Wednesday, August 22, 2007


This story is possible because of three errors. Yesterday I had the good fortune to smash my toe into another piece of furniture (yes, gentle reader, and the singular is not an accident, this is a common pass-time around Chez Shit-Storm). This is the first of our errors. Today, the bruising and swelling became even more impressive than the last installment -- it looked like my toe had been tie died in a long thin bright red and blue strip down its length. It didn't really hurt, but I thought I would call the "talk to a nurse" number on the back of my insurance card to let someone talk me out of going to an ER. Instead, she agreed that it might be broken and told me that I should seek help.

The second mistake of our story, and I am assuming it is a mistake, is that she referred me to the county hospital. Were I nefariously minded, I might imagine that she did so because she anticipated that no health care would actually be delivered there, or at least that billing would never be accomplished. She would have been right on both counts.

The final mistake in our story is that I took her up on it, rather than seek help at the closer private ER. I'm not new in town, but still new enough to forget the name of the indigent hospital -- and that's where I went.

However prepared you are intellectually for the depth of inequality in health care in the United States, it is always dramatically more forceful up close. I walked in, tapped in my chief complaint to the TRIAGE-O-MATIC 3000 computer screen and then sat down for the next three hours to chat with: 1) a plainly homeless woman who could not have weighed 75 pounds, sitting on and off with her head in her hands weeping -- she had been there 13 hours 2) an autoworker who had ripped the web of his hand off in a work accident, and could feel and see the tendons move against his bone -- he had been there 12 hours, 3) a very friendly, hyper woman of limited intellectual faculties sporting a rapidly ballooning poisoning bug bite on her arm the size of a fucking baseball, who had covered the bite all day at work for fear of being fired --she had only been there four hours and left in frustration without being triaged, 4) a spectacularly good natured christian AA guy, who taught the hyper bite victim Sudoku, and compared notes on his own rather impressive spider bite -- he had been there 11 hours, 5) a family that had been there 10 hours, and approached the desk to learn that they expected them to be there 12 hours more. A group of amputees crutched around and looked for seating, which they didn't find. Nurses emerged every 30 minnutes or so and wandered around calling names, most of whom had already left in frustration. I saw nobody at all around me called for treatment. After 3 hours, I was triaged by a nurse, who said my toe was probably broken, but also probably not a priority for her. I told her I had insurance, and she suggested I go "anywhere but here." I obliged, and headed to the private ER.

Parking for private ER seemed frustrating, but that was only because there was an expectation that you would valet. There was exactly one person in the waiting room, reading a book and smiling at me. The three staff at the desk promptly entreated me to approach and told me a nurse would be with me in just a minute. This was literally true, I timed it. The ER was perfectly clean, modern furniture, out of freakin, you know, Danish office furniture land. There were three aquariums.

The nurse immediately looked at my foot and ordered an X-Ray. He escorted me to a room immediately at the conclusion of this intake visit, before which he did not make me fill out any paperwork. To reiterate, the transition between the visit to the triage nurse and the trip to the doctor-room was upwards of 12 MOTHER FUCKING HOURS for the guy whose tendons were poking out of his skin at the indigi-care palace. At HospitalCorp. TM, I waited a scandalous 7 minutes before a young doctor entered with a team of two medical professionals in tow. He waited patiently as I explained my concern about going to India with a broken foot this Friday, and confirmed the order for the X-Ray. There was another scandalous wait of 3-5 minutes as the staff tried to figure out how to code toe X-Ray on the computer. An orderly came by and insisted on transporting me by wheel-chair, even though I said I could walk. The X-Rays were immediately performed, and evaluated within about five minutes.

One fact I forgot to mention: driving away from the first hospital toward the second, I passed the spider bite woman, walking down the roadside to nowhere, untreated.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Let's not and say we did...

or actually, if the Back to the Future trilogy counts as a way of "saying we did," let's not and say we didn't, or more precisely, not and not say we did.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

From now on...

nobody gets to use the word "Al-Qaeda" unless they are actually talking about Al-Qaeda. Yes, it's loosely organized, but it is not any armed Islamic organization. It's Sunni, and it is centered in Southwest Asia. It is the organization that grew out of the Afghani resistance to Soviet occupation. Anyone that refers to Shi'ite insurgents or militias, or allies or Iran, as Al-Qaeda has decided that from now on "Al-Qaeda" simply means "evil Muslim" and is committed to a generalized war on a religion, on a region, and on a race. That, or they are willing to abet those who are so committed in order to posture.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pet Peeve

I hear a lot of people criticize what they describe as Bush's theory of the "unitary executive." What they usually seem to mean is Bush's theory (I say "Bush's theory" but of course, I mean his handlers' theory, since he is clinically retarded*) that the executive has a constitutional right not merely to discharge his Article I duties without limitation, but that any act by any other branch that arguably complicates that effort is unconstitutional, even if it is plainly a core function of that branch (like, say, hearing habeas appeals from unlimited incarceration, or oversight). But that's not quite the theory of the unitary executive -- I'm not sure what that is, the theory of the imperial presidency, I guess. Strictly speaking, the unitary executive is the theory that any one who discharges an executive function is someone that is directly accountable to, and can be fired by, the President. I suspect it was raised from obscurity as a principled objection to the growth of independent agencies into political significance when Nixon tried to fire the special prosecutors. Bush embraces this theory, of course, and it is quite breathtaking, but its only the tiniest bit of his assault on separation of powers. And by "his" of couse, I mean his handlers.

* Shitstorm fully supports the complete integration of the clinically retarded into the fabric of American society, and encourages readers to support all measures and organizations that promote their autonomy and well-being. Please forgive the ghetto-ass* cut and paste link.

*Shitstorm fully supports the complete integration of the American inner-cities into the fabric of American life, and encourages all readers to support all measures and organizations that promote the improvement of economically depressed regions of our fucked up* country.

* Shitstorm fully supports the complete integration of the fucked-up into American life, and in particular, their right to blog.

Heh, turns out Presidential powers arise from Article II, not Article I. Heh... Yeah... Heh.

Reader Survey

Is it ok to thank people for things they are effectively forced to do? Why or why not?

Monday, August 6, 2007

WB Reeves, at against all flags, presents a plausible basis upon which the right might be tagged as anti-american

While this may have some utility for political messaging, I remain unconvinced that patriotism (which is, after all, merely nationalism when you are the nationalist) ought to be infused with any positive content at all. American history is littered with imperialism, genocide, and slavery, and a plausible series of connections can probably be drawn between the nation's values and culture and its foreign policy behavior. And embracing a form of patriotism that commits to a nation's people irrespective of its politics creates an arbitrary moral hierarchy based on one's presence on one or another side of an imaginary line.

Why not simply describe, in dispassionate terms, its successes and failures, movements within it worth joining, and those worth condemning, and call it a day? Why patriotism at all?

Why I am at this minute, afraid that US withdrawal could result in a larger series of massacres

Because, I am not convinced that whoever is responsible for sectarian violence in Baghdad is entirely motivated by a desire to control the national government, rather that there is a more sinister form of hatred playing out on the municipal level. My fear is that after a withdrawal, the national government might be motivated to aid and abet the Shi'ite militias in Baghdad, and could transform a more inchoate form of sectarian civil war into something more efficient. But that's not the same as thinking that if Shi'ite leaders with connections to the militias controlled the government, their interest in using force against Sunnis in Baghdad would be satisfied. No, that opinion is not based on the kind of information or mastery of the facts I would want policy makers to have -- it's based on the volume of sectarian attacks in Baghdad, and the shift away from US forces as targets since about 2005. I reason from this evidence that those repsonsible for the violence are as motivated by mutual antipathy as by the US presence, and that involvement in sectarian violence in Baghdad is widespread and popularly based, rather than limited to a tiny minority of trained fighters. In short, the kind of thing that suggests a goal on the ground other than acquisition of the state.

Nicholas Beaudrot argues at the link that the risk could be reduced with timely negotiation. He is right that if this the concern, it is theoretically possible to bribe whatever group begins to take on state-like features during the civil war. I would want to know more about the Shi'ite leadership outside the government to know whether this is possible. Speaking more generally, there are a number of international regimes that opted for brutality at home rather than aid and trade. If anyone has any thoughts about why the whoever is likely to take power after US departure is not likely to be one of them, I am all ears.

