Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sycophantic Media and Lost Elections

I was writing about Obama's handling of the Wright affair and the media's handling of it, and it struck me again that control of the media may actually be the left's biggest problem.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, that having the sycophantic support of all of the traditional media outlets would harm a political movement's interests, but it does.

Think for a moment about this Wright issue. If the press chose to bury it, and were there no alternative media to keep it alive, Obama could chose to sweep it under the rug, not deal with it at all, and, with the collusion of the MSM, this story would go away. Obama would then proceed to waltz to the nomination and enter the general election, confident he is destined for the presidency.

However, in hiding the story, or at least playing it down, the press actually is doing Obama no favors. Just because the press has failed to cover a story does not mean it has gone away. The facts are still there, the public would be just a troubled by them as ever, the story simply has not been brought to the attention of the public.

So, come general election time, that is precisely what his opponent will do. The press cannot refuse to cover the Republican candidate, no matter what their bias, so McCain will have every chance to bring up Wright and ask what it means that Obama associated with the man for two decades. Suddenly, the story that went away is front and center, and rather than losing the primary for Obama, it is now losing the general election for all Democrats.

Thus, by trying to help, the friendly press actually ends up hurting their favored party and favored candidates. Rather than allowing the primaries to get ugly, bringing up scandals when they can be settled inside the party, and weeding out those candidates who will lose the general election, the press gives Democrats a kid glove treatment, allows them to cover up problems, and permits losing candidates to secure the nomination.

It may actually be better for the left were they facing a confrontational press, rather than the friendly one they have now.

ADDENDUM

I know this idea is hardly original to me, but the Wright incident just provided a perfect example. If the MSM decide to turn the whole Wright denunciation into "unnews" (to coin a Newspeak word), it will set up a perfect issue for McCain to exploit should Obama secure the nomination.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/15.

NOTE: It is hard to tell where my prediction went  wrong here. Yes, McCain never really exploited the media's attempts to gloss over Obama's history, and so is partly to blame. On the other hand, the media buried several of these issues so thoroughly, McCain may not have been able to exploit them anyway, as they simply had never registered in the consciousness of most voters.

I Am Skeptical

So, after 20 years of attending a church, listening to its pastor, and claiming that same pastor as his spiritual mentor, Obama is surprised to learn that the man has militant black nationalist beliefs? Pardon me if I am a bit skeptical of this claim.

I am not yet ready to write on this topic in depth, as so far we only have Obama's scripted distancing of himself from his pastor. Far more interesting will be the responses of the chattering classes over the weekend, and Obama's replies to their comments. If they give him a pass, the story will probably fade away as Obama wishes. If they refuse to buy into his convenient claims of failing to hear any of the more inflammatory sermons, then things will become more interesting.

Of course, no one really believes Obama. To accept his claims we have to believe that this church was just like any other church, except every so often the pastor launched into virulently anti-American, black nationalist sermons, and Obama happened to skip services, purely by coincidence, on each and every one of those days over the past 20 years. That is a pretty convenient coincidence, even for someone leading a charmed life, like Obama.

But even if we could accept those claims, Obama's excuses still don't work. There is no way his church is a normal Christian institution with just the periodic black nationalism tacked on. From everything I have read, his church is more of a political movement hiding behind the guise of a church, rather than a traditional church which happened to employ a lone militant. In the same way that Hitler tried to manipulate the Lutheran church into becoming a wing of the NSDAP, or the "liberation theology" scholars tried to turn Catholicism into a wing of socialism, the black nationalists have found that they can hide their more extreme activities, and gain a veneer of respectability by hiding behind nominal churches. And that seems to be true of Obama's place of worship and his spiritual mentor of the past 20 years.

All of which makes me doubt that these anti-American sermons were an aberration. Far more likely, there was a strain of militant black nationalism and anti-Americanism present in every sermon, as a part of the unstated philosophy driving the church itself. Nor do I think that the pastor himself made any effort to hide his heart-felt beliefs.

So, if Obama managed to attend this church for 20 years, while also being in close contact with the pastor, close enough to call the man an influence on his thinking, and failed to notice this strain of militant black nationalism and anti-American sentiment, then he has to be superhumanly inept at understanding human nature. If we accept his claims, then his simple lack of perception, and failure to grasp even the basics of human nature seem to make him unqualified to hold office.

