confront the more ugly side of their support for discrimination. Maybe.

Anyway, here’s the argument Ampersand managed to decipher:

1)If SSM is allowed, society will be less able to affirm the importance of being raised by bio-parents.

2)This will likely result in more heterosexual parents either never marrying, or marrying and then divorcing. (This is what Elizabeth means by “more [children] will grow up lacking that key security”).

3)Therefore, we should not allow SSM.

Ampersand correctly identifies an unstated and necessary premise:

2.5)Whatever leads to more bio-parents not marrying, or getting divorced, should not be legal.

He then goes on to show that even radical clerics like James Dobson probably don’t support every possible implication that premise 2.5 leads to, and even atheist pinkos like me don’t have a problem with, and banning SSM looks a lot more like the items on the former list than the latter. Read the whole thing, it’s very good.

Following Ampersand, I’m going to identify another unstated premise, which I’ll call premise .5:

.5) There is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that being raised by married bio-parents has advantages for the children in question over all plausible alternative arrangements.

But this severely understates the burden associated with this premise. We need some more:

.5.1)This evidence demonstrates not merely correlation between indicators of children’s welfare and married bio-parent families, but causation through the holding constant of other potentially correlative variables such as (for example) income level.

.5.2)This research shouldn’t be done by those with an ax to grind, or if it is it should be subject to peer review.

.5.3)The statistical relationship shows significant amounts of harm to children outside of non-married bio-parents families.

I add .53 on the assumption that when we discriminate, we’d better be damn sure we’ve got good reason to do it. (And we do discriminate in marriage, and rightly so. Parents shouldn’t be allowed to marry their children, 30 year olds shouldn’t be allowed to marry 12 year olds, and so on. In these cases, the reasons for the discrimination are a fair bit easier to demonstrate.) Elizabeth, to whom Ampersand is responding, appears to grasp this, as she claims to have sympathy for those gay couples she simply can’t allow to marry. Even if this harm is demonstrated, it hardly makes the case, as Ampersand demonstrates–there are other more serious flaws to be dealt with later on in the argument.

Still, until she’s satisfactorily made the case for premise 1, there’s no reason to allow things to proceed that far. They’ve got a lot of work to do before we should even consider accepting the first premise in that argument.

Elizabeth obviously wants to see herself not as a bigot but as a compassionate person. She’s replaced the conventional and most common starting premise for opposing SSM (gay people are bad/immoral/sinful/evil/icky/whatever), and replaced it with something that sounds much nicer (children are better off with their own ‘real’ parents) to support the same bigoted policy. There’s simply no reason to let her get away with this sleight of hand, no matter how much more psychologically satisfying it may be than the alternative.

The post-Roth decline, Pt. II

[ 0 ] November 24, 2004 |

I mentioned recently the unlikely but true fact that Van Halen could replace David Lee Roth and wind up with replacements that got exponentially worse. Well, should the NYT follow Hugh Hewitt’s suggestions, something similar would be the case with respect to replacing Bill Safire. Sadly, No! has the grim details. Let’s just say I’m inclined to think Jonah Goldberg is the best of the lot. (Shudder.) Hayes, I suppose, would be the most appropriate; I’m sure he’d be happy to add crackpot conspiracy theories about Hillary and Vince Foster to his already extensive record of ridiculous claims about Iraq and Al Qaeda.

As a preview, Lawyers, Guns & Money is proud to present the list of the five third baseman Hugh Hewitt will suggest the Dodgers acquire if they lose Adrian Beltre:

1)Russ Davis
2)Drew Henson
3)Willie Bloomquist
4)Butch Hobson
5)Manny Alexander

More hatchet jobs, Part I

[ 0 ] November 24, 2004 |

I know we defeated Dems are supposed to be getting in touch with what blue-state urbanites like Nik Kristof consider to be “red state” culture. But if this consists of a movie adapted from a treacly ode to conformity by John Grisham, written by Chris Colombus, starring Tim Allen and directed by the auteur of America’s Sweethearts (and what I’m sure is a much superior movie to the other two, Revenge of the Nerds II), well, all I can say is pass the Chardonnay and the latest Vanity Fair…

Oh, that felt good. . .

