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July 5

[ 180 ] November 20, 2007 |

Today we started a mini-simulation for a course at Patterson. This isn’t the larger spring policy simulation, but rather a smaller exercise designed to facilitate group work and presentation skills. My topic was this:

An alien attack has resulted in the destruction of the greater portion of the urban infrastructure of the United States and the rest of the world. Although the aliens have been substantially defeated, the problem of reconstruction looms. After the initial alien attacks, most of the nation’s urban population was able to flee the cities. The President has requested that the senior surviving officials in the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce submit reports on the likely problems and first steps towards reconstruction.

Some assumptions that we worked out on the first day, informed by repeated viewings of Independence Day:

  • The attack resulted in the destruction of the 30 largest American urban centers, assuming that a ship can destroy a city every three hours, that the aliens allocated 3 ships to North America, and that only three targets each in Mexico and Canada were destroyed. We also figured 9 ships for Eurasia, and 1 each for Africa, South America, and Australia (the film states that the attack involved 15 ships). Those numbers are certainly debatable; I could see moving one Eurasian ship to South America, for example. The actual targets of destruction would probably take into account commercial and military importance in addition to raw population.
  • The attack generated somewhere between 20-40 million internal refugees in the United States. While the populations of New York, Washington, and Los Angeles were mostly destroyed, other major cities were able to evacuate. Some refugees will also have evacuated from smaller cities (such as Cincinnati or Detroit) that were not targeted prior to the defeat of the alien ships. These latter refugees will be able to return to their homes, which will still leave a very large population of displaced persons.
  • We assumed that the attack took place on July 2, 2007, in order to ease various narrative problems. Of course, this means that the United States is deeply involved in Iraq during the attack; Baghdad almost certainly would have been destroyed by an alien ship.
  • We worked out that the Vice President and the Cabinet (with the exception of the Secretary of Defense) have all, perhaps with a straggler or two, been killed. Congress fares much better, as we figured that most Senators and Representatives wouldn’t be in DC during the attack. We’re guessing about 85% of Congress survives. Most state government survive essentially intact, as they’re not located in cities targeted by the aliens.

Thoughts?

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A Pledge To Keep

[ 11 ] November 20, 2007 |

Especially useful with Thanksgiving approaching:

So why not try this for a day? If you’re going to eat something, eat it. If you’re not, don’t. Beating yourself up about food, privately and publicly, much as you think might help you stay thin out of guilt, doesn’t actually work.

Indeed.

…I do think the mighty Atrios makes a fair point in comments:

More seriously as much as I agree this kind of dynamic is messed we should understand that people with food and fat related issues do adopt various coping mechanisms. Not saying I endorse them all as being “healthy,” but the problem probably isn’t the mechanisms themselves but the issues which lead people there.

My impulse is to be as cranky about this as M. LeBlanc — even though I’m sure I’ve done this kind of thing myself — laregly because it’s my impulse to be cranky about pretty much anything, but the real point (and I assume hers as well) is that the dynamic doesn’t work and reflects counterproductive attitudes towards food; the fact that it can be annoying to others is not the central point.

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Season 3

[ 30 ] November 19, 2007 |

What’s the general consensus on the relative strength of Wire seasons? I’m halfway through season 3, and I think I like it the best of them all so far. Then again, this would fit neatly into my theory that third seasons of series television tend to be the strongest, since they can draw on character development in the first two years without the exhaustion of later years. So maybe I’m biased.

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More Complaints for the Times Op-Ed Department

[ 274 ] November 19, 2007 |

Will Okun, the Chicago school teacher who accompanied enlightened Nick [not Bill] Kristof on a trip to Africa earlier this year and got to blog about, misses badly with today’s post.

It happens too often. A female student approaches my desk, says “Mr. Okun?”, and and whispers the two words no adult wants to hear from a teenager: “I’m pregnant.” I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to shake her with anger. What have you done? Life is not hard enough already? Is it over, have you given up? What about finishing high school? What about college? What about your own dreams? What about enjoying the last of your own childhood? How can you parent a child when you are just a child yourself? How will you support your baby, how will you support yourself? Where is the man, will he be here next year? Will I see you and your baby coldly waiting alone for a city bus that will not come? Please look me in the eye and tell me you know what you have done.

What you have done. What you have done!?! Um, does anyone else think there is something severely lacking here, like an acknowledgment that (1) the girl has not “done” anything, and certainly has not done it solo and (2) his righteous indignation is both paternalistic and, at root, full of latent racism? Not sure you agree with me? Here’s Cara‘s take:

Shorter Okun: Oh you silly, promiscuous black girl. If only you had listened to SMART WHITE MEN LIKE ME, your life wouldn’t suck and we could end the cycle of racism and poverty. NOW EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO ME.

