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Dems Take NY-23

[ 0 ] November 4, 2009 |

According to MSNBC, Hoffman has conceded….

further confirmation. Obviously, this is excellent news for the Republican Party.

No, really! Erickson really does offer some of the finest comedy on the intertubes

why Owens won.


Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money

[ 0 ] November 4, 2009 |

I have a review of Martin Murphy’s Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money up at ID. Long story short, it’s the best single volume introduction to modern piracy and maritime terrorism that I’ve read.

Sometimes, I Wish the Tent Was a Little Smaller

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

You probably won’t be surprised that some members of Congress are trying to use the necessity of health reform to not only continue to exclude abortion from the funding given to most ordinary medical procedures, but to prevent individuals from getting insurance that covers abortion on the private market if they’re eligible for subsidies. What may surprise you is what party the members of Congress the latest group trying to do what they can to limit reproductive freedom to affluent women belongs to:

While House leaders are moving toward a vote on health-care legislation by the end of the week, enough Democrats are threatening to oppose the measure over the issue of abortion to create a question about its passage.


“I will continue whipping my colleagues to oppose bringing the bill to the floor for a vote until a clean vote against public funding for abortion is allowed,” Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Monday in a statement. He said last week that 40 Democrats could vote with him to oppose the legislation — enough to derail the bill.

There’s a bizarrely widespread myth — often accompanied, to this day, by crying about the fact that Saint Bob Casey wasn’t able to use a platform at a Democratic convention to speak out against fundamental party values despite the fact that he didn’t endorse the party’s candidate — that the Democratic party is monolithically pro-choice and brooks no dissent on the issue of abortion. To which I can only respond: if only! For example, Bart Stupak — the ringleader of the faction that apparently would prefer no health care reform at all to women obtaining even private insurance that covers the procedure — sports a nifty 0% NARAL rating.

And while I wish I could say that this downgrading of women’s rights by some Congressional Dems was just an isolated instance, as Chart reminds us that’s not actually the case.

Claude Levi-Strauss

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |


An anecdote from The Raw and the Cooked: During World War II, when the US Army approached the caves in which Roquefort cheese is fermented, they assumed the smell was of rotting corpses, and destroyed the contents with flamethrowers.

Like Grape Nuts, "Christian Scientists" are neither

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

This is a terrible idea:

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing.

Phil Davis, a senior Christian Science Church official, said prayer treatment was an effective alternative to conventional healthcare.

Except, of course, that it’s not. Holy shit. These are people who do not believe in germ theory and whose utterly deranged views on science and medicine actually produce demonstrably higher rates of mortality within their cohort. There are no epidemiological, clinical, or meta-analytic studies that support the efficacy of prayer as an alternative form of “therapy.” The two studies that prayer advocates usually cite — one from South Korea (2001) and one from Columbia University (2004) — represent legendarily awful science. The former study has more or less been withdrawn from the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, and both featured a co-author with a degree in parapsychology who has claimed elsewhere that amputated salamander limbs can be regrown by faith healers who wave their hands over the lonely stumps.

Regardless of the constitutional questions — which I think the LA Times article focuses on to an unnecessary degree — the protection of medical quackery flies in the face of what the goals of health care reform should be: (a) delivering access to the most effective methods of disease prevention and treatment; and (b) reducing health care costs across the board. I suppose “fully prying American health care from the embrace of medieval superstition” would be a reaonable goal as well, but with people like Tom Harkin in the Senate, I’m not holding my breath.

(Via Kevin Drum)


[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

You may be a fine organization and worthy of my support, but as an English teacher and human being, when your representative approaches me and says that you “work with the destruction of the environment and poverty,” my first response is “To what ends, man? To what ends?”

Market failure NFL-style

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

Last night’s NFL game featured the following situation: New Orleans takes over on downs at midfield with 1:37 left and an 11-point lead. Atlanta has one time out. This means that if New Orleans simply kneels down four times Atlanta will get the ball back with approximately seven seconds left (each down consumes roughly 45 seconds between snaps if the team with the ball does nothing but kneel in the victory formation, and the clock stops after a change of possession).

If New Orleans doesn’t want to turn the ball back over with seven seconds left, they can just run around a bit on the fourth down snap, and/or take a little extra time off on each kneel down play by having Drew Brees retreat five yards, and the clock will be at zero. In any case turning the ball over with seven seconds left and an 11-point lead makes it completely impossible for Atlanta to score 11 points.

