Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

12/31/2005

More on 'Fighting Dems'

My post on the 'Fighting Dems' strategy - running Democratic candidates who have served in Iraq - has seen some responses, one by Neil the Werewolf, another by Media Girl, and a couple by angry commenters at the original post. I should also mention that my post is heavily indebted to those by Mike the Mad Biologist and Kos diarist NCHeartland. I would encourage anyone interested in this issue to read their contributions.

First, let me respond to some readers who felt insulted by my post. In retrospect, this isn't very surprising; some of the language I used was less than polite. So I might be guilty of being overly snarky, but I don't have any actual animosity towards those who disagree with me on this topic, so I'm sorry about that.

Second, I'd like to preface this by saying something that I think colors my perception about these matters. Now, this is something that would probably end my career if I were a politician, but here it is: I am not particularly impressed by military service. I don't find anything particularly admirable about joining the military. I don't respect people any more simply because they sign up to wear the uniform.

Now, I don't hold it against them, necessarily. I don't think of it as a negative. In most cases, it is a big fat neutral in my book. I supported Kerry in '04, but his military service had exactly nothing to do with it; it didn't temper my support, but nor did it animate it. When it comes to military backgrounds for politicians, if it helps electorally, great, if it doesn't, then I see no reason to value it. If I thought that a war veteran was more likely to be elected, then I'd say the Dems should run as many veterans as they can get their hands on. If a vet is neither more nor less likely to win, I'd say ignore military experience. If being a vet makes one less likely to win, then I would say avoid candidates with military experience. So my approach to this is strictly utilitarian, in the colloquial sense.

So with that out of the way, let me address Neil's points. I have enormous respect for Neil; in fact, he's one of only a handful people whose opinion I hold in high enough regard that if I discover that he disagrees with me, I'll actually re-think my own opinion, even if in the end I still end up disagreeing.

Neil starts by pointing out the difference between candidates like Kerry and those like Hackett:
There’s a world of difference between a presidential candidate who has the mannerisms of a Senator invoking his Vietnam service, and a congressional candidate who actually sounds like a soldier invoking his Iraq service. Kerry had a long public record, and there were more things that could interfere with his attempt to cultivate a military image. One of these things was his own speaking style, which sounded nothing like the stereotype of a military man. The war he fought over 30 years ago was against a different enemy. By contrast, congressional candidates who served in Iraq – especially if their bearing, like that of Paul Hackett, fits some military stereotype – will get instant credibility on a huge issue in contemporary American politics.
Point taken about Kerry, and the temporal distance of his military service. It is certainly possible that military service is something that Kerry just couldn't take advantage of, while others could. I didn't mean to lean on the Kerry example too much; my point was to simply point to the lack of evidence that military service is an unqualified positive.