But, of course, I don't believe he is that obtuse. Far more likely all of this is simply a convenient lie. Which should also disqualify him for office. But, as we all know, Democrats have no problem with lies, as long as they are "just about sex" or one's liberal beliefs.

ADDENDUM

As I said in my update today to "Changing Predictions", at the moment superdelegates are shifting back to Obama due mainly to the Ferraro brouhaha and Hillary's racism mea culpa. I think the MSM will try to bury the Wright story to keep Obama viable, but, should the fifth estate (the alternative media) keep this story alive, we may see those superdelegates realign more heavily in Hillary's favor once again.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/15.

Idiots or Geniuses?

The media has an interesting take on our intelligence agencies. Most of the time they are portrayed as imbeciles, playing at being spies, who have no idea what they are doing. That is, they are imbeciles until they publish a report critical of a Republican administration, then suddenly our intelligence operatives turn into wise elder statesmen to whose judgment we must all defer.

Most recently we have seen this in the report on ties between al Qaida and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but that is not the first time I have observed this phenomenon.

Before this most recent report we had the NIE declaring that Iran was no longer pursuing military applications for its nuclear technology. Of course, to the press and politicians on the left, this was a dream come true. They used the report as a blunt tool with which to beat on the Bush administration, claiming that Bush now had no reason to avoid negotiations with Iran (conveniently ignoring that Iran was sending troops into Iraq to train terrorist to attack our troops, and, sometimes, even attacking our troops directly).

Of course, as this report was one of those which the press believes, we heard no criticism of the intelligence agents responsible. Suddenly, the press was filled with boundless confidence in the brilliance and impartiality of our spies and analysts. No one mentioned that the enrichment of uranium is the major hurdle in creating nuclear weapons, so abandoning "military research" while pursuing enrichment did not slow down at all their progress toward a nuclear weapon. Their "civilian" research was distinguishable from their military research only by the meaning the analysts chose to give the program. But, as this report was critical of Bush, the press chose, for once, to give the intelligence agencies the benefit of the doubt, and just ignore those inconvenient facts. They also ignored the fact that for several years these same agencies, even some of the same agents, had been reporting that they were confident Iran WAS pursuing military application, though they later claimed that military research had stopped for several years. Given the obvious uncertainty of intelligence in this matter, one would think caution would be indicated, but instead the press greeted the new NIE with glee and treated it as gospel.*

Let us contrast this with the reports that Saddam was pursuing or in possession of WMDs. In this case, the discovery of "agricultural chemicals" in military bunkers, of "pesticides" stored with shells in underground caches, and the discovery of shells filled with mustard gas and sarin has been deemed insufficient to prove that Saddam had WMDs. In this case, as the argument goes in favor of the Bush administration, the press has decided that the intelligence agencies are idiots, and they are simply "rushing to judgment" in order to provide cover for the administration. In short, the press imagines that our intelligence analysts are all morons. (Ignoring the fact that some of these "morons" later became the "geniuses" that produced the Iran NIE.)

So, now we come to the latest report. While it actually is rather ambivalent about ties between al Qaida and Iraq, apparently the press thinks it can be spun to again impugn the Bush administration, so they have once again decided that intelligence analysts are unrecognized geniuses. However, they have been rather selective in reporting on the conclusions of those geniuses. They have made much of the "no smoking gun" line from the introduction, but gloss over the many later mentions of Saddam's direct involvement in supporting terrorism. So, it seems that even when dealing with geniuses, the press wants to have final say over what content is news worthy.

From past experience, here is my prediction of how the press will handle this most recent report. At the moment it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, as they can make it sound critical of Bush. Should that remain the only message people get from the report, they will continue to play up the validity of the report. However, should conservatives or others manage to bring to light the many other mentions of ties between Saddam and al Qaida, the press will suddenly find problems. The intelligence agents will instantly become fools once again, or else willing stooges of the administration. And the most authoritative report ever will turn into a piece of propaganda overnight.

Funny how the same people can be both geniuses and fools, and the same report can be both definitive and meaningless, depending on how the story plays out.