In short, the reason that I believe that US forces are a net security asset is that I don't believe that most of the violence is motivated by a desire to get rid of us. Militias in Baghdad might well use it as a recruiting tool and then deploy their recruits against sectarian rivals. But given the frequency and volume of sectarian violence, my suspicion is that the critical mass necessary for a more orchestrated campaign in the city is already adequate.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The device I envision

would be portable and have fifty settings and three modes: off, receive, and send/receive. When placed in the receive or send/receive mode it would, oh, say, vibrate, or maybe beep, at the presence of another such device in the send/receive mode at the same setting within a specified radius.

What are its applications?

Marketing would be a challenge.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

There is no beat down like the beat down delivered on the terms of the beatee

Sure, here we all were nattering endlessly about how any discussion of Hillary's cleavage reaffirms sexist stereotypes and distracts from the grave issues of policy and character that should define a campaign. I dare say that none of us, not a single breathing human being who had penned a single word about this "issue," had ever considered attacking this puerile fashion reporting as fashion reporting.
Well Weboy, at the link, beats us all to the punch.

All right sleuthies

The NYT seems to think that Gonzo lied at the press conference rather than before Congress and that the "program" they were trying were trying to sneak by a heavily sedated Ashcroft was in fact data mining rather than wire-tapping. That's certainly a relief, but Digby
I think the Times is probably right about this. The wiretapping statutes, to my recollection, do place some limits even on the ability to gather pen registers, and while they also provide much more stringent limits on the ability to monitor the content of phone conversations, I could see Ashcroft objecting to the mining program and not the wiretapping if only the latter involved US citizens with no connection to foreign powers. And I could also see Gonzo forgetting which was which when commenting on them in a press conference. Or lying. Gonzo's behavior is only so probative, since I think for him a lie is as good as the truth. But Ashcroft seems to have objected on a principle of some kind, and the citizens/non-citizens distinction seems like a more plausible animating distinction to me than the conversation content/information distinction. Recent events have increased my opinion of Ashcroft, and the FBI in general (they seemed to have been the only thing resembling a conscience in the administration when Abu Ghraib became known outside of Iraq) but he is still the man who lead the 2001 Palmer, I mean Ashcroft raids that detained thousands of immigrants, so I have a hard time believing that the foreign/domestic distinction was not, for him, the salient one.

In any case, let's not forget the dark horse possibility, the one floated by a number of liberal bloggers, that the program in question was neither, that it was something still yet to be disclosed, and that it was even more constitutionally putrid. I mean, this was closer in time to 9/11, when they were up to shit like this. Gonzo's strategic choices during this phase of the scandal seem kind of puzzling -- he is willing to admit that Ashcroft had constitutional objections to a program he now seeks to protect, that he had to go to Ashcroft during a goddamn gall-bladder surgery to secure his approval for that program, that he never disclosed these objections, and that he trumpeted the lack of dissent as to another closely related program without ever acknowledging the objections by the most conservative AG since the 19th century.

It is certainly the behavior of someone who fears something more than losing approval for the data-mining program, or than losing public support generally. Yes, an even more obnoxious effort, say one designed to silence and investigate domestic dissent a la Hoover and Mitchell could be the culprit. The more likely possibility, however, is that he is simply afraid of a perjury prosecution.

As well he should be.

Main and Central provides about as good a defense of the Hoover hypothesis as can be mounted. The fun part? I think we are actually going to know the truth soon. There are an awful lot of people breaking ranks here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Brutalization effects

Christopher Hayes covers a study demonstrating that time in higher security prisons produces increased recidivism. The study linked to is ingenious and persuasive -- it examines continuous offender risk scales that place defendants in prisons of different security levels and finds discontinuously large leaps in recidivism rates at the thresholds that result in higher security placements.

I would like to see someone compare recidivism rates in institutions that don't use as much risk segregation. That might help tease out whether it is the low-risk offenders' association with the high risk offender in high security institutions, or the greater dehumanization and loss of liberty that comes with being placed in a high security environment. If the "low-risk-high-risk" offenders he described (those just above the threshold of the high risk placements) had comparable rates of recidivism in mixed populations but a lower security environment, that might show that it is the association with more hardened offenders, and not the intensity of the prison environment, that is doing the damage.


The article proposes two explanations for the finding that clients with public defenders enjoy shorter sentences than those with appointed private lawyers: 1) that private appointed lawyers are paid by the hour, which creates incentives to wait too long to plead, and 2) that public defenders are better credentialed and more experienced. The first explanation does not seem plausible to me because it overestimates the extent of negotiation involved in the federal system -- prosectuors can sometimes negotiate for a specific sentence in the federal system, but in the vast majority of cases, it is the guidelines rather than the posture of the prosecutor that determines the sentence. You do see, however, a lot of private appointed counsel agreeing to plea agreements with waivers of appeal when they don't really get anything for the client. Waivers of appeal probably make the judges less careful about the correct application of the guidelines.
That leaves the second explanation -- public defenders are just bad motherfuckers...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A pointless exercise to determine trivial facts that don't matter to anyone and is stupid anyway because it probably won't work and's for stupid jerks

Also known as baseball stat blogging!

So cnn has each team's total runs scored and total runs given up alongside their record, which means you can, if you can work excel, plot correllations. Or, if you're me, and lazy, you can just do the following half-assed exercise to determine, once and for never, whether pitching really is key to the pennant.

Okay, so I added the total runs scored, for or against each team, and also noted the total number of games over or below five hundred for each team. Then I gave each team a rank from 1 to 16 (I only did three divisions, ALC, NLC, and NLW because, again, I am lazy, and the exercise is pointless and stupid) based on how many games above five hundred they were, where 1 was the most above five hundred, and 16 was the most below. Then I assigned ranks from 1 to 16 based on total runs involved in the games, where 1 was the most runs involved in all games the team has played and 16 was the least runs involved in all games in which the team has played. Then I determined the absolute value of the difference between each team's ranks in these two statistics, i.e. if a team were ranked 1 in games above five hundred and 1 in total runs involved in their games (like the Tigers) the result would be an absolute value of zero (1-1=0). But if a team were first in games above five hundred but last in total runs involved in their games, the absolute value produced would 15 (1-16=-15, the absolute value of which is 15). To try to see whether teams that tended to play in high scoring games tended to win more or less than teams that tended to play in low scoring games, I then calculated an average absolute value and looked to see whether it was closer to the average absolute value that would occur if rank in games over five hundred were perfectly and positively correllated with rank in runs involved in the team's games or closer instead to the average absolute value that would occur if rank in games over five hundred were perfectly and negatively correlated with runs involved in the team's games. If teams that tended to play in high scoring games always finished better than teams that tended to play in low scoring games, you would get an average absolute value of zero (team ranked 1 in the standings would be ranked 1 in total runs scored by and against, producing an absolute value of zero, team ranked 2 in the standings would be ranked 2 in total runs scored by and against, etc...). On the other hand if every team that tended to play in low scoring games wound up better in the standings than every team that that tended to play in high scoring games, I think the average absolute value would 8.
It turns out the average absolute value was 4.875, which, if this exercise had any validity, and weren't fucked up six hundred ways to Sunday, would suggest a small and almost certainly statistically insignificant tendency for low scoring teams to do better in the standings. Note howver that the sample includes both AL and NL teams, including the Tigers and Cleveland, who have the best two records in the group and play in the highest scoring games of any teams in the group, which you would think would bias the stats in favor of hitting. The AL is just a better league this and, sigh, every year, so you would think that the interleague play would depress the NL teams rankings, thereby tending to show, perhaps speciously, that teams playing high scoring games do better. So the fact that the pitching still appeared to exert the stronger influence says something. I mean, says something?

Pitching it is then!

The careful observer will note that this data clearly shows that the Astros deserve the unrelenting loyalty of every human being that has ever or will ever exist since the dawn of time.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

I aim one day to be the kid up on the terrace

I have created a musical instrument composed entirely of paper clips and bananca clips wedged between the two blocks of wood that constitute the top surface of my desk. One day, a visitor will walk through my office and hear its strains echoing into the conference room, and, God willing, it will creep them into next Tuesday

Sunday, July 1, 2007


It’s become increasingly fashionable to put the word “patriarchy” in quotes as a means of expressing skepticism toward the notion of a unified system of male dominance. Because, after all, if there were a unified system of entrenched male dominance, its empirically measurable consequences would be all around us. It’s just preposterous.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


5/6. 3002.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stevens is 87

Ordinarily I make this observation in connection with the dire need to win the next Presidential election lest we see the end of Roe. And if we don't win the next election, we shall see the end of Roe.