As for 'instant credibility' ... well, that remains to be seen. Part of my problem with the 'Fighting Dems' strategy is that there's no real evidence of this. It's certainly plausible, but it's also plausible that this instant credibility is chimerical. Neil, however, thinks that Hackett's previous performance does constitute evidence:
Which brings me to Hackett. He polled 48.3% in a district where Republicans held a 3-1 registration advantage and no Democrat in 12 years had surpassed Lee Hornberger’s 29.1% score from 1993. Jean Schmidt’s weakness and Hackett’s donations from werewolves are part of the explanation. But there’s no doubt that Hackett’s military background, around which he built his campaign, accounts for a big chunk of the improvement. If you’re looking for data to predict how Fighting Dems will do in congressional races, he’s the best comparison case.
I suppose this is just a judgment call, but I can't help but see Hackett's performance as something of a fluke. Why did Hackett do so well in that race? His military service was certainly part of it, but only indirectly, I think. As Neil points out, he had an incredibly weak opponent. But he also had ridiculous media coverage, most of it quite positive. He had a sort of novelty appeal, being the first Iraq vet to run for congress. In an off-year election, I think those factors are enough to explain Hackett's 'success'. I think the Hackett race actually has more in common with Jean Carnahan's election in 2000 than it will with any races in 2006. At any rate, I would caution anyone from using it as a basis for any conclusions about the political usefulness of military experience. Extrapolating from the Hackett race is dangerous. Consider this: if Hackett had come out against abortion in his heavily Republican district, he might have done well based on that, but that doesn't mean it would be a wise statewide or national strategy.
The vast majority of the Iraq veterans in the primary won’t face anything close to the Swift Boating that Kerry faced. Remember that Kerry had a Nixon-appointed stalker, John O’Neill, connected to a pool of 527 money and a network of veterans who hated him for his part in the Winter Soldier investigation. Most congressional candidates won’t have anything like that against them.
Absolutely. But I take the Swift Boat precedent as teaching us that military service isn't actually held in very high regard by the electorate, as long as someone is willing to actually criticize someone for it. Another example of this is John McCain. If being a veteran were ever going to help anyone, it would have been McCain in the Republican primaries. But GOP voters scorned McCain for George W. Bush, who not only lacked military experience (no, the Texas NG doesn't count), but was actually a certified draft-dodger. The Bush camp easily neutralized McCain's service - even the most potent aspect of it, his time in POW camp - by floating stupid rumors about McCain being a 'Manchurian candidate' and having a black child.

But so far, this discussion leaves untouched what I think is the biggest problem with the 'Fighting Dems' strategy: it makes it almost inevitable that these campaigns will focus on foreign policy/national security, which I see as the exact opposite of what Democrats want. The GOP has been able to consolidate power, despite domestic policies that are disastrous and unpopular, because of their advantage on matters of war. This is irrational on the part of the electorate, of course, but there you have it. So putting up a candidate fresh out of Iraq guarantees that the campaign will be about Iraq, when it should be about health care, taxes, etc. The only strength the GOP has is its war policy, and their ability to convince voters that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for bin Laden. The more the discussion focuses on these issues, the happier Karl Rove is. I think the Dems would be wise to stop letting the GOP distract voters by waging patriotic pissing contests and force them to start talking about domestic issues, on which the Democratic position outpolls the GOP stance almost universally. This, I think, is the road to victory. Terrorism and war should be marginalized as much as possible as a campaign issue, not willingly brought to center stage by running Iraq vets.

Racist overtones in King Kong

The wonders of the free market

'Free market' capitalism has given us a hundred variations on sugar-water, but just don't expect it to produce an AIDS vaccine any time soon - bad for business, after all. Much more profitable to keep people afflicted but dependent on maintenance drugs.

'Time-lapse phonography'

Via Boing Boing, composer R. Luke DuBois has created a piece called 'Billboard', made from "the 857 songs that have appeared at the top of the charts in the Billboard Top 100 since 1958". From DuBois' website:
Billboard allows you to get a birds-eye view of the Billboard Hot 100 by listening to all the #1 singles from 1958 through the millenium using a technique I've been working on for a couple of years called time-lapse phonography. The 857 songs used to make the piece are analyzed digitally and a spectral average is then derived from the entire song. Just as a long camera exposure will fuse motion into a single image, spectral averaging allows us to look at the average sonority of a piece of music, however long, giving a sort of average timbre of a piece. This gives us a sense of the average key and register of the song, as well as some clues about the production values present at the time the record was made; for example, the improvements in home stereo equipment over the past fifty years, as well as the gradual replacement of (relatively low-fidelity) AM radio with FM broadcasting has had an impact on how records are mixed... drums and bass lines gradually become louder as you approach the present, increasing the amount of spectral noise and low tones in our averages.

...Note that nothing of the original recording is used in this piece; everything that you hear is derived from a statistical algorithm applied to the original recordings. If you know the song used in the average, you may be able to sing the first few bars (or the main hook in the chorus) over the spectral average and find that you are quite in tune with it; in some cases, you may be surprised not to be.
You can listen here.