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* I ignored a number of other objections I raised in my earlier essays on this topic. They are linked in the article above, but can also be found here, here and here. For those interested, my two essays on Iraq can be found here and here.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/14.


NOTE: The ABC news link above is not stored in archive.org, but the original link still works, and so has been retained.

So, What is "Change"?

As I have been saying Obama has no positions for some time, I figured it was time to prove what I allege. So I spent some time recently going through Obama's "Blueprint For Change" again. And, as I expected, I found very little in it that tells me what Obama will do.

It opens with a normal politico boilerplate introduction, nothing exciting there. I am sure the devout will someday write an exegesis on it, but to me it could have come from any campaign. That is followed by a full page platitude, a strange little addition which pads the booklet out to 64 pages by being repeated again and again. Now, I know Obama is supposed to be some mystical font of wisdom, but if I am looking for a concrete plan for change, I really don't need little motivational poster quality blurbs from the man. It just seems out of place. The whole thing looks more like a company mission statement or a university brochure.

Following that is a big section on transparency. This is the one section in which Obama does really take a stand. Of course, it is a a stand taken by just about every politician I have ever heard speak. He is against lobbyists, wants transparency, and wants to end undue influence. In other words, he is saying what every other politician says in public. No one has ever run on being for lobbyists or supporting undue influence. So, while I know he is taking a stand, it really is just the modern equivalent of "mom, baseball and apple pie", everyone is for it, so he is not exactly taking a stand here.

Let's move on.

Strangely, there is no little bite sized bit of Obama wisdom between the transparency section and the health care one. At this early point we are not yet used to it, but those little aphorisms appear between each major heading, making this quite apparent on the second reading. But, as that has little to do with my purpose, I will just continue along.

The health care section is left-leaning, but bland. In other words, I can't say it could be proposed by any politician, as I can't see McCain or Paul coming out for universal health care, but it is general enough to be from any Democrat's plan. Obama is for universal health care. That's it. No specifics, no details, just a statement that he's for it, and, as in every section, a list of his credentials. (More on that later.) So, we now know Obama is for universal coverage in general, and may support motherhood as well.

After another inspirational blurb, Obama launches into matters economic. As expected, he is for prosperity. No, really, most of the section pretty much amounts to "I will do what is good for the economy", again devoid of details. He even manages to have a section on trade which does not tell whether he is for free trade, restrictions, anything. Reading this he could be anywhere from Marx to von Mises. Well, there are a few jabs at business that make it clear he is a Democrat, but if you remove those he could be anywhere on the spectrum.

The one concrete proposal is not quite as concrete as it appears. Obama does promise a $1000 reduction in taxes for "working families". Now, as not all "working families" pay $1000 in taxes, or any taxes at all, I don't know if he intends another EITC here or not. But even ignoring that, this statement is still so vague as to be meaningless. What is a working family? Do Bill and Melinda Gates qualify? The both have jobs. As we learned when Clinton defined "rich" as $50,000/year for tax purposes, any tax breaks or increases targeted at specific groups can be manipulated easily. So, while it sounds like Obama is promising some sweeping tax break for the middle class here, he could be promising a handful of  alternate welfare payments to the "working poor" instead. What he promises is just too vague to be considered a real position.

After a half-page blurb, Obama moves on to promise he will protect social security. Need I say that few details are provided? He does give a sob story about being raised by his grandparents and goes on a bit about being nice to old folks, but his whole plan seems to be to increase or remove the payroll cap on social security taxes, somehow introduce transparency to medicare/medicaid and get cheaper drugs. In other words, standard vague boilerplate. Some positions that any politician could take, some that are Democrat specific, but nothing really original, and certainly not enough details to see with any specificity what he would do once in office.

Perhaps we can speed this up a bit, as the pattern should be becoming obvious. So, a half-page blurb, then promises to throw money at failing schools. Another half page blurb, more green jobs and no foreign oil, and he will make the sun shine brighter but stop global warming.  Another half-page blurb, and he swears loyalty to PAY-GO, as that has worked so well so far, and because no one can game the system under an Obama regime.  A full page blurb and we get promises of support for farmers, which is definitely a position no presidential candidate besides Obama would take. Another full page blurb and we get the required "pay equality" and "medical leave for women" content, standard for all Democrats. A half-page blurb and we get generic platitudes about "comprehensive immigration reform", and we all know how much those promises mean from any politician.