[ 0 ] November 24, 2004 |

From David Edelstein’s review of Alexander:

Please understand the source of my vitriol: I consider Stone’s Natural Born Killers to be, hands down, the worst movie ever made—and not the worst in the manner of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. I mean the worst in its combination of aesthetic and moral ugliness, in the way it bombards you into accepting the idea that a pair of serial mass murderers could be enlightened hipsters. (The original script, by Quentin Tarantino, was a heavy-handed but amusing satire of sensationalistic media; by the time Stone had gotten through with it, the serial killers had evolved into existential heroes.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you. And Edelstein doesn’t even bother mentioning that anything Natural Born Killers had to say had already been said, much more eloquently, by Badlands twenty years before. Some people I know adore this film, which I simply cannot understand. I have difficulty even having conversations with people on why they like this movie, a phenomenon I refer to as the “Chasing Amy Effect”.

I hate Oliver Stone movies. I’ll admit that I find the fascination of many of my idiot friends with Natural Born Killers the most perplexing, but I really dislike almost all of his films. I’ve never seen Any Given Sunday, Heaven and Earth, Salvador, or (mercifully) JFK. Of the rest, I have a bare tolerance for Platoon, and some genuine respect for Nixon. U-Turn and Natural Born Killers must rank among the worst films ever made by a “serious” director. I once quite liked Wall Street, and it certainly has some powerful moments, but I don’t feel that it’s aged well, and I think Stone’s bombasity managed to obscure whatever message he was trying to tell. Although I suppose that Terence Stamp’s “I should dump the stock just to burn your arse” will always remain with me. . .

So, all that might make you wonder why I still plan see Alexander. In short, I am a fool. I like watching depictions of ancient warfare. I saw Troy, for crying out loud. Put a bunch of Greeks in a phalanx and march them at some Persians, and I’ll apparently plunk down my hard earned cash. Are there limits to this disorder? Well, if Alexander does well, and four more ancient warfare clones appear next summer, we’ll know. Fortunately, I can’t imagine that Alexander will be anything but a box office disaster; Red America won’t take to a bisexual hero, Colin Farrell or no.

Lou Dobbs

[ 0 ] November 23, 2004 |

I’ve been falling into the bad habit of not bringing reading material to the gym, which leads to dangerous things–namely, prolonged exposure to Lou Dobbs tonight on CNN. This toxic experience has led to the following conclusions.

1) Trying to channel the angry, bullying faux-populism of a Bill O’Reilly through a doughy, milquetoast business reporter is exactly as good of an idea as it sounds like.

2) Under normal circumstances, if you ask my for my views on free trade, I’ll probably say “yes” but with a half-dozen caveats and reservations. Nothing makes me want to declare my unwavering and unapologetic support, Matthew Yglesias-style, for an orthodox free trade position like the pandering of “Exporting America” and “Broken Borders” on Lou Dobbs.

3) Sometimes staring off into space and daydreaming really is the best use of your time.

The abortion rider

[ 0 ] November 22, 2004 |

Fortunately, you won’t be getting yet another interminable abortion post from me; instead, I can direct you to Julie Saltman, who points out that the recent abortion rider attached to the omnibus bill is clearly unconstitutional under current doctrine, and also eloquently attacks the self-destructive myth that returning abortion to the legislatures will diffuse the underlying conflict.

The only thing I’ll add to the last point is that it’s part of a larger self-destructive meme: the liberal tendency to go along with the general perception that courts are havens of “liberal activism.” It’s a really remarkable triumph of conservative discourse. There hasn’t been a liberal median justice on the Supreme Court since Abe Fortas retired in 1969, and yet apparently conservatives are supposedly benefiting from the activist decisions of the liberal Supreme Court. Sure.

Tony Blair seems the obvious casting choice. . .

[ 0 ] November 22, 2004 |

Priceless picture and commentary at Martini Republic.


[ 0 ] November 22, 2004 |

This is getting some attention. Pretty shocking that invading a country and destroying its institutions of health and security leads to an increased rate of child malnutrition. One would almost begin to think that utter chaos is worse than a brutal dictatorship.

David Adesnik makes a rather lame effort to respond in which he more or less concurs with the major finding while doing his best to obscure its importance. Helpfully, however, he does admit the following:

I do believe that the oil-for-“food” program improved nutrition for Iraqi children. Corruption at the UN may have been pervasive, but it seems that most of the money still went for food.

Recognizing that “food” may actually be, well, food is something that has completely escaped the non-sensical conservative onslaught against corruption in the oil-for-food program. However corrupt, the program seems to have saved a considerable number of Iraqi lives, which is much more than can be said of the invasion that halted it.

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