12/30/2005

No more 'Fighting Dems'

The majority of liberal Democrats are, quite simply, hideous at political strategy. This would be bad enough, if they realized it, but they don't; they think they are masters at it, and they end up doing things that are too clever by half.

Witness the fascination, especially among bloggers, with Democratic candidates who have military experience. Why anyone would think that being a veteran is an advantage for a Democrat, after the the flame-out of Wesley Clark and the swift-boating of John Kerry, is beyond me. But the delusion that Democrats can neutralize the GOP's advantage on 'national security' by running candidates who have worn a uniform persists.

Clark wins one straw poll after another at Daily Kos, and left-of-center bloggers are practically lining up to fellate Paul Hackett. Why? For one reason, and one reason only: they've served in the military. Military service, it is thought, is the key to electability, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Liberals really need to be shaken out of this delusion. Mike the Mad Biologist excerpts a nice essay by a Daily Kos diarist who explains why the 'Fighting Dems' strategy is so faulty:
When Bill Clinton defeated veterans George H.W. Bush then Bob Dole, the era of required military service to serve the people was declared dead. Why is the Democratic Party trying to revive a dead era?... what's the actual message? Is there any other kind of Democrat but a fighting one? Apparently not according to the "Fightin' Dems" brand. Forget education, jobs, privacy, community responsibility--our values and what we stand for; all we want now is 'boots on the ground' experience to combat Bush's war. The tactic looks cynical and reactionary--Why? Because it is. If many of us in the Democratic Party are turned off, what do you think swing voters (not to mention republicans) will think?

...If all we needed to take America back was an "officer and a gentleman" to sweep everyone from hippies to hawks off their feet, John Kerry would be President right now. And if the republicans didn't have a plan to undo every 'hero' someone places on a pedestal, John McCain wouldn't be a punchline.

...Does anyone really think this tactic scares republicans? One little bit? This distraction from the issues is permission to swift boat the entire party with broad brush strokes. I'm doing it right now. Look how easy we've made it. You can't swift boat someone until some moron places them on a pedestal...

..."Fightin' Dems" not only accepts the republican framing of the war as the most vital issue of our day, it endorses it. In Washington the war in Iraq may be the most important issue to "get Bush" but how does that translate to a family in NC, or AZ, or PA that can't buy food, afford healthcare or find a job? Triangulate. How do "Fightin' Dems" fighting Bush (or his war) help the average swing voter's bottom line? Politics 101: It's still the economy, Stupid.

...

Let me tell you what swing voters actually see in this giddy "Fightin' Dems" hysteria. 'Cause it aint pretty. Order takers, not following orders. Subordinates turning on their Commander in Chief. Whiners. Every "Fightin' Dem" is an insubordinate flip-flopper. See how easy that was? Did you really not see this coming? Learn from our mistakes. Stop repeating them.
Another reason to doubt the efficacy of this strategy is that it invites making 'national security' and foreign policy the focus of the campaign, which we all know is the road to victory for the GOP, not Democrats.

Fellow progressives, I implore you: stop with the half-baked realpolitik, and start just doing the right thing, because, frankly, you suck at realpolitik, and your attempts to out-Rove Rove just end up backfiring. The American people want someone who will stand up for their interests. Do that, and you've got it made. That's all the strategy you need.

Good point

If all those right-wingers want to "teach both sides" and "let the student decide" when it comes to evolution, then shouldn't all students be reading "Heather Has Two Mommies", so they can decide for themselves whether homosexuality is a legitimate way of life or an abomination? For that matter, shouldn't they be taught about safe sex and abstinence?

'Tis the season for list-making

And no one does it better than Jedmunds.

U.N. worse than Al Qaeda

According to falafel boy, anyway.

12/29/2005

Balls the size of church bells

Sixteen-year-old kid runs off to Baghdad for the holidays, without telling his family where he was going.

