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Walt on Foreign Policy Challenges

[ 0 ] November 14, 2008 |

Good diavlog. Watch the rest.

Exit Polls and Retrospective Bandwagons

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby, responding to CNN’s exit polls:

It’s hard to believe that those data are accurate. Did four percent of last week’s voters really vote for someone other than Bush or Kerry in 2004? And what would explain that nine-point gap between Bush and Kerry voters? In theory, Democrats were enthusiastic about last week’s election, Republicans somewhat less so. Can it really be that 46 percent of last week’s voters voted for Bush in 2004—versus only 37 percent who voted for Kerry?

Bob isn’t considering one crucial possibility here: misreporting. Political scientists have found a “retrospective bandwagon” effect in which some people will remember having voted for the winner even if they didn’t. One example, as this paper reminds us, is that after his razor-thin victory about 65% of respondents claimed to have voted for JFK. Admittedly, Bush’s extreme unpopularity should lessen these effects, but then this a pretty small retrospective bounce.

It is, of course, true that exit poll data should be treated carefully. But there’s nothing about the 2004 election question that would suggest that CNN’s sampling was bad; it’s about the result you would expect.

But I Manage ‘Cuz I’m A Savage Inside

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Some excellent work from Dan Savage here:

The point about churches engaging in political funding and activism and then hiding behind the bushes is a particularly important one. It’s also good that Savage has apologized for his post-election scapegoating of African-Americans.

By the way, does the backlash against Prop 8 prove that initiatives are a bad political strategy? Or does this logic only apply to backlashes against progressive strategies?

Doubling Down on Twenty

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Apparently, in response to their initiative getting roughly 0.0% of the vote in Colorado, advocates for giving zygotes constitutional rights are planning to broaden their campaign. I would advise anti-choicers in the strongest possible terms to put their resources behind this movement. But who will protect the Spermatazoan-Americans?

"Law & Order" Conservative of the Day

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Nino Scalia.

Ixnay on the irlfriendgay, Brian!

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |


Watch the very end of this video; I don’t think that Luke Russert was too pleased that Brian Williams brought up the girlfriend issue.

h/t Macgyver.

Begich Ahead by Three Votes

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Hell’s bells…

The latest tally reflects the counting of absentee ballots — about 40,000 of them — and will soon be incorporating about 35,000 more from around the state. Most of the remaining votes appear to be from outlying areas of the state where Begich should do very well. Final results, though, won’t be available for a few days, and probably not before the middle of next week. Don’t ask me why. People count slowly up here.

But depending on the final tally, America just might owe the Alaskan Independence Party — whose candidate, Bob Bird, earned more than 10,000 votes — a modest debt of gratitude. Last time, the AIP received about 3% of the vote; this time, Bird is clearing more than 4%, which would be one of many factors — the greatest of which would be Stevens himself — enabling a Democratic win.

A Begich win would bring the Senate numbers up to 58.

…and most importantly, it would save the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body from the horror-show of Sen. Sarah Palin:

She also said she feels as though she has a “contract with Alaskans” to continue to serve as governor, but wouldn’t completely rule out a run for the U.S. Senate if the opportunity presented itself.

It depends on Alaska voters, Palin said, and “if they call an audible on me, and if they say they want me in another position, I’m going to do it. … My life is in God’s hands. If he’s got doors open for me, that I believe are in our state’s best interest, the nation’s best interest, I’m going to go through those doors.”

Palin Summary

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

What Sully said.

This bears particular emphasis:

The Palin nightmare also happened because a tiny faction of political professionals has far too much sway in the GOP and conservative circles. This was Bill Kristol’s achievement.

It was a final product of the now-exhausted strategy of fomenting fundamentalist resentment to elect politicians dedicated to the defense of Israel and the extension of American military hegemony in every corner of the globe. Palin was the reductio ad absurdum of this mindset: a mannequin candidate, easily controlled ideologically, deployed to fool and corral the resentful and the frightened, removed from serious scrutiny and sold on propaganda networks like a food product.

Are "drugs" "bad?"

[ 0 ] November 12, 2008 |

Some of the comments made to Rob’s post on the devastating effects the U.S. drug war has on Mexico and other nations take the view that (simplifying somewhat) yes, “drugs” produce a net negative effect in society, and would continue to be an overall negative phenomenon if we had less insane drug policies, but that draconian criminalization does more harm than good.

Some of this is in reaction to Scott the Very Odd Liberal’s view that we ought to prohibit alcohol and cigarettes (and prescription drugs!) — a position that one would think is so self-evidently nutty that there’s no need to make a bunch of “yes, but” concessions.

The biggest problem with prohibition isn’t that it doesn’t “work” (although of course it doesn’t). The problem is that if it did work, even without employing massive authoritarian measures which are clearly bad in themselves, it would still be a bad thing.

That’s because the basic principle behind the attempt to eradicate the use of large categories of mind-altering substances is wrong. That principle is that drugs do more harm than good.

Let’s take the case of alcohol. Now there is no question that alcohol abuse does a significant amount of social damage. It is, almost every non-drug warrior agrees, a more dangerous and damaging drug than marijuana. I’ve seen people close to me do very serious harm to themselves and those who love them through the long-term abuse of alcohol. Does that make alcohol “bad?” Would the world be a better place if someone could wave a magic wand and there were no alcoholic beverages, in other words, if we could have a “costless” (in the direct sense) prohibition?