These kinds of statements not only put the educated white man on a pedestal and he is not only passing judgment on people whose lives he cannot even begin to understand. He’s also saying black women, the fact that you keep having babies is what’s keeping you poor.

That Okun is judging his students is undeniable. He is bemoaning not a system that does nothing to prevent teen pregnancy or support teen parents, but rather the women themselves. Certainly, teenagers could be doing more to prevent pregnancy. But with the pill costing $45 in some places, and with condoms assuming a woman’s agency in a relationship, it’s not a sufficient answer to say, “oh well, they should have prevented the pregnancy. Since they didn’t, I will condemn them.”

That said, Okun’s got nothing on the misogyny and racism of his commenters. Though some try to make the important point that we should have public funding for abortions, the comments expose a baseline assumption that teens — especially black teens — should not be having babies. And, what’s more, when they get pregnant, we should all gather together to give them money for abortions. But not just any teen – we should only raise money for black teens. Exhibit A:

Well, my childhood friends turned out to be obese women with multiple kids. Let me tell you, a teenager doesn’t stop with one kid. She goes on to have three or four before she’s 21. Now I run a small shop and I look forward to having a family that I can raise responsibly. Black girls need to know it’s NOT okay to become teenage mothers – it’s obscene. We need to urge abortion and show them clearly how a baby will worsen your chances for success in life.

Join me in funding abortions for black teenagers.

And that’s only the beginning. Go over and read the whole comment thread if you’re brave.

Whatever Okun’s motives (and they may be noble), the result is atrocious. Maybe when he’s done being indignant, he can start to see the subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions that underlie his post – and his reaction.

(via Zuzu)

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Surgin’ With Bill Saletan…

[ 1 ] November 19, 2007 |

This may be the single worst paragraph I’ve ever seen at Slate, and goddamn man, they employ Hitchens:

I’ve been soaking my head in each side’s computations and arguments. They’re incredibly technical. Basically, the debate over the IQ surge is a lot like the debate over the Iraq troop surge, except that the sides are reversed. Here, it’s the liberals who are betting on the surge, while the conservatives dismiss it as illogical and doomed. On the one hand, the IQ surge is hugely exciting. If it closes the gap to zero, it moots all the putative evidence of genetic barriers to equality. On the other hand, the case for it is as fragile as the case for the Iraq surge. You hope it pans out, but you can’t see why it would, given that none of the complicating factors implied by previous data has been adequately explained or taken into account. Furthermore, to construe meaningful closure of the IQ gap in the last 20 years, you have to do a lot of cherry-picking, inference, and projection. I have a hard time explaining why I should go along with those tactics when it comes to IQ but not when it comes to Iraq.

Shorter Bill: I’m a moron, and can’t really understand this data, so I’ll try to elide my lack of understanding with a story about how liberals are all CRAZY about Iraq. Here’s the thing, Bill; it’s not that difficult to understand. The tests that you’re citing DO NOT TEST INHERENT INTELLIGENCE. The average inherent intelligence of the human population may change over time, but it doesn’t change this much in the course of two generations. Whatever the tests can do (and they may be able to detect some degree of suitability, generated by whatever factors for academic success}, THEY DO NOT TEST INHERENT INTELLIGENCE. This isn’t even complicated; the increase is easy to explain in its entirety through reference to social and environmental factors.

But hell, I’m just a crazy liberal creationist who’s unwilling to admit the obvious and clear parallels between counter-insurgency doctrine and IQ testing.

We need better contrarians.

… to add a bit, even I, a simple social scientist, understand that if you don’t have good proxies with which to operationalize your dependent and independent variables, then you don’t have a research design. Saletan relies upon a proxy for inherent intelligence that’s obviously flawed, unless you believe that the average inherent intelligence of the human race changes rapidly over the course of a number of generations that you can count on the fingers of one hand. This is not only silly; it also undermines his central point, which is to deny the plasticity of the racial intelligence gap. If humankind has become genetically smarter in the course of the 20th century, then it’s obviously pretty easy to transform our basic genetic makeup (through education, diet, etc; I know this is laughably silly, but stay with me), and consequently it can’t be that hard to close the genetic gap between whites and blacks, as long as you know what you’re doing. In short, Saletan has to acknowledge the plasticity of our inheritance to explain the increase, then deny it in order to return to his central point about how brown folks just don’ think so good as white ‘uns.