I said god DAMN.

A grisly but apt analogy

Jill at Feministe makes a case against the anti-choice argument by invoking an unusual analogy: a baby born with two heads.
I watched a documentary the other night on TLC on an Egyptian baby born with two heads ... the baby was born perfectly normal — except that at the top of its head, there was another head attached. The second head only had a neck, no body, and it used the other baby’s body for all of its basic life functions. But it had its own brain. It cried on its own, moved its own mouth, and blinked its eyes. It was, without a doubt, a separate being — except that it was a parasitic head, unable to survive without the other head and body it was attached to. What did the doctors do? They detached it, without a second ethical thought...

...what this documentary made clear is that there is no moral or ethical responsibility for one being to allow another to live off of it. Is a parasitic head exactly the same thing as pregnancy? Of course not ... But the ethical issues of detaching this being that has no chance of survival without the body its attached to are certainly similar. Even if we argue that fetuses are entirely separate beings, why should women be required to carry those beings to term, and to allow them to live off of their bodies without their consent? How would this be considered fair, ethical or moral in any other area of medicine or law?
This is exactly right. Much of the abortion debate is spent on the alleged personhood of the fetus, but the fact is that this has little bearing on the matter. Even if we were to grant a fetus full personhood - an absurd proposition anyway - it would by no means follow that a pregnant woman is morally obligated to allow the fetus to inhabit her body.

From the under-appreciated file ...

Badfinger - Baby Blue.mp3

12/28/2005

More on NSA poll

The more I think about it, and read others on it, I'm beginning to understand just how flawed that poll that wingnuts are trumpeting all over the place is, and how little it supports the idea that the public approves of the actions of Bush and the NSA. Ezra Klein:
...this is some insanely bad polling ... this question is just bizarre (or, to use the right word, biased). It's like gauging support for Bush's tax cuts by asking "Should the President lower your tax burden while stimulating the economy, encouraging growth, and reducing the deficit?" The question is so utopian as to be nonsensical.

There is a question that needs to be asked, though, and it's answer would be illuminating. And despite what the rightwing spinmeisters are trying to argue, it's the only question in this case:

"Should the National Security Agency be allowed to secretly spy on Americans without any oversight?"

Or, alternately:

"Do you believe the NSA should be able to listen in on your phone calls and read your e-mails without oversight, probable cause, or a warrant?"

Those, and their permutations, are the only questions that deserve polling.
AMERICAblog thinks the poll is bad news for the Bushists:
I've got news for you. [64% is] an abysmally low number for Bush.

Even I would probably approve of the NSA listening in on phone calls between suspected terrorists and "people living in the US" - notice the survey question didn't even say "Americans," it said "people living in the US," a description that would get EVEN MORE support for spying...

That number should have been in the 90 percentile and up, Americans who support the NSA eavesdropping on conversations with suspected terrorists. Yet it was only in the low 60s. Something's up.

And may I also add that the poll question has nothing to do with the current scandal. It says nothing about whether the administration should be able to break the law in doing such eavesdropping, nor whether the administration should be permitted to do such eavesdropping without having first obtained a court order. Again, each of those added facts would presumably lower the poll number considerably.

Again, that number should have been in the 90s. The fact that only 6 out of 10 Americans are willing to agree to such a broad question, to me, says that Bush is not on solid ground on this issue at all.

Two hundred and forty dollars ... worth of silly putty





Well, technically I don't know how much all that silly putty cost, but I do know that it weighed 250 pounds, and that they were having a bitch of a time breaking it up into smaller chunks.

Via Boing Boing.


UPDATE: Grace, in comments, does some investigative work and discovers that 250 pounds of silly putty would set you back about $3,750, including shipping - though one imagines that "a special discount could be arranged for a purchase of 250 pounds." So actually, that there is $3,750 ... worth of putty.

Barry and LeVon would be proud.