Another full page blurb. (Bear with me, we are in the home stretch now.) Now a plan to handle poverty, including the usual promises of moving the poor into the workforce, but sounding pretty much like the standard Democrat boilerplate. Another full page blurb, and then a volunteer service idea that has been kicked around by Democrats for years. Nothing new here. A half-page blurb, and some generic civil rights promises. In keeping with Obama's strategy of letting others make race an issue, he keeps the civil rights section shorter than the women's rights section, so as to maintain his claim of not playing on his race.

After another half-page blurb comes the section for which I had been waiting, his defense strategies. As expected* he is all for talking our enemies to death. He will withdraw from Iraq, talk to Iran, and eliminate nuclear weapons. On the other hand, he also somehow plans to end the genocide in Darfur, though how that goes along with his decidedly anti-aggression, anti-intervention plans, designed to make us everybody's buddy is not explained. Apparently, we need to be loved by everyone EXCEPT Sudan. And war is bad, except in Sudan. And we are in a quagmire in Iraq, just creating more terrorists, but getting into Darfur would never create more terrorists or involve us in a quagmire. In short, usual Democrat confusion, promising to get rid of all that icky military and make everyone love us, but also promising to use the military he eliminated to attack the villain du jour. Nothing new, but pretty pathetic at this level of political campaigning. Democrats usually try to hide their confused foreign policies a bit better than this.

Moving on.

A full page blurb and we get to the final section, Obama's plans for veterans. As this amounts to basically saying "Bush did wrong" and promising to throw money at the problem, I think we can just wrap this up.

Before I summarize, I would like to point out a rather annoying feature of the Obama brochure, the strange mix of arrogance and timidity. It is full of blurbs showing off Obama's way with words, which would seem to suggest a man far too in love with himself. But on the other hand, each section has a long, apologetic list of Obama's credentials in that specific area of policy. Reading through the brochure it becomes obvious that, for all the adulation of Obama, the write is also aware that Obama is a relatively inexperienced lightweight, and puts in these "qualifications" and "achievements" to justify Obama's run for president.

It all just gives a very conflicted message, half boast and half plea. It can be rather disconcerting at times.

So, having read through his official policy statement, what exactly does Obama believe? Well, not a lot, it seems. He has a lot of Democrat boilerplate, and some positions that could be embraced by any politician, but in every case, he is very light on specifics. He does make some specific statements about foreign policy, but those are more embarrassing than inspiring, as even Democrats are unlikely to be inspired by promises to leave the "quagmire" or Iraq only to jump into the "quagmire" of Darfur.

In short, Obama's document reads as content free and amateurish as the rest of his campaign. He is fine at spouting platitudes, and he can ramble at great length, so long as he avoids any details. Once he gets into specifics (as in his foreign policy) he says far too much, and shows his lack of experience. I just cannot see the Clinton campaign being foolish enough to either promise to eliminate nuclear arms or to invade Darfur. Both are likely to drive away large sections of moderates, the first for being too left, the other by alienating peaceniks. In this one case, he would have been better off sticking to his usual vague responses.

In other words, nothing in this document has changed my impression of Obama at all. He still has not really committed to any positions, and the few to which he has committed himself are unlikely to win him any votes.

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* This part is completely in keeping with Obama's previous statements on foreign policy. From his mysteriously aggressive stand on Pakistan, to his just plain mysterious statements about Iraq, Obama has not proven very strong on matters of foreign relations and defense.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/14.

A Cure for Infertility

I know this is far from my usual topics, but I think I have found a cure for infertility, so I wanted to share it with everyone as a public service.

The solution is simple. If you want to have children, all you need to do is make sure one of your friends or relatives is trying to have a child too. Without fail, you will give birth to quintuplets.

How did I reach this conclusion? Simple. Ever since my wife and I decided to try to have another child, it appears everyone within a ten mile radius is popping out children like a Pez dispenser, not to mention every single friend and relative. It has reached the point where I am starting to expect even the men I know to somehow get pregnant.