But not today, today that observation is all I can muster to explain the quoted passage below from Stevens' otherwise incisive dissenting opinion in Morse. There are many good reasons that students should be able to unfurl a banner off school property that says "Bong Hitz 4 Jesus" but my dear John Paul, if you think this is one of them, then those crazy kids today have begun to talk past you:

To the extent the Court independently finds that“BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” objectively amounts to the advocacy of illegal drug use—in other words, that it can most reasonably be interpreted as such—that conclusion practi-cally refutes itself. This is a nonsense message, not advo-cacy. The Court’s feeble effort to divine its hidden mean-ing is strong evidence of that. Ante, at 7 (positing that the banner might mean, alternatively, “‘[Take] bong hits,’” “‘bong hits [are a good thing],’” or “‘[we take] bong hits’”).Frederick’s credible and uncontradicted explanation for the message—he just wanted to get on television—is also relevant because a speaker who does not intend to persuade his audience can hardly be said to be advocating anything. But most importantly, it takes real imagination to read a “cryptic” message (the Court’s characterization, not mine with a slanting drug refer-ence as an incitement to drug use.)

It does not take imagination to imagine "bong hits 4 jesus" as an incitement to drug use, it takes having been born in the latter half of the 20th century.

The majority's position that students should not be able to advocate illegal activity in connection with the school is not crazy, but I think its wrong. The difficulty with this position is not the difficulty of cabining the right to suppress speech of a certain message -- the legal vs. illegal distinction seems clean enough -- it is the difficulty of cabining the zones at which speech may be suppressed at all. I suspect if we tracked our lives step by step throughout a typical day, we would find that we spend an awful lot of time in places that someone else might find "special enough" to merit a special exception to the first amendment. Work, someone else's property, public meetings, public travel infrastructure. No, sorry, without a physical threat to security, the government can engage in no speech suppression at all. I don't care what the message is.

Hat tip to the debate blog, home of a law student who claims not to see the message as obviously pro-drug use.

My suspicion is that he or she is baked.


Regrettably, the hyphens in the Stevens opinion are an artifact of the cut and paste function from the Supreme Court web-site, rather than an artifact of the writing styles prominent when Stevens learned to write.

Yet another war advocate awakens to reality. How thrilling

I am genuinely torn as to which of our new found anti-war coalition to receive more brusquely -- the conservatives who are slowly emerging from the intoxicating frenzy of war-mongering, or the so-called liberals and moderates that knew it didn't make a lick of sense, but who yielded out of political convenience or cowardice.

The latter I think.

Hat tip to Dymaxion World

Ahh primaries, the era of the hajluos ahtsis moment

That would be the reverse Sistah Souljah moments. When the Republicans get their reactionary freak on -- yes, tell us all about the South Carolina battleflag, and pretend to be Pro-Life -- and its like the Democrats are speaking directly to me. And you get theatrical moments like this -- the Edwardses picking fights with Ann Coulter to prove that they're the ones she hates most.
I know, I know, there's no substance there, and it won't last, but for 18 short sweet months of the cycle, it almost seems like the bad-guys will make themselves unelectable, and the good guys will be worth electing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I have previously expressed some mad accurate suspicions yo.

Continuing my review of prison release data that measures the relationship between prison population and crime rates. Since 1996, scholars have used prison releases generated by prison litigation as a means of testing the magnitude of incapacitation, and have generally found a positive relationship between such releases and regional crime rates. The work ofRaphael and Stoll, although not limited to litigation-driven releases, is fairly representative. I have come close to giving up on the notion that prison produces net increases in violent crime, but there are two important limitations that occurred to me as I was reviewing this literature. Neither of them, as it turns out, escaped the attention of this guy:

There are two additional situations that could further negate or at least diminish incapacitation. The first one relates to crime desistence, a phenomenon exhaustively documented in crime research. Simply put, as a result of aging, many offenders stop committing crimes, and thus past a certain point their incarceration yields no incapacitation benefits.

In the second case, incapacitation would initially be effective but would eventually become counterproductive, if as a result of an episode of incarceration, an offender upon release evolves into more serious crimes or engages in the same criminal behaviors but at substantially higher rates. In this instance prisons would have a criminogenic effect, preventing some crimes at first but at the expense of contributing to more serious or to a higher number of crimes in the future.

The incapacitative estimates presented before only indirectly attempt to control for replacement or desistence of offenders following incarceration, and none allow for the possibility that prisons are indeed criminogenic. These omissions further compound the uncertainties surrounding the available incapacitation estimates and show the need to develop yet better measuring techniques and substantially richer data sets.

I can't figure put who the hell he (or she! I have retained my lesson from the Digby out-coming for at least five days) is, but it sounds right to me. The association of crime with prison releases tend to confirm the school of crime hypothesis. Raphael and Stoll believe that the releasee is on average less criminally active than the average new prison commitment, but this doesn't tell you where the releasee would have been were it not for prison. Find a way to measure that one, egg-head.

Incidentally, Professor Sharkey of Boalt Law School, who lurks behind a Yale Law Jorunal pay-wall, confirms my previously expressed suspicion that the most prominent such research simply ignores crime in prison:

Studies of the effect of incarceration on crime rates usually ignore crime within prisons. See, e.g., Steve Levitt, The Effect of Prison Population Size On Crime Rates: Evidence from Prison Overcrowding Litigation (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 5119, 1995); William Spelman, Criminal Incapacitation (1994); Franklin E. Zimring & Gordon Hawkins, The Scale of Imprisonment (1991) [hereinafter Imprisonment]; Thomas B. Marvell & Carlisle E. Moody, Jr., Prison Population Growth and Crime Reduction, 10 J. Quantitative Criminology 109 (1994). Crimes committed within the prison walls, if explicitly acknowledged in a utilitarian analysis of incapacitation, would reduce the calculated social benefit of crimes averted in society.

Baseball stat blogging

Would it fucking kill them to throw the numbers of homeruns and RBI's over the number of at-bats? I root for a team that has no consistent starting line-up ('cause it, well, kina sucks), and have no idea what the power numbers mean.
Of course RBI's/at bats would not really standardize for RBI opportunities, but it would be better than the raw number for cryin out loud. Which is what I'm doin' here. Cryin out loud. Boo hoo

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I've got it!

Aha! I figured out how to free myself from the never-ending cycle of dreaming that I wake up, being certain that I am finally awake, and then dreaming again that I have woken up. Whats the one thing you never experience in dreams, but always experience in your first moments of wakefulness? Sleepiness!
Now, if I can just remember to do this when I am unconscious...

Please backchannel if I am only dream-blogging

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I am epistemically baffled by the failure of contemporaneously given polls to provide a consistent result. Polls taken over the same window show Thompson up by one and Giuliani up by about ten. I remember a period after the GOP convention in 2004 when a bevy of polls were failing to coalesce around any reasonable margin in the presidential election.
I can understand that certain periods may pose more difficult problems for creating an appropriate model, but the explanation I remember from that period was that wildy unstable polling was common during periods of transition, when the numbers were moving.
What? But there was, on any given day, a certain number of real Americans leaning to Bush or Kerry, right? And if it were moving from a reality of Kerry +5 to Bush +5, why wouldn't the values in the middle occur on every day in between?
Kina gives me chills, people.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Couch Time

I am stone cold fucking flabbergasted that Digby is a woman, and this tells me quite a lot more about myself than I wanted to know. I had heard the theory and rejected it because -- and this thought entered my conscience mind -- I didn't think the writing sounded feminine. The gender politics of that didn't escape me, but I nonetheless thought that the idea of a gendered written voice was no different than the idea of gendered hand-writing (in which, perhaps haven failed to learn my lesson, I still believe). And I didn't think that different necessarily meant inferior, although I had no doubt women were perceived as less credible and authoritative.
Well, the widespread belief in Digby's masculinity does confirm that respect and perceived competence are correllated with masculinity (because, let's face it, Digby is quite simply, the shit). But it either tends to disconfirm the idea of a distinct gendered voice, or it tends to show that our ability to identify it, even when gender politics are foregrounded, is frustrated to the point of impotence by the ingrained sexist associations of masculinity and authority.
You heard me. Sexism = Impotence.
Anecdote, plural, data, plural of, not the, etc...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Apologia for half-hearted progressive democrats

Dave at Orcinus persuasively argues:

The immigration debate, for those progressives deeply involved in it, has felt rather like waiting for Godot -- we know our fellow progressives are going to be coming along any day now to join the journey toward effective reform. Still, we sit and sit, checking our watches as the clock ticks down, and we wonder.