So here’s what they do: They run the ball up the middle on first down and their center gets injured. By rule, this means the clock stops and New Orleans is charged with a time out (this rule is in place to stop teams from faking injuries to stop the clock). They run another rushing play on second down and Atlanta uses its final time out. They run again on third down and fumble. Atlanta takes over with 1:20 left. Atlanta takes 50 seconds to get into FG range. They kick the FG to make it a one-score game. They then recover the onside kick. They have the ball at midfield with 25 seconds left and non-trivial chance to send the game into overtime.

Through all of this none of the three announcers, who include a very highly regarded former and future NFL coach and a former NFL quarterback, note that the game would have been over long before if New Orleans’ coaching staff, with a combined salary several million dollars a year, had any understanding of the relevant rules.

Stuff like this happens every week.

Serious question: Why? It’s not because coaches are too stupid to understand the application of rules that are comprehensible to an intelligent 12-year-old. Football is a complex game on a variety of levels, and the average fan (like me) is completely unqualified to construct a functioning offensive game plan or a capable defense, let alone teach proper technique to players etc. But I’m qualified to add 45 to 45, get 90, subtract it from 97, and draw the appropriate conclusion.

In other words, this kind of thing would seem to pose something of a problem for adherents even the mildest versions of efficient market theory. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business. Coaches are paid millions of dollars to win games. And yet they continue to fail to take whatever simple structural steps it would take (like employing someone to tell them what to do in these situations) to maximize their chances of winnning.

On a related note, see this.

Fool Me Thrice…

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

Let’s just say that I’m going to put this in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” file…

Election Over-reaction

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

Several races today have received an inordinate amount of attention as tests of public opinion regarding the policies and effectiveness of the (still) nascent Obama administration. The Democrats will lose two of the three races being hyped, and very possibly all three.

Many will argue that this will be a setback for Obama, especially considering the political capital he has expended in NY-23, and especially in the New Jersey Gubernatorial election.

This is, largely, bunk. While special elections (NY-23) or even Gubernatorial elections can be suggestive of public opinion towards national politics (the 1991 special election for the Senator of PA is a good example here), this is relatively rare in American politics. Gubernatorial elections are about state politics, not national politics. The incumbent in New Jersey, Jon Corzine, is in a statistical draw at the moment because he’s Jon Corzine. As Silver reports at 538, Corzine has not polled higher than 44%, and 53% of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the incumbent. This is a race about neither the Obama administration nor the relative popularity of Republicans in a blue state; rather it’s a race about the unpopular incumbent governor facing off against a lackluster challenger and a third-party spoiler.

In Virginia, an argument that this is a referendum on national rather than state politics is more credible, but where Silver assigns a 3-1 split between national and local, I’d go no more than 50-50, and only then if I were sniffing glue. Contextual factors specific to the state matter. Deeds, the Democratic nominee, participated in a three-way primary that, while he handily won, could not have helped position him against Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee. Second, while these very two faced off for Virginia Attorney General in 2005, and McDonnell only won by something like 300-odd votes, McDonnell has spent the last four years as a state-wide elected official, while Deeds did not. I’m not suggesting that this gives McDonnell an insurmountable edge in the rematch, but it does give him a marginal (perhaps very marginal) advantage.

Finally, and most critically (for all three races), the composition of the electorate will be significantly different in November 2009 than it was in November 2008. When turnout decreases, as it does for off-year elections and especially for odd-year elections, the underlying composition of the electorate is altered at differing rates. Those with lesser levels of education, lower levels of income, lower age, and less attachment to place drop off at a much higher rate than the wealthy / educated / home owners / etc. It’s not terribly difficult to make the leap (actually, a small hop) from this to speculating (correctly) which party will benefit from the changed demographic composition of lower turnout.

As for NY-23, it’s a Republican district. Yes, there was significant ticket splitting in 2008, but it’s a strong Republican district: a Democrat wasn’t even on the ballot in 2002. Perhaps it is not a wingnut Republican district, but it looks likely that it will be represented by a credible wingnut following this election.

Indeed, as Silver points out, the Republicans in the two Gubernatorial races aren’t exactly hyping up their Republican street-cred. Granted neither are the Democrats especially so, but the Republicans are running from their label. If these were truly referenda on national politics, one would expect to see this distinction made more plain.