So, if you want to have a child, you can either move next door to me, or you can just convince an infertile friend to give it a try. I guarantee you will conceive just to vex them.

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Spell check update: In case you were wondering, no, my spell checker does not know the word "Pez". In fact, it seems not to know a lot of words. It has a strange assortment of proper nouns and brand names it will accept, but apparently "Pez" and "Objectivist" are not on the list. That last one is odd, as the free software folk tend to think of themselves as revolutionary libertarians, so I would have expected Objectivist to be on the list. "Ayn Rand" is not underlined, but for some reason, "Objectivist" is. I still don't get it.

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UPDATED 03/21/2008

Apparently it does work. Check out this site.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/14.

NOTE: As the link to the Townhall blog is not in archive.org, I have left the original link. It work as of this writing [2008/04/28], so there should be no problem for readers.

Confusing Money and Votes

I was reading something by John  Fund1 this morning when I realized that political insiders sometimes lose some degree of common sense. To be specific, the pundits sometimes forget that "the voters" is not some entity that exists out there, responding in mechanistic ways to various inputs, but is a huge mass made up of thinking individuals just like them.

You hear it all the time "The Democrats have more money, so the Republicans are in trouble", or "the Democrats ran right, so they outflanked the Republicans". All of these statements contain a grain of truth, but all take that little truth and take it too far, forgetting that elections are not mechanistic, and that money or policy statements alone do not win elections.

Take, for example, money. A campaign can obviously be lost for want of money, but that only goes so far, at some point money is adequate and the value of additional inputs is small or nonexistent. Yes, it is important to get our a message, but at some point the value of money stops. In fact, sometimes having too much money can hurt a campaign, just ask Mitt Romney. Being the guy with all the cash does not always play well with the voters, nor do voters like to be inundated with too much advertising. If they feel they are being manipulated, voters may rebel against the advertiser.2 But sometimes pundits miss this by concentrating on elections as finite state machines, determined by a number of "factors".

The same can be said for "triangulation". While it is true that Bill Clinton was elected and reelected by "running right", and it is also true that some Democrats in 2006 won by shifting right, they could only do so because they managed to appear to sincerely believe in their "centrist" position.3 Voters are not idiots who will buy whatever a candidate says. When Hillary plays "hawk" on Iraq, does anyone truly buy it? Voters are not brainless, and do not lack memory, they know Hillary is trying to look centrist, but has no love of the military and will cut and run the first moment she can do so. Her efforts to appear hawkish may convince voters she will be less likely to retreat immediately than her rivals, but that is all.

The same applies to the recent Democrat stand against earmarks. While it may play well to the press, the electorate does not buy it. They know that, of the two parties, the Democrats are the more besotted with taxing citizens, and any sort of spending restrictions, however unlikely it is either party will support them, will come from the Republicans. Just because the Democrats mouth fiscal responsibility does not mean the voters will buy it. To convince the voters, a candidate needs both a compelling position, and credibility. Pundits often forget that second part.

In some ways, I blame our social sciences. All our social sciences seem dedicated to abstracting the humanity from human behavior. For example, it is rare to read an economics text which speaks of "choice", all postulate curves and charts without explaining where they originate. They seem to imagine "the market" as some vast deterministic mechanism, without any human involvement. Only a very few economists have even stated the obvious that, due to human nature, those "supply and demand curves" are not fixed structures, but can fluctuate wildly from second to second.4 Most traditional economists treat them instead as rather static "givens", with no reference to the human choices underlying them.

And economics is hardly the worst offender, one need only read a sociology text to see the strange spectacle of a discipline dedicated to human behavior which seems to completely ignore individual choices. Social science in general, for whatever reasons, has somehow forgotten that the rest of humanity, just like the social scientists, make decisions for themselves, based upon a host of unknowable influences, not as the result of a fixed, mechanistic process driving "society" without reference to any individuals.5

But we remove the humanity from human behavior at our own risk. When we try to predict elections based on "factors" driving a deterministic model, without giving any thought to the humans who make the final decision,6 we often arrive at proven, sound, rational conclusions which turn out to be absolutely incorrect.