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A Constitutional Amendment About Nothing

[ 20 ] November 19, 2007 |

The recent hysteria about a few peripheral citations of legal norms in other liberal democracies in Supreme Court opinions has reached some kind of apex with a speaker at a Federalist Society convention proposing a constitutional amendment banning the practice. What’s strange is the amount of energy being expended over what it quite obviously a trivial issue — it’s not clear why anyone thinks such dicta have any actual causal effects on the outcome of cases. Such citations are likely to come up almost exclusively in cases where the text of the Constitution can plausibly support a wide range of outcomes, and hence are overwhelmingly likely to be used only to back up conclusions judges have reached for independent reasons. This is certainly true of the cruel and unusual punishment clause, at issue in the case that has generated the greatest outrage about the supposedly pernicious effects of citing foreign law. Does anybody seriously think that a single vote in the case would have changed had the Constitution forbidden the citation of law of other democracies? Scalia noted in his dissent that Kennedy would be unlikely to cite foreign law when its conclusions were less favorable to his position, but that’s the point: the cites are window dressing. It may be true that Kennedy’s experience teaching abroad has had a moderating effect, but this would remain true whether his opinion cited the laws of other countries or not.

Crucial to making this triviality into a major issue is a strawman. According to Adler, the advocate of the amendment laid out the “basic case against relying upon foreign or international law in constitutional interpretation.” [my emphasis] But, of course, nobody says (as the word “rely” would seem to imply) that American judges are bound by the laws of similar countries; rather, at most it’s simply one of many sources that a judge might consult when trying to construe the meaning of an ambiguous constitutional clause. Reasonable people can differ about whether it’s an appropriate source to look at, but such pragmatic use of sources outside the constitution is utterly banal. I don’t recall any conservatives complaining about, say, Clarence Thomas’s (implausible) paean to the emancipatory effects of vouchers, although strictly speaking such policy effects are irrelevant to the question of whether state funding that goes almost entirely to parochial schools violates the First Amendment. I’d also be interested to know how many people furious about Roper have railed against the Rehnquist Court’s “sovereign immunity” doctrine, which seems to “rely” heavily on centuries-old British common law being binding in American federal courts…

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Defending Clinton Through JFK Worship

[ 9 ] November 19, 2007 |

Responding to Sean Wilentz’s attempt to analogize Obama and Clinton to Stevenson and JFK, respectively, in 1960 I think Matt has the correct response:

Meanwhile, the reality of the Kennedy Administration — as opposed to the Myth of Camelot — is precisely what makes people leery of Clinton. A 50%+1 win followed by a domestic agenda that goes nowhere in congress and a drift toward foreign policy disaster driven in part by a unshakeable fear of looking soft on defense.

Having said that, I don’t really think the analogy holds water either way. I suspect Clinton in office would be better on domestic policy than JFK (although on foreign policy, the JFK analogy is all too accurate.) Of course, JFK would be infinitely preferable to any GOP nominee of 2008, so if the ther end of the analogy held up this would still favor Clinton, but I also don’t think that Obama is really comparable to Stevenson in terms of political skills, and Matt is right that Stevenson could certainly have won in conditions as structurally favorable to the Democrats as 2008 is likely to be anyway.

This also reminds me that with all due respect to Wilentz, who has done a lot of terrific work, he has a very strange JFK fetish — see here. There are any number of (to put it charitably) tendentious claims to be found — such as his implication that JFK could have overcome the many obvious problems facing the Democrats in 1968, such as civil rights legislation (which Wilentz problematically assumes that JFK could have gotten passed quickly) destroying much of the traditional Democratic coalition, rising crime rates and urban violence etc. — with his boyish charm, but I think this is the best example:

There’s no question that Johnson was able to carry forward Kennedy’s domestic agenda because of the 37 House seats gained by the Democrats in the 1964 elections, a landslide that produced a working majority for progressive legislation for the first time in a quarter century. But Kennedy was a more popular figure than Johnson. Had Kennedy lived to run against Barry Goldwater, the Democrats probably would have picked up 50 more liberal legislators.

What Wilentz leaves out here is that one reason the Dems were able to pick up so many Congressional seats in 1964 is the halo effect created by JFK’s assisination, something that seems rather unlikely to have accrued to a non-assassinated JFK. Nor can a presidential candidate get much more popular than 61% of the popular vote; can Wilentz seriously believe that JFK would have had longer coattails? None of this makes me much more comfortable about JFK analogies made by Clinton’s supporters….

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LGM Wisdom of the Day

[ 0 ] November 19, 2007 |

The Patriots are, uh… pretty good.

You heard it here first.

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My Uterus. A UPS Box. What’s the difference?

[ 0 ] November 19, 2007 |

Well, to the forced pregnancy brigade, there is no difference: my uterus is nothing but a glorified storage container, holding something until it reaches its destination (birth). Now there’s proof:

Here’s a transcript, via Trailer Park Feminist:

SCENE: a box factory

NARRATOR: If you thought there was a small chance that a baby was hidden in a box, wouldn’t you treat the box as if it held a baby, just in case?