So far, the debate has almost entirely revolved around the division between rival factions of the right: the corporate conservatives who have benefited from the status quo and would benefit even more from a "guest worker" program; and the nativist bloc that wants every one of the 12 million "illegal aliens" in America rounded up and "sent back where they came from."

If there is a progressive position, it hasn't been enunciated clearly at all -- which means that there has been precious little advocacy from the left. It's well past time for that to change.

but I nonetheless disagree, at least insofar as the observation pertains to elected officials. 2008 abolutely, positively, has to be won. Stevens is 87 and the Fifth vote on Roe. If the US invades Iran, every possible hope of stemming the violence in Iraq is lost, and a long term troop commitment is inevitable. And we are past the point where long term institutional damage to democracy in the executive branch will be easily reversible.

Immigrant hating is popular. It just is, right now, and the Republican center is willing to be the punching bag about it. This not only provides cover to the democratic candidate, it makes it less likely that the GOP will nominate its most centrist candidates. And since there are very few democratic votes in the Senate against the reform in the first place, and Bush is pressuring his own party, it is very likely that the votes necessary to pass the bill will come from the GOP.

None of this excuses the absence of our involvement in the private sector, and Orcinus' recent posts have been excellent models of cyber-journo-activism on the issue. The breathtaking marches last year did not appear to be imputed to congressional democrats, and probably did much to soften the ultimate bill.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Omelette flipping blogging

I have an omellette cooking that is a nice thick four egg disc in about a 9 inch diameter pan. I have used a lot of oil, so I am not anticipating stickage. I want to turn it over before I add the filling, because I dont want salmonella. Should I turn it upside down into a pan-lid, slide it onto a pan lid and then attempt to flip the lid over, or just pull it up with a spatula. The filling is going to be vegetarian chili and cheese.

I will do whatever the consensus of the comments is, but to make sure its a good representative sample, I will wait until I have a few hundred comments. Hurry guys, I smell some scorching!


Its been more than an hour you guys! Is someone backchanneling all the commenters to prevent them from commenting on this, as a joke? Touche, you pranksters, you got me good this time. But seriously, its getting really burned! How should I flip it?


Ok, guys, a joke's a joke and all, but now I have to go to bed, and if I leave the pan on, there's a real fire hazard here! I had to disable the smoke detectors hours ago.


God what an awful night, I got up fourteen times to put out grease fires. Seems like everytime I got up, half the wall had burned again. I waived at the neighbors through the wall (it seemed so much thicker before half of it burned away). Jeez Louise, tell me how to flip the fucking omelette already.


ohhhh.... I get it, the omelette has been cooking for several days and burning down large sections of the wall, bringing down chunks of debris into the pan, so you just don't know what strategy would be most effective. You are confused about the texture of the omelette, so you aren't sure what the best answer is. Right.
Ok, its, uh, uh, well, completely black, even on the top side, although that might be the debris. The aromatic burned egg smell has sort of turned into a four eggs left out for several days smell. I would say its completely congealed, and surprisely unfastened to the bottom of the pan. Also its covered in some fire extinguisher material, which might not cook so well if it were flipped over.

Measuring the negative experience of prison

So it has come to my attention that some fairly rigorous and pretty well thought out academic research believes that prison reduces crime -- that incapacitation overwhelms the school of crime and job-market displacement arguments. I would be curious to know whether the crime rate stats they use include crime in prison, but I suspect that they would still find a net decrease.
I don't think this is a complete argument for expansion of prisons or for keeping them at their current levels for two reasons -- first, it is likely that similar crime reductions could be achieved by substituting police force expansion. Second, I think it is necessary to count the subjective experience of prison against its net utility -- for philosophical reasons beyond the scope of this post, I don't think criminal activity forfeits the right to have your experience considered by policy-makers.
The question then becomes how to calibrate the experience of prison against the experience of crime victimization. I doubt that most people would trade even a day in prison for the ability to avoid most property crime, residential burglaries (maybe) and large-scale-life-saving-wiping fraud excepted. Nor, likely, would they trade the absence of most petty-assaults for more than a few days of prison, maiming assaults excepted. Sexual assaults, maiming assaults, some quantity of drug offenses equivalent to a long-term enslvaing addiction, and of course homicide are all likely to be worth prison.
But how much? In principle, it doesn't seem to difficult to test that question -- simply ask people how much time they would be willing to do to avoid each of these crimes. Three design problems occur to me though.
First, much of the negative subjective experience of prison probably stems from a fear of victimization. This creates the problem of deciding whether to subtract the actual number of prison assaults from the total crime reduction that occurs as a consequence of incapacitation. If you do subtract it, you run the risk of double counting them -- once by subtracting it from the overall crime reduction, and once because people will consider it as part of the negative subjective experience of prison. You could tell them to assume that they won't be victimized, but then you may be neutralizing not only the experience of being victimized in prison, but the fear thereof, which is probably even exceeds the actual experience of being victimized as the reason it sucks to be in prison. You could tell people to assume that they won't be victimized, but also to assume that they will be afraid of it, but that is not only complicated but might also be distorting the results by highlighting one side of the equation. But if you don't subtract the total rate of victimization in prison from the overall crime reduction, you run the risk that people will not appraise this risk accurately. You could tell them the actual rate of victimization, but much of the negative subjective experience of prison might arise from an overestimation of the risk of being victimized. On the other, they might not accurately guage the negative psychological experience of being victimized outside of prison either, if it has never happened to them.
Second, there is the question of whether the person taking the survey will assume their own innocence when answering the survey. I have no doubt that the experience of being imprisoned is worse when you are innocent, but if you tell people to assume their own guilt, they might tell you that they see no downside to imprisonment because they deserve it, which I doubt replicates the experience of the typical prisoner.
One approach would be to do the study twice, resolving all the design issues in favor of a pro-prison bias one time and in favor an anti-prison bias the second time, and then see if the results ultimately counsel for or against expansion of prison either way.

So, go ahead and get right on that.

h/t commenter JasonR on Ezra Klein.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Potential > Actuality

Occasionally, there comes along a target so dumb, so slow-moving, and so worthy of being derided, that every comic angle that you don't exploit will inevitably seem superior to the one you actually take. And this preposterously offensive proposal, which tells us so much about the link between masculinity, stereotypes, and militarism in the minds of military planners, requires us to optimize our derision. So, no, I wont be telling you that this isn't a proposal I can get behind, and I wont be telling you that the weapon, in fact, turned out to be techno, nor will I tell you that the lab got the idea from a movie they saw in an adult theater in the Mission district. No, my friends, however long and hard I, uh, thought about this, I could never ever mock this more savagely than it mocks itself.

With no further ado:

A Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending said it uncovered a strange U.S. military proposal to create a hormone bomb that could purportedly turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting.

Pentagon officials on Friday confirmed to CBS 5 that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb."

Edward Hammond, of Berkeley's Sunshine Project, had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the proposal suggested, "One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior."

The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soliders to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," Hammond said after reviwing the documents.

Hat tip to realclear politics.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A very distinct memory

is coming back to me now, because I accidentally slammed my middle toe into a piece of furniture and it is huge and deep red and blue and black. My memory is of dropping a very heavy dresser drawer on my big toe when I was ten and rolling around in extreme pain while my toe grew, you guessed it, big and red and blue and black. My very clear recollection is that my uncle offered to come over with a power tool of some kind, I think a drill, and puncture the top of my toe-nail, which, he said, would cause blood to spurt out and instantly relieve the pressure, sweelling, and pain. He said he had done the same thing to himself once and it worked and was safe and no big deal. My mother, who, I want to stress, was not a good but a great parent, said this was my decision but made absolutely no effort to discourage it. I struggled with the idea but ultimately decided against it.
A Muppet Christmas special was on TV.


Did I say ultimately opted against having a hole drilled through my foot? No, I, uh, mean, uh, my uncle actually came over and, uh, it turns out it wasnt a power drill, but, uh, but, a, uh, power sander, and uh, a buffer. So, no, it didn't help the pain, but really brought out the colors.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Grudgingly, yes...

Paradocs at Kos believes that this footnote by the district court in United States v. Libby is now the best legal footnote ever:

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is an indication of these eminent academics' willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.