This strikes me as so obviously untrue that it isn’t worth arguing over. For the vast majority of people who use alcohol, it’s a life-enhancing experience — often significantly so.

Now I’m going to propose something more radical: what’s true for alcohol is true for most if not all mind-altering substances. Most people who use most mind-altering substances don’t become addicts, don’t do serious damage to themselves, and get benefits, often great benefits from their use. This is obvious if you consider the tens of millions of Americans who have used illicit drugs — yes, even the scariest, “hardest,” “worst” such drugs — and then compare that number to the number of people who develop serious substance abuse problems.

And those of our fellow citizens who do develop such problems are disproportionately poor, discriminated against, or otherwise in socially fragile situations — situations that themselves have more to do with why drugs end up having bad effects in such peoples’ lives than anything inherently “bad” about the substances themselves.

Do we really want a world without morphine and its derivatives? Think about that for a second. And if you’ve never been in excruciating need of a powerful pharmacological palliative, you might want to think about it some more.

Do we really want a world without hallucinogenic drugs? Read Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. Read about Native American peyote rituals. And so forth.

Drug abuse is obviously a serious problem. That’s because the abuse of any powerful, potentially life-transforming substance or practice is by definition a serious problem. Science is abused, literature is abused, sex is abused, food is abused — basically everything that makes life worth living is for that very reason going to be abused.

The answer isn’t to try to get rid of those things. Prohibition strategies would do even more damage if they actually worked.

The International Consequences of Prohibition

[ 0 ] November 12, 2008 |

The people of the United States like cocaine and heroin. Consequently, entrepreneurs in Latin America produce cocaine and heroin. However, the government of the United States has determined that the people of the United States should be prohibited from using cocaine and heroin. In spite of this prohibition, Latin American entrepreneurs continue to deliver product to customers in the United States. Because the United States is larger and more powerful than its Latin American neighbors, it can force the latter to adopt policies of prohibition and interdiction. These policies result in extraordinarily high levels of violence, social disintegration, economic turmoil, and a loss of state capacity:

Worst of all, the sheer size of the black economy–$40 billion as estimated by Stratfor’s George Friedman–strangles legitimate enterprise and concentrates power in the hands of a few narco-warlords. These criminal enterprises amass power and legitimacy as the Mexican state loses the trust of its citizens. As a result, Mexico’s periphery has become a lawless wasteland controlled largely by the drug cartels, but the disorder is rapidly spreading into the interior. In a cruel parody of the “ink-blot” strategy employed by counterinsurgents in Iraq, ungoverned spaces controlled by insurgents multiply as the territorial fabric of the Mexican state continues to dissolve.

President Felipe Calderon has tried to stem the bleeding by unleashing the military and federal police on the narco-gangs. But the cartels responded in kind by massively targeting police officers and innocent civilians. They are waging a war of attrition to force the Mexican state to cease re-asserting its power. Sadly, the cartels are winning. Criminal violence continues in the borderlands, and high-ranking federal officials have been killed without meaningful government response. As the head of Mexican intelligence service CISEN admitted to reporters, the cartels pose a threat to Mexican national security.

If this all seems silly and ridiculous, it’s because it is silly and ridiculous. Lots of Mexicans get to die for the purpose of a marginal increase in the street price of cocaine and heroin. The problem is clear, and the solution painfully obvious.

David Foster Wallace

[ 0 ] November 12, 2008 |

A book I’ve always meant to read but have never gotten around to is A. Alvarez’s study of suicide, The Savage God. Given its prevalence (about twice as common as homicide in the US) it’s an under-discussed topic, I think. There must be some good books on the topic; suggestions are welcome.

Also, I’ve been re-reading some of DFW’s work.

"Pie Gallon Palin" is also on the table…

[ 0 ] November 12, 2008 |

Just this evening, the wife and I were discussing possible names for the male fetus who’s currently shoving her internal organs into a tight mound of pain beneath her ribs. We’ve settled on a first name — one that’s sure to induce some major-league ass-kickings — but the middle name has vexed us somewhat. In light of recent political events, and 58 percent in jest, I suggested we call the child “Barack” or perhaps even “Hussein.” (I should note that in 2002, I promised a friend that if I could procure a wealthy benefactor to retire my student loans and provide me with a $10,000 annual stipend, I’d be willing to change my legal name to “Albert Qaeda” for five years, with an option to renegotiate after three. The lesson, I suppose, being that I’m not exactly the best person to consult on thise — or really any — life-shaping question. The Palin Baby Name Generator would offer vastly superior advice.)

It seems that others have been having the same conversation, at least so far as “Barack” is concerned.

Curiously, the last eight years have had no discernible effect on the popularity of the name “George.” Ranked #130 by the Social Security Administration in 2000, it only slipped to 147 by 2007. “Karl,” by contrast, plummeted from 564 to 862, while “Richard” lost ground from 65 to 99.

Meantime, if any LGM readers happen to be wealthy benefactors in search of a good cause, I’m willing to consider naming my kid after John Hinderacker.