But anyone who has followed the predictions of political pundits know that to be true.

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1. To be fair, Fund is actually one of the better commentators and tends to analyze elections relatively thoroughly. It was simply his mention of Republican money troubles in congress which brought this whole topic to mind, so he has the misfortune of having his name attached.

2. There is also a limit to what money can do. Some campaigns are doomed regardless of money. No matter how much you pour into a "Duke for President" or "Farrakhan for President" campaign, you have no hope of winning.

3. The same applies to Bush's "compassionate conservative" position, which essentially amounts to a Republican running left. It wasn't mentioned at the time of the election, but Bush basically won by triangulation as well.

4. VonMises' Human Action is one of the rare exceptions, as he spends a large part of the text on explaining how human decisions work, how all valuation is relative to other values, ordinal not cardinal, and then showing how those decision making processes translate into the phenomena of economics. But he is unusual in this regard.

5. Actually, the "all humans are machines" assumption is what always puzzled me about behaviorists. Do the behaviorists themselves think they are machines as well? Or do they think they are the only truly "rational" beings, and the rest of us are machines? I could never quite grasp the thinking of the truly consistent behaviorist.

6. Yes, we can still generalize about humanity. There is still some regularity to behavior, with a bit of random deviation. My complaint is not that we should never generalize, but that sometimes our models serve to obscure the truly human factors. For example, a model may predict that, given enough money, Obama could win over the klansman vote, where a bit of rational thought would show that to be impossible. While such a stupid result would rarely make it past even the most obtuse pundit, only slightly less stupid conclusions do make it through on the strength of "models" and :theories" every day.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/14.

Changing Predictions

I know I have been predicting that the superdelegates may surprise everyone by throwing in with Hillary rather than Obama, but it seems circumstances have overtaken my original prediction. Not that it is impossible my first prediction will prove true, it just seems much less likely.

A few weeks ago, when Hillary carried Texas and Ohio, and even before that, when the press started making its first tentative criticisms of Saint Obama, I began to predict that the power brokers of the Democrat Party were looking for an out, a way to off-load Obama and return support to Hillary, most likely as they began to realize Obama's messianic campaign would have no appeal outside of the liberal base, and because, combined with his ultra-liberal record, that cult-like fan base may actually turn off the center. So, seeing their opportunity for a win evaporating, I believe some in the party started looking for a justification to allow the superdelegates to decide the race in favor of Hillary Clinton.

At least they were until Geraldine Ferraro manage to destroy a second campaign.

Now, do not get me wrong, I think what Ferraro said was perfectly correct, at least as far as race is concerned. But she managed to take something that had not been an issue and turn it into an election-losing scandal.

Hillary had long managed to avoid any problems of race, even in the incredibly sensitive Democrat Party. Given the regularity with which the left finds "racism" as a motive for any action, it is amazing she could run against a popular black candidate for so long without being accused of racism, but she did. Even when Bill made a major gaffe in talking about South Carolina, she managed to smooth it over, being accused mainly of opportunism rather than racism. Hillary, proving a much better politician than I had believed, managed to even criticize Obama without being tagged with the dread scarlet R.

Then came campaign killer Geraldine. This time, not with tears, but with a few badly chosen words, and an ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

When the story first broke, I did not immediately change my predictions, as there seemed no reason. First Hillary had proven quite slippery in terms of racism charges. Second, no matter what Ferraro said, it did not change the motives I think are driving the party elite to draw back from Obama. Third, it was still quite possible that the issue could fade from public consciousness quickly.

But, for a man who "never mentions race", Obama sure has a lot of supporters who mention nothing else, and they kept the story alive, leaving us with the sad spectacle of Hillary apologizing for the racism of not just Ferraro, but her husband as well. It definitely makes me think that the election has changed once more.

Not that the reasons the party may want to ditch Obama have changed, but they no longer have the cover they once did. Before the superdelegates could point to the swing in momentum and say Hillary was gaining support, people were having second thoughts about Obama, and throw their weight behind Clinton. They still could, but, given the current environment, they would risk the career-ending charge of racism, and that brand is not something a liberal Democrat would ever risk.