Poll numbers on NSA

They're not particularly encouraging, but also not particularly surprising:
December 28, 2005--Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that just 23% disagree.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans say they are following the NSA story somewhat or very closely.
This poll is a bit problematic because, as a commenter at DU points out, the issue isn't whether or not the NSA should be allowed to wiretap, it's whether they should be able to do it without a warrant, or more generally whether they should be allowed to wiretap illegally. Ask that, and your numbers might turn out differently.

But we might as well accept that there will always be a significant portion of the electorate that will be willing to sign off on almost any use of state power, so long as it is couched in terms of national security. Most people aren't civil libertarians; couldn't give a shit about civil liberties, actually - they figure if you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about.

This thing is already being framed in a manner similar to the Iran-Contra scandal: President breaks the law, but he does it to protect Americans. It's horseshit in both cases, of course, but as long as Bush is seen as overstepping his authority for the sake of 'national security' (again, horseshit), we should expect to see a majority of Americans supporting his actions. The re-election of Bush, a terrible president by any measure, proved that half the electorate will sign off on just about anything, as long as they're told that it will help protect them from The Terrorists.

12/27/2005

The Insights of Ass Missile

A seemingly infinite supply:
It's a generally accepted fact, I think, that Republicans tend to be happier and more optimistic people than Democrats.
Mmkay.

Who do you suppose is happier and more optimistic, the hangman or the man being hanged?
Q.: Do you think 2005 was better or worse than 2004 for you personally?

Republicans:
Better: 65%
Worse: 22%

Democrats:
Better: 41%
Worse: 45%

Note that the question was not about the direction of the country, or about any aspect of current affairs; respondents were asked how 2005 was for "you personally" ... I find these results astonishing. The only apparent explanation is that Democrats--not just the activists and political junkies, but millions and millions of Democrats--were so depressed over President Bush's re-election that they perceived 2005 as a bad year for them "personally."

This explains, I guess, the venom and persistence with which the Democrats attack the Bush administration. It appears that millions of them really believe that President Bush is ruining their lives! There are lots of Democrats, apparently, who need to take a deep breath, get over the last election, and cheer up.
Yes, Democrats: with practice, you too can cease to give two shits about anybody but yourself, and define your own personal happiness not in terms of the suffering of others but rather your own investment portfolio.

'Tis the season, after all.

The Boss is right

I'm not a huge Bruce Springsteen fan - I like his politics more than his music - but I did appreciate this quote of his from a recent interview (HT: bg truth):
We forget that every adult was brought up on fairy tales so it's natural to go on and, politically for example, want to believe that your President is a nice, honest man. The inability to turn to an adult perspective once you get to the age where you have some political weight is a great tragedy, and this is a period of history when it seems the most obvious type of disguise is on display to the entire world and yet those are the people who are still in power.
This is exactly right, though I would add that the "inability" to see things as they are is more like a refusal to do so, and is thus not only a great tragedy but a profound moral failure as well. Any mentally competent adult is quite capable of giving up fairy tales, and it is to their everlasting shame if they fail to do so.

Who wants to hear Sonic Youth's version of the Simpsons theme song?

You know you do:

Sonic Youth - Simpsons Theme.mp3


Something seems very wrong with Thurston.

Support the troops! (Unless it gets too expensive)

Apparently a bunch of cry-baby veterans are whining about something called "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," and expecting Uncle Sam to pay for their treatment! So the government is disputing their diagnoses and trying to limit their benefits.

But the GOP "supports the troops," don't you worry. You can tell by their willingness to send them off to die in pointless wars. Is it their fault that the soldiers turn into a bunch of whimpering nancy boys when they get back?

The McCain solution

Howard Dean has occasionally been compared to John McCain, but in one way, they are polar opposites. While the media is generally hostile and unfair to Dean, framing practically everything he says, no matter how reasonable, as a gaffe, Senator McCain continues to enjoy a free pass, and is never held accountable for anything he says, no matter how insipid.