None of this is to suggest that Democrats still have it easy. The Republicans and right wingers are, as usual, far more adept at framing the narrative and mobilizing their support. Furthermore, the Democrats will lose seats in the House in 2010. But then aside from 1998 and 2002, the incumbent party in the White House always loses seats in the off-year Congressional elections. But, the results that I will wake up to tomorrow will not have me terribly concerned about the fate of the Obama administration, progressive (or even centrist / moderate) politics, or the fate of the free world. Furthermore, seeing how the New York Yankees can’t possibly have won the World Series by (my) tomorrow morning, it’s all good.

And all the better if Sarah Palin takes credit for any or all of these election results.

Me, I’ll be watching R-71 in Washington State and Prop 1 in Maine . . .

Israeli Missile Defenses

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

Check out this (somewhat dated) article on Israeli missile defenses. The article makes the point that Israel’s missile defenses have progressed to the point that even a concerted Iranian ballistic missile attack, fielding far more weapons that Iran is expected to have in the next twenty years, could not hope to destroy Israel’s capacity to retaliate. An Iranian attack on Israel might fail entirely, and in any case would be utterly suicidal. Also note that several Israeli officials argue that the Iranian regime is NOT suicidal. All of this kind of makes me wonder about two things:

1. Why do we continue to hear nonsense about “one bomb” being able to destroy Israel, followed quickly by nonsense about how the US would be unwilling to respond on behalf of a country that no longer exists? Neither of these points are defensible; while an advanced, massive multi-megaton Soviet nuclear warhead might be able to destroy Israel in one chunk, any Iranian weapon fielded in the next forty years is certain to have a yield measured in double digit kilotons, and thus incapable of destroying Israel in a moment. Such an attack would give Israel a really bad day/month/year/decade, but Israel would respond by giving Iran a really bad century/millenium/what’s longer than a millenium?.

2. Why does Israel need to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program? The answer would seem to be some sort of nebulous claim about how Iranian nuclear weapons would somehow immeasurably improve Iran’s negotiating position in the Middle East; Iran and its allies would suddenly become emboldened, or something. This ignores a) the reality that states balance against power and threat, and b) the reality that nuclear states very often have a bloody difficult time getting what they want from non-nuclear states. The entire argument seems based on a 1962 Paul Nitze vision of nuclear weapons, in which more nukes automatically grant extraordinary diplomatic leverage. Allowing that there’s something to the stability-instability paradox, I think it’s fair to say that nuclear weapons have, at best, proven to be blunt, unsophisticated, and not terribly useful tools of diplomacy.

The caveat is this, and it goes to the heart of problems with the strategic implications of ballistic missile defense. The tighter Israel weaves its ABM shield, the less likely that any attack by terrorists or by a suicidal (yes, I know) Iran is to be delivered by ballistic missile. The same is true for the United States; Heritage is dedicated to wasting everyone’s time by claiming that terrorists could launch a nuclear armed SCUD from an offshore barge, without ever asking why terrorists would bother to buy the SCUD when they could just sail the ship into Boston Harbor. Unlike the US, I don’t think that Israeli strategic ballistic missile defense is a waste of time; the country is small enough that a conventional ballistic missile assault could do damage, and has suffered such an attack in recent memory. But I suppose the takeaway is simply that there is no “magic bullet” that can provide complete security.

Better propaganda, please.

Plebiscitarianism run amok

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

In the process of voting, I find myself pondering “King County Charter Amendment #1: Repeal of Section 350.20.30 and Portions of Article 9 – Transitory Provisions” Here’s the text in full:

Shall those no longer relevant portions of King County Charter Article 9 relating to the county’s prior transition to a home rule charter and King County Charter Section 350.20.30, relating to the county’s transition to a metropolitan form of government, be repealed, as provided in Ordinance # 16484?”

If you’re anything like me, you tried to read this several times, but kept falling asleep. Apparently, we’re being asked to vote on whether outdated language that refers to another no longer present section of the charter should be removed. I was tempted to vote no as an irrational protest vote against the madness that is the King County Charter. There’s a reasonable debate to be had about governing by plebiscite, but I can’t really figure out what a defense of copyediting by plebiscite might look like.

In other news, King County people please vote! I think we’ll win the big three (Yes to human rights and decency (71), No to disastrous state budgeting practices and Tim Eyman (1033), No to Susan “Sarah Palin II” Hutchinson) but these off year elections are somewhat unpredictable and losing any of these would drive me to drink.

Game 6 5 [Hopeful Slip!]

[ 0 ] November 2, 2009 |

I don’t plan on watching with any attention unless the Phils are up by a significant amount, but for the Yankee fans and masochists out there. (One ray of hope: I wonder why, up 3-1, Girardi is having his last three potential starters go on short rest.)