So, unless there is another drastic shift before the convention, I believe that it will be an Obama-McCain race*.

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* I included this last link, as, despite the changes in Hillary's fortunes, I still think the analysis I gave before is correct. Obama still has no hope of winning both the center and the left. His Obamaniacs will not stomach a swing right, and the center won't buy his messianic identity, so McCain has only to avoid making too many tremendous gaffes to waltz into the white house. (I am sure some Obama supporter will tell me I am wrong, and explain that everyone on earth will bow before Obama, but I just don't see it happening.)

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UPDATED 03/15/2008

It appears my prediction is coming true. The superdelegates are giving up on their pro-Hillary insurrection, as their cover evaporates. Then again, the Rev. Wright issue may give them the wedge they need to restore their doubts about Obama and allow them to shift back. It all depends on how the Wright story plays over the weekend and next week.

I will update my prediction as events change. For now, I think the pres may try to bury the Wright story, so it all depends on the alternative media. If the "5th estate" can keep the Wright story alive, Obama may see his superdelegates flee again. If not, then this story can always come back to kill Obama's hopes in the general election. In either case, Obama will definitely see some damage from his association with Wright, the only question is when it strikes.

ADDENDUM 03/15/2008


I was reading through other blogs and came across this one. The idea is similar to what I have been saying, though the author argues that Hillary may force the superdelegates into her corner, rather than postulating that the superdelegates may be defecting on their own as I have. It is another way of looking at things, and an interesting one, so I thought I should point it out.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/14.

NOTE: I could not find a copy of the Townhall blog link on archive.org, but as the original link still works, I allowed it to remain as it was.

Cult?

In describing my recent Obama articles to my mother I met with a troubling response. Actually it is the same response I get from the Obama supporters who comment here. It is not so much the words that bother me, but the assumption that I share them.

You see, when I was speaking about how race is an unspoken major element in Obama's campaign, my mother argued that race had little to do with, following that with the disturbing words "You have to admit he is charismatic."*

It stopped me cold. The same way I am surprised when people speak of L. Ron Hubbard or Reverend Moon, that silent assumption that someone is horribly wonderful and charismatic and that everyone else must see it too.**

You see, I just don't get it. To me Obama isn't charismatic, he isn't even all that great a speaker. It is just too noticeable that he is doing all he can to avoid taking a stand, that he has plans to hit certain buzz words, and strives mightily to do so, keeping up his "change per hour" rate. He just sounds like a politician who has found a line that works and wants to milk it for all its worth. His platitudes such as "change we can believe in" and his efforts to push lines such as "I want to help you change Washington" just sound too much like all the pre-packaged populist pablum we have heard from Democrats for years. Even his delivery is nothing new.

The only innovation Obama has offered is the realization that he can win without presenting even a single concrete position. And that does not fill me with adoration for the man.

All of which seems to be missed by the Obama supporters. To them, he is the most eloquent, wonderful, perceptive, witty speaker ever, possessed of keen insight and a brilliant mind. No one has ever walked the earth who is quite as charming and delightful as him, nor will there ever be his equal. Beliefs which make the supporters here, and those few I meet in my daily life, even those not completely overcome with Obamania, seem more than a little bit like cult members.

Which actually may explain why they are so offended with claims that race plays a role in their support. You see, it may have played a role, may have been a motivator, but now that they have sold their souls to Obama, they can't imagine that there is any reason NOT to support him. They don't ask why they support him, they wonder why anyone else wouldn't. Just read the comments I received from Obama supporters to see examples. They think that saying he "has run a  good campaign" or "has positions" resolves the question. They think they don't support him because of race, as everyone should support him just because he is wonderful. And even when they say he will cure racial problems, it isn't because he is black, but only because someone so great would of necessity cure all problems.

That is what disturbs me about Obama. I know I said before he is an inkblot upon which people project their hopes and wishes. But when I said it, I didn't realize that I was also describing a cult leader. Yet, that is what Obama seems to be becoming. His followers have gone beyond adoration into outright worship. They hang on his every word, even fainting in sheer delight at his proximity. They think he can cure all ills, and cannot imagine anyone questioning his right to rule. He has gone from politician to "beloved leader" in their eyes.