Because it speaks to a pressing social concern, I am inclined to agree. It will be so hard to part with the thirteenth footnote from Blakely v. Washington, the sharpest blow ever dealt to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines:

To be sure, Justice Breyer and the other dissenters would forbid those increases of sentence that violate the constitutional principle that tail shall not wag dog. The source of this principle is entirely unclear. Its precise effect, if precise effect it has, is presumably to require that the ratio of sentencing-factor add-on to basic criminal sentence be no greater than the ratio of caudal vertebrae to body in the breed of canine with the longest tail. Or perhaps no greater than the average such ratio for all breeds. Or perhaps the median. Regrettably, Apprendi has prevented full development of this line of jurisprudence.

Come here and gimme hug, Scalia, you big pompous lug you...


Also covered at the debate blog

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ay Calor! Los Panatlones, Como Queman!

The idea of a testable and universal biological manifestation of lying seems plausible enough, although my understanding is that all the current leading candidates -- polygraphs, microexpressions, pupil dilation -- remain unproven (to say the least). And I am damn sure that free-style lie detection -- observation of demeanor, eye contact, gut feelings -- is an unmitigated failure. This fact functions as a damning indictment of the American jury system, or more specifically, the tradition of discretion given to finders of fact on the ground that they can observe the witnesses and need not rely on a "cold record."

How good are we humans at using demeanor evidence to detect truth-telling or lying? A considerable amount of research has been conducted in recent decades on non-verbal behavior and the detection of deception. The findings indicate that demeanor cues often reduce accuracy in detecting deception, by distracting people into looking at cues they think are associated with lying and overlooking cues that actually are. Table 1 summarizes the findings of a meta-analysis of a number of experiments. Observers receiving no information at all would have standard deviation scores of 0.00 (sheer guesswork). Where no speech is provided, but only non-verbal cues, observers do no better when they see the face and nothing else (0.05), noticeably better when they can see the body and not the face (0.43), and when they can see both together, their performance falls a bit (0.35). Apparently, facial cues provide little help and sometimes do more harm than good. By contrast, subjects given transcripts alone are better at detecting deception than any of the conditions we have considered thus far (0.70). Speech sounds alone, with no visual cues at all, raise performance further (1.09). So much for the notion that non-verbal channels of communication carry more information than verbal channels, for human deception detectors to rely upon. Adding body cues to speech raises performance to its height (1.49). Adding facial cues to speech-with or without body cues-drags performance below what it was with speech alone.

But even if it were possible to find some universal phsyical manifestation of deception, the speaker's ability to know that he or she is actually engaged in deceptive conduct will remain a major limitation. As Richard Wiseman tells us in the Guardian's article -- the title link of this post -- lying is ubiquitous. It is simply not possible to imagine that if people are telling 14 lies a week, most of them are not spontaneously told -- in most cases, there is then probably time only to compare the lie to the truth and note its passable similarity. Accordingly, there is probably not time, in most cases, for the liar to have formed a firm opinion about whether or not it is truely a lie. If whatever bodily manifestation of lying eventually emerges fails to sweep in this huge gray area, situations where the liar is unsure whether to disbelieve himself, it will be next to useless. If it does sweep this in, it will be dangerously inaccurate.

Hat tip to slickdpdx at

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The structural collapse of American thought

Piaget argued that a critical moment in the development of a functioning human mind is object permanence. Before object permanence, infants can only learn basic biological skills, like sucking, or touching. Afterwards, they can collect information about objects in their environments. To do this, however, they must learn to identify obvious, tangible patterns in their environments as objects.

Sensori-motor Stage

0-2 years It is at this stage that children develop their senses of the world in general through movement such as sucking, grasping, crawling, standing and walking. Children also use their senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound in order to develop schemata of the world. In this way children put together a picture that incorporates these elements. Piaget sees the adult as being important during this stage in terms of providing the stimulus needed to help the child gain a variety of experiences. One of the key stages is the development of object permanence. Piaget argues that the child cannot grasp the concept that objects still exist when hidden or taken away until the age of 8 months. Up until that point, out of sight is literally out of mind.

Piaget tested for object permanence by hiding a toy that the child was playing with under a blanket. He found that the child under 8 months did not search for the object, seeming to lose total interest in it. After 8 months, however, children would attempt to find the object after it had been hidden from them.

I actually have some grave doubts about pulling out of Iraq. I dont think it follows that if the troops should be removed merely because the invasion itself was a reprehensibly stupid act of mass murder. But wathcing the GOP debate tonight, I found myself terrified by the strength of Giuliani's performance on "National Security" issues.

Fact is, Giuliani said exactly what Bush has been saying, only with less drooling. And yet, it felt different. Newer. More resonant. Plausible to the middle. Maybe it was the background of acknowledged failure. Or maybe it was the fact that Giuliani has, for some reason, been getting a complete pass on the central political question of the day -- will you or won't you pull out the troops. Its astonishihing, but I dont know the answer, and I dont think either of the moderators have asked him. I dont mean I can't find it, but it doesn't seem to matter because he didn't get us into it. So even prosective questions about the war are deflected because its not an issue he owns.

The point can be pushed too far, but it does make sense, to a point, to understand cultural and political decision-making in psychological terms -- countries process information, aggregate conflicting impulses, and store trauma. Every group brain of any size is sluggish, stupid and spastic. But until now, there were threads of rationality, connections between national events and a political course. 9-11 was a trauma, and the result was a massive consolidation of federal and governmental power, and a widespread intolerance toward dissent and ethinicity. It was awful, but the reaction was goal directed. Katrina and Iraq produced massive electoral defeat for the GOP -- nobody in the democratic party had a particularly compelling plan to rebuild the coast, and the Iraq debate was consistently retrospective. But there is no surprise in seeing punishment meted out for grotestque, traumatizing incompetence.

Tonight, I smelled a further regression. I smelled a Rudy who can stand up, say that we need to stay in Iraq because it is a place to fight terrorists, and generate the same reflexive nodding obedience from pundit and voter that lubed us up for the Iraq invasion.

This is a gut impression, but it is a gut impression of a gut impression, and I can't think of a better way to measure and sense a gut impression. My gut impression, though, is that something, something, something has disabled the American information processing mechanisms and rendered us incapable of that most basic cognitive act -- recognizing the same object after it has been momentarily removed from our sight.

Bush and Rudy are talking about the same war. I am fearfully unconfident that this most gruesome traumatizing object can be identified by the American brain as the same gruesome traumatizing object it was six months ago if a different person is talking about it.

Something has changed. It is not a more warlike attitude. It is not a lower threshold for fear. It is not an attitude or a proclivity. It is an intellectual collapse caused by a structural change in the way information is being processed. I don't know what it is or what is responsible, and could very very well be full of shit, but TV, I (like everyone else) am looking in your direction.

Monday, June 4, 2007

A Phrenology of Utilitarianism?

The Washington Post reports on the startling neurological genesis of moral reasoning -- actually not only of moral reasoning, but of a particular moral perspective. It would appear that there is, literally, a region of the brain that imposes moral side constraints, and that when it is disabled, utilitarian moral reasoning emerges.

Moral decisions can often feel like abstract intellectual challenges, but a number of experiments such as the one by Grafman have shown that emotions are central to moral thinking. In another experiment published in March, University of Southern California neuroscientist Antonio R. Damasio and his colleagues showed that patients with damage to an area of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex lack the ability to feel their way to moral answers.

When confronted with moral dilemmas, the brain-damaged patients coldly came up with "end-justifies-the-means" answers. Damasio said the point was not that they reached immoral conclusions, but that when confronted by a difficult issue -- such as whether to shoot down a passenger plane hijacked by terrorists before it hits a major city -- these patients appear to reach decisions without the anguish that afflicts those with normally functioning brains.

Are utilitarians, then, mentally disabled?

The most interesting part of this is that folks with the defective ventromedial cortex still had moral answers -- they were just dispassionately delivered. Does this mean that morality to them is simply a learned algorithm that pairs certain outcomes with the words "should" and "good" and "bad"? Or do they still fully understand and believe in the concept of "should" but simply reach different conclusions?