SCENE: an ultrasound image

NARRATOR: So even if you think there’s just a small chance that an unborn child is a baby, shouldn’t you treat it as if it were, just in case? Something to think about.

So, remember kids: a uterus — or, perhaps better, a woman — is only as good as its contents. And if it’s empty…well, you know.

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Saletan Strikes!

[ 261 ] November 18, 2007 |

The one thing that’s fairly clear is that William Saletan doesn’t understand the most compelling extant critiques of linking ethnicity with IQ. I’m unsure of two things, however. First, is Saletan intentionally or accidentally obtuse? Second, if Saletan is accidentally obtuse, are the causes genetic or environmental?

Saletan only briefly allows for the possibility that IQ is not an extraordinarily compelling proxy for intelligence, since it may only measure the “fit” of a group with contemporary social norms (norms that, incidentally, are created by the dominant social group). He suggests that this may be true, but that evolution is still on his side; Europeans and Asians and Africans have all been separated for 40000+ years, and thus it’s possible that they had time to evolve separately with different capabilities associated with their specific environments. That’s fine as far as it goes, but what Saletan doesn’t seem to understand is that, up until about 200 years ago, the vast vast vast vast vast vast vast vast majority of people in Africa, Asia, South America, North America, and Europe lived in essentially similar economic conditions. The creation of vast agrarian empires in Europe and the Far East didn’t transform the basic economic conditions set by the agricultural revolution, a revolution which happened, in different ways, all around the world. Thus, explaining that white descendants of impoverished subsistence farmers are smarter than black descendants of impoverished subsistence farmers because of evolution is rather less than compelling. The idea that IQ is a bad proxy for intelligence and should be jettisoned, however, is extraordinarily compelling.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of “race”. As anyone paying attention knows, the social categories of race in the United States especially have only the most tenuous relationship with any kind of genetic origin. People with white parents are white, with black parents are black, and with both white and black parents are… black. This, to say the least, is not a compelling scientific distinction. Moreover, acknowledge that recent African immigrants to the United States actually score better than African-Americans on these kinds of tests, and you’ve got some serious problems for the genetic theory.

Back to Saletan. Here’s the real issue; he writes a column called Human Nature, and as such has his antennae tuned to all of the latest crackpottery from evolutionary biologistspsychologists. I would strongly advise him to occasionally read his Slate colleagues on this topic. The contributing difficulty is that Saletan cannot view the world with anything other than centrist blinders; once he figured out that pro-lifers really aren’t pro-life, and that the folks at the Discovery Institute really don’t care about scientific discoveries, he had to come up with a parallel problem on the left. The most convenient is what he describes as “liberal creationism”, or the idea that African-Americans aren’t inherently stupid.

Keep up the good work, Bill.

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The Horror

[ 11 ] November 18, 2007 |

The heart sags at the idea of dealing with yet another case of MoDo using her longing for 19th century gender relations to create asinine, content-free negative scripts about the Democratic candidates. That features an African-American man being “whipped” by a white woman. Fortunately, it’s been taken care of by Steve:

Is any of this true? I don’t know, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is. What Dowd is saying is that if a woman tries to psych out her opponents, that makes her a “dominatrix.”

Men can psych out other men all they want, as anyone who’s ever paid any attention to sports knows perfectly well. But a woman? If she competes like a man, she’s using a whip. Girls have to be nice all the time, you see.

[...]

Dowd is appalling — and she will be no matter who the Democratic nominee is. (She loathes all three front-runners.)

Right now, if I were a Democratic operative and a genie said I could choose one media figure to be struck dumb for the next year, my choices being Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Maureen Dowd, I’d pick Dowd in a heartbeat. She’s going to have more of a negative impact on the Democrats in ’08 than anyone else. Her take on the Democrats is a highly contagious toxin.

He also discusses the double standards of her discussions of Strong Saint Rudy and Uppity Bitch Hillary. And also there’s Molly:

In MoDo’s world, where strong women must be balanced out by weak men, the idea of a mutually strong relationship is unthinkable (which may be why Hill and Bill confuse her so much). I can see a similar dynamic with Michelle, who strikes me as less bitchy than funny and self-deprecating, realistic rather than idealistic about the person who shares her life, far from the doe-eyed adoration expected of your Jeris and Judis of the world.

I don’t know what else to say.

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Weird…

[ 0 ] November 18, 2007 |

Oregon really does look like this.

I’m not sure Farley would have signed off on my gig here if he’d known I’d never been to Oregon before, say, last night. The entire state — best I can tell from my time in the Portland airport and the nearby Embassy Suites — appears to be in the midst of a staggering depression, the source of which remains a mystery.

I’m on my way to Norman Rockwell country for the week. If any of our readers happen to be at the Portland Airport, I’ll be at gate B2 for the next 30 minutes. I have alcohol.

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