For example, when asked his view on the controversy over whether to include so-called 'Intelligent Design' in school curricula, his response was: "Let the student decide."

Let the student decide. Great idea. Just brilliant.

I suppose this is the kind of boldness that makes McCain a media darling.

No word on whether McCain wants to "let the student decide" what the laws of physics are.

12/26/2005

Historical precedent

I've been seeing this argument a lot lately:
This is lunatic - the NSA program is clearly legal and just as clearly vital for national security ... what we are doing is no different from listening in to Japanese and German communications during World War Two. Were we violating Hirohito's Fourth Amendment rights? Was FDR attempting to create a dictatorship by slow steps?
Are you sure you want to use "FDR did it during WWII" as the standard? That would mean that Bush would be within his rights to round up all Muslim-Americans and put them in internment camps. ("Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?")

Wait. I guess you actually wouldn't mind that at all.

Never mind.

Sirota responds to Drum

Kevin Drum, of course, decided that it was "indefensible" for the TWU to demand retirement at age 55 with a pension of $27,000 a year. David Sirota asks:
...why is there such animosity/jealousy in America towards the few working-class laborers who have successfully fought together to achieve basic economic gains? Shouldn't that be the point of economic progress? Or does economic progress in America no longer have anything to do with actual benefits for workers?
That's what I was wondering. For the right wing, economic progress is measured solely in terms of the GDP and the unemployment rate (as opposed to, say, working class salaries, even distribution of wealth, or standards of living).

But liberals are supposed to support gains by workers, not begrudge them every little victory they might win.

12/25/2005

More crazy leftists raising the specter of impeachment

The whacked-out liberals at Barron's magazine, published by Dow Jones (which also publishes the Wall Street Journal), are apparently suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome:

AS THE YEAR WAS DRAWING TO A CLOSE, we picked up our New York Times and learned that the Bush administration has been fighting terrorism by intercepting communications in America without warrants. It was worrisome on its face, but in justifying their actions, officials have made a bad situation much worse: Administration lawyers and the president himself have tortured the Constitution and extracted a suspension of the separation of powers.

...Putting the president above the Congress is an invitation to tyranny. The president has no powers except those specified in the Constitution and those enacted by law. President Bush is stretching the power of commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy by indicating that he can order the military and its agencies, such as the National Security Agency, to do whatever furthers the defense of the country from terrorists, regardless of whether actual force is involved.

...Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.

It is important to be clear that an impeachment case, if it comes to that, would not be about wiretapping, or about a possible Constitutional right not to be wiretapped. It would be about the power of Congress to set wiretapping rules by law, and it is about the obligation of the president to follow the rules in the Acts that he and his predecessors signed into law.

Some ancillary responsibility, however, must be attached to those members of the House and Senate who were informed, inadequately, about the wiretapping and did nothing to regulate it. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, told Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 that he was "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities." . . . Published reports quote sources saying that 14 members of Congress were notified of the wiretapping. If some had misgivings, apparently they were scared of being called names, as the president did last week when he said: "It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Wrong. If we don't discuss the program and the lack of authority for it, we are meeting the enemy -- in the mirror."

(Via No Blood For Hubris.)

Impressively stupid

A woman didn't want to give her boyfriend her cell phone. So she ate it.

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - A lovers’ dispute over a cell phone ended suddenly when the woman swallowed the phone whole, police said.

Police said they received a call at 4:52 a.m. Friday from a Blue Springs man who said his girlfriend was having trouble breathing. When they arrived at the house they found the 24-year-old woman had a cell phone lodged in her throat.

“He wanted the phone and she wouldn’t give it to him, so she attempted to swallow it,” Detective Sgt. Steve Decker of the Blue Springs Police Department. “She just put the entire phone in her mouth so he couldn’t get it.”

Sometimes, someone does something so absurdly stupid that you have to just give them props.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory Sanity is not statistical.