On behalf of my utilitarian brothers and sisters, I think the most likely explanation from the experiment is the latter -- we can learn an algorithm against side constraints (never kill) as well as a utilitarian equation. The difference between the reasoning that emerges from this disability and that which is more commonly seen thus does not appear to be the depth of appreciation for the concept of moral duty, but the results. Alternatively, I think it is entirely possible that morality itself -- as a form of belief -- may be nothing more than an algorithmic pairing of circumstance and outcome. Either way, I don't think that it is fair to describe that form of moral reasoning as [ACCESSING DATA, ACCESSING DATA] effectively inhuman.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why my hands smell funny II

I was just chopping garlic, making vegetarian sloppy joes (sloppies joe). I kind of like the smell of garlic on my hands days later. Others hate it, and are all, gross my hands smell funny. Not me. I kind of dig it, and will revel in it. I also like the smell of gasoline. And skunks. No shit. Skunks. That deep acrid. Its everything a waft of tobacco smoke should have been, only less bitter, and cancerous. Surely this is a genetic mutation, no? Is there any other possible explanation for why one would like skunks? I bet its adaptive, like enjoying the taste of a hot pepper, so you can enjoy its nutrients. Maybe my children will be able to draw nutrients from skunks.

Right, so the ingredients:
1/2 an onion, chopped but not minced
1 head of garlic. (Or one clove. Fine. Whatever. Baby)
1 tomato, chopped well beyond tomatoeyness, into a juicy oblivion
That hot pepper we've been having so many laughs about
Vegetarian ground beef (soy)
Jerk pepper
Chili pepper
Tomato paste

Surely you can figure out the rest.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Welcom Fred!

And thank you GOP! You guys had me worried there for a minute. For a minute I thought you were thinking clearly and were going to nominate Giuliani. But whatever mass psychosis has been afflicting you since 2005 appears to be well in place.
A President now widely recognized as a complete reactionary is struggling to crack to 35%, and you were about to nominate one with an image as a social moderate. The one election in which pro-choice groups could legitimately rouse the base by telling them, truthfully, that a Republican president would mean the end of Roe (Stevens is 87, people!), and you were about to nominate a candidate who is at least nominally pro-choice. Hillary carrying a double-digit lead in the primaries, and you were about to nominate a candidate to whom "centrist" men with hang-ups about women could flock without guilt. And most of all, with an electoral map that hinges on, oh, about 40 swing electoral votes, you were about to nominate a candidate that could have taken fucking New York. Think about that, a Republican who is a threat in New York. If the nominee were anyone but Hillary (and lord I hope it is), that would have been crushing.
But no, you took a good long hard look in the mirror and said, I want to nominate an ultra-conservative, untested, generic republican with all the gravitas of a TV celebrity, in the most liberal electoral environment since Watergate. And he doesn't even have foreign policy experience!
Congratulations on sticking with the crazy that got your here. I knew you had it in you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

And another goddamn thing

You can tell where a politician's loyalties lie by looking at who he or she lies to -- unless the base is enough to win an election (or the politician thinks it is) rhetoric is directed outside the natural constituency, while policy is directed at the natural constituency. What troubles me most about Obama's plan is not that it doesn't go the full way on universal health insurance, a uniform national system, or mandatory community rating, its that he said it was universal. From

Democrat Barack Obama is offering a sweeping plan that would provide every citizen a means to have health coverage and calls on government, businesses and consumers to share the costs of the program.
Obama said his plan could save the average consumer $2,500 a year and bring health care to all.

"The time has come for universal, affordable health care in America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday in Iowa City.

He bills it as more favorable to the left than it really is. That tells me his loyalty is to the center.

Obama's wormy health plan

This sounds better than the status quo but the segmentation it creates in the insurance market is absolutely baffling from a policy perspective. First, there is the inscrutable decision not to merge the buy-in program available to the uninsured and small businesses with medicare/HCFA. I can understand, I guess, a desire to preserve a different package available only to seniors, but why not have the single (or at least the largest) agency acting as a public insurer at least administer the program? I can understand this only as an incredibly nimble or overthought dog whistle to the right -- as if the right had decided that any expansion of medicare would be equated with single payer. In this respect its the opposite of Richardson's plan, which modestly expands medicare eligibility in an effort to bring support from those committed to single payer through the expansion of medicare, but, you know, without all that yucky universal coverage. Second, the Obama plan preserves some barrier between the regulated insurance market and the public plan. This basic differentiation tracks the Edwards plan, and there is, I guess something to be said for allowing the systems to compete. But I dont see any reason for Obama to restrict access to the public plan (he does so), which exaggerates the bureaucratic segmentation of his plan, and minimizes the sense of competition between public and private models. Third, the plan also preserves a distinction between the well-regulated insurance market, to which large businesses may buy in, and the wild and wooly private sector, which is restricted only by the long-overdue ban on the use of pre-existing conditions.
So we have got, in effect, five systems under Obama:
1. The British analog, the VA and other government providers
2. The Canadian analog -- HCFA/Medicare/Medicaid
3. A second indistinct Canadian analog managed by another agency (for no reason) -- the new public system to which the uninsured and small businesses may apply
4. A system of managed competition that employers could voluntarily join, with robust community rating practices, and
5. The wild wild west, where anything goes except pre-existing conditions.
The segmentation is not necesaarily a bad thing, but it is a puzzling thing. I suppose you could argue that, again, it allows us to test different models in the American context. Personally, I think the world has given us enough diversity in health care finance to allow us to rationally evaluate our options. I see more politics than policy here. Which isnt to say that it wouldn't be an improvement...

Monday, May 28, 2007

We are all going to hell

Sometimes its important to remember exactly how much blood is on our hands. But the important thing, 16 year old girl forced into prostitution because your father was killed, is that we were able to kill Saddam. So, remember that a bad man died the next time you are having sex with a disgusting stranger to feed yourself, instead of living at home in a functioning village.

The lesson I will never learn

is that people are not rational actors, even in politics. Cindy Sheehan withdrew from the anti-war movement, attacking it as ego-driven and slavishly beholden to the democratic party. She cited health and financial problems as part of her retreat from public life.
Sheehan was at times a brilliant activist -- she recognized the strength of her moral position and used it to achieve a political result in which she believed. She expertly dragged herself as a public figure through several news cycles, building momentum for herself and her cause without allowing the criticism of her to overshadow the story.
The withdrawal from the anti-war movement, or public life generally, is certainly not irrational, but the parting shot seems incredibly poorly designed to advance the anti-war movement. The statement is simply one of despair -- it does not seek to drive the anti-war movement away from the democrats, it simply encourages others to withdrawal from activism. But as she has clearly not renounced her personal opposition to the war, the statement seems blind to the fact that it is itself a component of her position in public life and in the anti-war movement.
It is, in other words, not designed to achieve a goal. It has, then, one virtue missing in public life -- an honesty about the extent to which political involvement, even by the highest, most professional actors, is a confluence of personality and axe-grindings, rather than a game of chess. They may dress themselves as detached, but, more likely, they are, like Sheehan, expressing a public passion.
Well wishes.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Impact of the Compressed Primary Schedule

In any other year this would not cause me much anxiety -- yes the double digit leader in the national polls is both the least progressive top tier democratic candidate and the one who to my mind presents the most serious questions of electability. But in any other year I would look at these polls and just add all the numbers together that aren't leaning to Hillary and assume that every single one of them was going to vote for someone other than her. I honestly don't see a single Edwards, Obama, or Gore vote (well maybe a few Gore voters) pulling the lever for Hillary as a second choice in the primaries. This year, however, I just don't see any realistic chance that Edwards or Obama (or Gore if he runs) drop out after the first two weeks merely because they haven't cracked second place yet. Indeed, with Edwards polling ahead in Iowa, and enjoying a significant Union advantage in Nevada, I doubt that he will fail to score an early victory. Early victories will not serve the same function -- they will tend neither to winnow the field, nor to build momentum for low-budget candidates.
Primaries dont have run-offs, and most are winner take all. This means that Hillary could win an overwhelming number of delegates even if she never draws 40% in any state. These features strike me as failures of democracy, and, in this case, major liabilities in the general election.
And shit.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why my hand smells funny...

Kind of a mix between metal and that way your hand would smell if you soaked it in a used mop bucket used to scrubdown the Superdome after Katrina. The surface of my desk at work is made of two blocks of wood, with a large crack in between them. I noticed that quite a lot of paperclips had gotten lodged in there, so I ran another paperclip in between the blocks to get them out.
A substance that can only be described as "grime" fell out onto my lap, and my hand will never be the same after brushing it off.
It was... so...horrib... so...
I don't think want to talk about it any more.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

John Edwards Just Keeps Getting More Attractive...

As a candidate.

He's acknowledged the risk of genocide that accompanies withdrawal from Iraq. He's proposed the creation of a small stabilization reserve that seems calculated to prevent massacres elsewhere. And now he has suggested a willingness to re-invade Iraq from positions in Kuwait and Baghdad in the event that genocide does in fact occur in Iraq; specifically:

I believe that once we are out of Iraq, the U.S. must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, deter a regional spillover of the civil war, and prevent an Al Qaeda safe haven. We will most likely need to retain Quick Reaction Forces in Kuwait and in the Persian Gulf. We will also need some presence in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone, to protect the American Embassy and other personnel.

There is legitimate question as to the feasibility of invading Iraq again after we have left, and perhaps an even better question about our ability to summon the political will-power to do so. But a limited deployment to a single city or sector as an atrocity unfolds is not so wildly implausible as to be rejected out of hand, and there is always the possibility that the worst might be deterred merely by a declared willingness to do so, especially if the would be offenders have some stake in continued US backing.

I am not fully convinced, but this is the central issue of the campaign to me and Edwards is the only one on the democratic side (yet -- the field may be incomplete) who seems to acknowledge it. Moreover, Edwards is so dramatically more progressive on virtually every other issue of concern to progressives, and so very far ahead of everyone in terms of electability, that he is starting look pretty good to me.

I'm totally straight.

Hat tips to TPM and Ezra Klein and Electoral Math

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Edwards -- Am I seeing what I want to see...

or is he prepared to use force according metrics that transcend national self-interest?
Edwards today proposed the creation of a ten thousand person military reserve "to stabilize troubled nations" and for "humanitarian purposes."
The striking thing about American military policy since the end of the Cold War has been its steadfast insistence on ignoring the world's ghastliest, most widespread massacres. Congo: 3-4 million; Sudan: 180,000 at least; Rwanda: pushing a million. Yugoslavia is the exception, but only after an absurd parade of identical cease fires sopped the international conscience while Serbian troops and militias raped their way through the federation.
There is a real question as to whether a 10,000 reserve "stabilization force" could do much for any of these expansive geographic traumas after genocidal civil war has begun in earnest. But such a force might have real preventive value, if only as a kicker for multi-lateral interventionist forces.
It would be enough for me if the proposal showed only that the value of a human life -- and the evil that accompanies a rape or murder -- does not depend on its country of origin.
It would almost be enough to ignore his vote to precipitate the impending series of massacres in Iraq.
Almost, motherfucker.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Minimizing the financial and legal power of zombies

Brian at Incertus critiques a NYT editorial by Mark Helprin at the title link. The editorial argues for dispensing with limitations on the posthumous duration of copyrights, or, in other words, to treat intellectual property just as we now treat real and personal private property. Brian points to differences in the intensity of labor needed to maintain the useful life of real as opposed to intellectual property, arguing that these differences justify their different treatment.

I am by and large persuaded by Brian, but I think the critique doesn't quite go far enough. Brian argues:
Helprin concludes his Op-Ed by claiming that "No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property," but his argument fails simply because real and intellectual property are so significantly different that you cannot honestly equate the two. Real property requires continued maintenance and expense in a way intellectual property does not, and further, is subject to the very confiscation that Helprin claims it isn't. I want copyright protection like any other writer, but I don't think it should extend forever. Why should my descendants reap the millions my poetry will no doubt bring? Let them write their own.

This reasoning is persuasive, but the force of it extends to real property as well. Lord Snootypant's descendants have done as little to merit the continued enjoyment of Snootypants Manor as Brian's descendants will have done to merit the continued financial benefits of his poetry. There is a fine argument for allowing a limited inheritance to minor children as a means of support, and perhaps for complete spousal inheritance based on principles of community property. And there is probably a pretty compelling efficiency (pro-growth) argument to be made that people work harder for their children than they do for themselves.
But there is simply no principle of distributional justice suggesting that children have a right to property because their parents worked for it. You aren't a better person because your parents were good people, and you dont necessarily have the mental faculties of a sharp 12 year old just because your Daddy could almost speak in complete sentences (See e.g. Bush, George W., see also Bush, George H.W.)

But thats not what really interests me about this dispute. What really interests me about this dispute is Helprin's acknowledgement that his proposal (such as it is) is more or less explicitly forbidden by the text of the constitution, Article I, Section 8. Who knew?

This means that we would have to either 1) grossly circumvent the express words of the nation's foundational legal document, in the service of, uh, the pressing need for an adjustment in intellectual property standards, or 2) amend the express words of the nation's foundational legal document, in the service of, uh, the pressing need... you get the idea.

On an abstract level, I have some sympathy for Helprin -- there are an awful lot of fairly banal provisions in the constitution, that have little or nothing to do with the structure of governments or parts of government, or with the relationship of government to the individual. And I don't see a very good reason that a tiny minority of white male property holders from two hundred years ago should be making copyright policy, nor choosing the age limits for representatives, nor assigning bankruptcy jurisdiction, nor determining who has the power to switch us to the metric system, nor determining the permissible geographic limits for D.C.'s municipal annexation, nor limiting the right of the treasury to repay debts in precious metals other than gold and silver, nor... again, you, with the idea getting.

One needn't indulge our Nation's quasi-religious fantasy of A Perfect Constitution to think that probably none of this shit is worth pulling at the constitution's threads. But here the irony is exposed -- Helprin seeks relief from the arbitrary hand of those long dead, in order to extend his own arbitrarily through the ages.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dolphin Petition IV

Ted Danson understands the moral imperative owed toward dolphins as a consequence of their unique cerebro-anatomy. You're not telling me you are dumber than Ted Danson are you?

Dolphin Petition III

Number Three!

Dolphin Petition II

Number Two!

Dolphin Petition

Number One

Are Ethical Obligations Toward Cetaceans Owed to the Individual Animal, or to the Population?

Cognitive biologists from Emory have recently issued an impressive survey of the anatomical and behavioral evidence for intelligence among dolphins and whales (and maybe porpoises?). You can link to it from the title, and should read it, but before I go much futher down this thread, let me give you the upshot:

I added the following language:

"Dolphins exhibit a range of behavior consistent with higher order consciousness, including knowledge of syntax, vocal imitation, and complex social grouping. Moreover, the physiological evidence is similarly consistent with a capacity to perform high order cognitive thinking. For an impressive survey of the cognitive biological literature, consult .

In most cases, it is entirely appropriate for policy makers to consider animals as resources. In the case of dolphins, it may not be sufficient to conserve them as a population; a strong ethical argument can be made from scientific sources that they have a moral entitlement to protection as individuals."

to cyber pro-dolphin petitions and letter writing campaigns, which you can link to in subsequent posts (sorry for the techological putzery, still working on the embedding link task, my own capacity for higher order thinking may be in question).

Marino and company have indeed produced an impressive survey of quite varied evidence -- anatomical, experimentally driven behavior in captivity, and behavioral evidence in the wild-- that cetaceans are capable of some form of higher order cognition. A number of environmental thinkers have produced persuasive arguments about the immorality of extinction, and a moral duty owed to the elements of the environment generally. If you go for them, you have embraced an argument for protection of the population generally, an argument for making sure that their overall numbers do not approach zero, and that they are allowed to flourish as beings in an environment that we do not have a right to manipulate without limit. Personally, I don't really go for them -- extinction produces sadness and a sense of waste, and there are strong utilitarian/human centered reasons to be against wastefullness -- but this is not the same as the kind of moral duty we owe to other humans.

A moral duty to consider the consequences of our actions (or inactions) on other people, however, must come from somewhere, and in my mind the answer is a nervous system. We do not know exactly what produces consciousness, but it sure seems to have an awful lot to do with the neurons that can send information into complex processing centers. I dont eat animals or participate in their death or torture, but neither do I regard them as the moral equivalent of human beings, because of the limited order of consciousness they exhibit. Once a certain level of self-awareness has been reached, however, killing becomes a profound act, the extinguishment of an independent perceptual universe, an event the object of killing can fear and contemplate, and with which we can and should empathize. Feeling creates a right not to suffer; feeling with greater acuity creates a stronger right not to suffer; thinking, at least thinking about the self, creates a right not to be killed.

There is an alternative viewpoint, associated with abortion opponents, opponents of euthanasia, and opponents of animal rights, that locates the source of moral value in humanity. Respectfully, this position is simply not intuitive, and confounds a descriptive account of human behavior with a set of normative principles. I know that individualized experience is good because I experience it, and I like it, and want it, and can feel, implicitly and directly, its identity with value. While individualized experience has great overlap with humanity, humanity is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for experience, particularly the experience of self-hood. Dead bodies have no experience, and while there are good reasons, perhaps spiritual reasons, to treat them respectfully, I suspect few of us would have much difficulty choosing between allowing harm to come to a live and a dead human. Moreover, treatment of humanity as valuable in itself -- independent of its capacity for consciousness -- is either without logical support or dependent on larger principles that are problematic in themselves. That is to say, either the notion that humanity is the reference of value is completely empty, or it leads more generally to the conclusion that we should treat humans well because they are like us. We have seen where likeness to self goes when it is treated as the source of value, indeed we have exhibited an ugly propensity to label virtually group we (and by we I mean "Europe" but probably also humanity generally) wish to abuse as not quite human.

Now, if you agree with me that all creatures that exhibit sufficiently complex patterns of neural activity as to achieve a threshold of self-awareness are worthy of moral weight, you should really consider the case for elevating cetaceans (dolphins and whales, and maybe porpoises) above this threshold.

Marino points to:

Experimental Behavior Evidence, including:

1. They exhibit mimicry, both vocal, which is useful for complicated patterns of social organization, and bodily.
2. They exhibit not just semantic understanding (the capacity to associate a sound with a meaning) but also, I shit you not, syntactical understanding. I actually have read the Herman studies that Marino cites, and they exactly what Marino says they do. The sound for ball followed by word for hoop can, to a dolphin mean something different than sound for hoop followed by sound for ball (bring the ball to the hoop vs. bring the hoop to the ball).
3. Their semantic skills extend to events as well as objects.
4. They can identify themselves in a mirror, a skill previously seen only in some primates and elephants.
5. Unlike most other mammals, they can understand the significance of pointing and gaze, specifically that it refers not merely to a direction but to an object.
6. Dolphins can themselves point, either by echolocation or, if trained, by orienting a portion of their body.
7. Dolphins can understand, in abstract terms, the difference between repetition and non-repetition of a behavior, independently of the behavior itself.
8. Dolphins can even relate their knowledge about certain conditions, using pitch if trained to do so, in terms of their certainty about it, certainly a behavior that practically screams self-awareness if ever there was one.

Behavioral evidence in the wild:

1.Dolphins exhibit culture, both linguistic and behavioral, and can spontaneously learn the culture of another grouping. Some of this is directly related to food gathering, but other is simply the spontaneous use of the body for play and social relationships, without a direct relationship to safety or sustenance.
2. Like their human counterparts, especially those on the right (/snark, /hypocrisy), they can express group loyalty, and can form alliances between groupings.
3. A variety of non-vocal communicative acts accompany vocal exchange, including flipper touching, flipper orientation and gesturing, and something called "teeth raking." (I would love to see those off the coast of Sicily, surely they must be among the most gestural).
4. Most suggestively, the significance of the sequence of auditory emissions is retained in the wild and, Marino points, auditory emissions evolve over time. Surely a species exhibiting vocal behavior this similar to human language in the wild cannot be totally lacking in self-awareness.
5. Dolphins can teach each other foraging behavior.
6. Dolphins can use tools e.g. sponges to scrape crevices of the ocean.

Anatomical evidence:

1. Their brain size is comparable (bigger in fact) than every other candidate for higher order thinking, in both absolute and relative terms with respect to the overall mass of the body, and it evolved at a time when environmental pressures would have predicted a reduction in brain size in the absence of some ecological advantage.
2. The architecture of the brain is segmented to a degree comparable with that of other higher order primates.
3. Those aspects of the brain responsible for "attention, judgment, intuition, and social awareness" in primates are expansive in the cetacean brain, albeit in different regions.
4. The particular cells (large layer V spindle neurons) thought to be responsible for neural networking and complex awareness are expansive in the cetacean brain.

This shit, in short, adds up.

Holy Macaroni -- It's working?

And by this, I mean, using the threat of withdrawal to compel on the ground reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. For those too lazy to hit the link and read some long boring article by the Washington Post, the upshot is that Sadr has ostensibly begun to purge elements from his leadership who express a generalized hostility to Sunnis rather than to Al Qaeda specifically.
This strikes me as a rather transparent sop to the West -- we shouldn't assume that he is saying the same thing to an Iraqi audience, nor to an audience of loyalists. I think he is seeing the inevitable end of the Weimar, er, Al Maliki government, and is positioning himself as something palatable to the West upon withdrawal. So, no, its no guarantee of the behavior of the Mahdi army, or Shiite loyal elements of the police forces in Baghdad. But it still shows at least one significant development -- Sadr cares who the Prime Minister is. Nothing could be more dangerous than the localization of sectarian politics in Baghdad

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Edwards Iraq Report Card: A for observation skills, D for problem solving

I confess some deep misgivings about the desirability of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. I am always open to being persuaded that a coercive military occupation is a bad idea, and that the violent reality of that occupation has been obscured. And we should have absolutely no illusions that the troops are going to improve the situation, nor that the civil war is going to subside. There is absolutely nor reason for that – it is a nation full of cities where sectarian enemies live side by side, and where political loyalty is primarily sectarian.
But this does not mean that a withdrawal could not make the situation worse. I see precious little evidence that the militias that routinely deliver dozens of dead, mutilated, tortured bodies are primarily concerned with control of the central government. To the contrary, my strong suspicion is that they are driven by very local concerns – a grassroots ethnic cleansing movement. I don’t doubt that a “political compromise” between Sunni and Shiite elements in Iraq would be catalyzed by a withdrawal of U.S. forces, I’m just not convinced that anyone who is blowing up markets and gathering up every young Sunni man in the neighborhood for torture particularly gives a shit. And this situation – intense hatred, mixed cities, and weak control over paramilitary organizations – has a number of risk factors for efficient, state sponsored genocide. The role of U.S. forces, then, is simply to be the state, and so to prevent a centralized, managerial approach to genocide.
Or so it seems.
Kudos, then to Edwards for recognizing the risk.
I’m just not at all clear though, that his safeguard to this, withdrawing to Kuwait and Afghanistan, is enough to stem the tide. As Rwanda teaches us, it can happen quickly, and I don’t hear him or any other democratic candidate declaring a willingness to storm back into Baghdad in the event of the worst. It seems to me that they need to be in Baghdad.

If you keep telling me that they have marginalized you, I am going to start regarding you as somewhat marginal

Yeah, I get it, ok, I get it, the mainstream media is a bunch of sycophants. The Libby trial illustrated that control over access provides those in power with editorial control over the message. And reporters are cozy with government officials. They go to cocktail parties together. They have a milieu. And this is aptly symbolized by the white house correspondents’ dinner. Ok. I get it. And mainstream pundits, whose roles most closely overlap with those of the bloggers themselves, write under the influence of any number of professional incentives that distort the content. And when they happen to engage the more democratic elements of the blogosphere, they often do so disdainfully. They protect those incentives and the web of power, knowledge, and conventional wisdom those incentives create.
I believe you. Really. You are on to something, internet(s), you totally are on to something. It’s great that you’ve put this all in such sharp relief. It is. I love Digby. I will give my third testicle /ovary from the left for him or her, should the great testicle/ovary harvest of 2007 find him or her one testicle/ovary shy.
But seriously, folks, how big a freakin story is this? I mean, comparatively. This is America, and every single institution is corrupt, why is the media of such central concern to the enterprise of the political blogger?
And let me tell you what is not really great copy, what is sort of less than average in its revolutionary potential – a bunch of stories every week where you identify some half-obscure individual mainstream media figure who happens to engage the blogosphere, or some bloviating moderate, by his or her last name, tell us nothing at all about him or her, link to one more story or column that is just like every other piece of shit they have written, and then complain that their access to the mainstream audience is framing the national debate on some issue in a way that marginalizes a plausible and popular alternative view.
So, like, less of this then:
[Last name of a Guy with a blog I’ve never read but keep seeing everyone link to] absolutely flays [Sort of punditish Guy I’ve Never Heard of]’s most recent column in the [woeful newspaper/blog hybrid] on [name of issue, usually Iraq], illustrating once and for all the fundamentally [word they call you, e.g. unserious/uncivil/unthoughtful] nature of those who would limit political participation to the [opposite of word they call you, e.g. serious, civil, thoughtful].
And more of this:
Anyone who thinks we belong in Iraq another day is fucking crazy, and here’s why: [cogent argument, link to study].
Not there isn’t an awful lot of the latter out there. More please.