Now I am sure there are Obama supporters who don't fit the cult mindset. Probably a few of the youngsters out there are just chasing after the trendy movement of the moment, or are doing it to appease their girlfriends, or to meet new ones. A few of the fainting young ladies probably have more of a rock star-like crush, rather than a cult-like adoration. And some, even some of the older supporters who should know better, may be supporting him because he is cute or liberal or whatever. But there is a disturbing number of Obama supporters who seem to attribute to him almost superhuman charisma that those not so enamored just don't see.

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* The rest of our conversation was amusing for different reasons. She claimed that people rarely voted on policies and positions, saying people were voting for Hillary because she was a woman, or Obama because he was black. My reply, "You only think so because you're a Democrat", amused me, but was not that well received.

** To be fair to my mother, she does not seem to be one of the Obama cult members. In all honesty, I really don't know what she sees in Obama. She is a liberal, but is remarkably sensible for a liberal. She opposes mandatory smoking bans, campaigns against "bad foods", and Maryland's recent proposals to require medical approval of tanning. Except for a strange faith in the UN and a belief that we can just agree to never have wars (well, and some of the usual feminist gibberish to which her generation seems especially susceptible), she hardly seems liberal in conversation. How she is taken in by such a content-free charlatan is beyond me.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/13.

Obama Update

As I dared to mention race and Obama, I am starting to get comments challenging my assertion that his race plays any role in Obama's campaign.

Well, as I said in a comment to my earlier post, Obama's supporters seem to think otherwise.* The supporters themselves are telling me Obama's campaign is all about healing racial divides (their words, not mine). Who am I to deny their own assertions about their motives?

Well, actually,they may all be using that "healing the racial divide" bit because of that first article to which I linked, which, though written by a private citizen, it is hosted on an official Obama site. You see, as I have been told, Obama doesn't mention race. He just publicizes it when others mention it for him. Somehow it isn't quite the same as not mentioning it at all.

So, please, tell me again how race has nothing to do with Obama's success.


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* As my formatting does not make it clear, each word links to a different article. Some are commentators who support Obama, some simple supporters, yet all agree race is a factor.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/13.

A Very Simple Truth

I was reading Walter William's article on ethanol, and all the attached comments, and while all the criticisms about technical issues, costs, and so on are all perfectly valid, they all overlook one very simple argument against ethanol. If enough people wanted ethanol, it would be profitable to produce it.

Our current technology does make ethanol more expensive than gasoline, but that should not be an impediment. If the public at large were clamoring for ethanol, they would be willing to pay a premium for it, at least until the profits spurred innovation that made ethanol cost competitive, or even cheaper than gasoline. That is how the market works, if something is in demand, providers try to get it to them at a reasonable cost. If they want it badly enough, consumers even pay a premium to keep the good in circulation until prices can be reduced.

The fact that the government has to subsidize ethanol says one thing. People do not want ethanol badly enough for it to be cost effective.

In other words, though our government claims to be enacting the will of the people, in this case, it is actually circumventing the will of the people. The market expresses the popular will perfectly, and it says people don't want ethanol. As a few in the government don't think this is "the right" outcome, in other words, as they think they know better than the general public, the government is now taking money from tax payers to subsidize something taxpayers don't want, as well as passing a law compelling producers to manufacture something consumers don't want and forcing consumers to buy something they would rather not buy.

In other words, the fact that ethanol requires subsidies and compulsion shows that rather than an expression of popular government, this is just another expression of governmental arrogance. Again, the government is saying that those who manage to hold elective office know better than the public at large what everyone should do for their own good.

As I asked before, why do we assume holding office somehow confers greater wisdom on our law makers?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/13.

NOTE: The link to the Walter Williams article does not work, and there is no copy on archive.org. However, I did find this link to the article itself, though without the comment I mentioned.

A Brief Follow-Up

In my earlier post, I asked about Obama:


Were he Barry O'Bama, born of Irish and Jewish parents, with milk-colored skin and red hair, but with the same rhetoric, would Oprah be endorsing him over Hillary? In fact, would he have made it this far in the primaries? Would he even have held his office in Illinois?

Having read my own question, I realized that life had provided me with an answer.

He may not have been Irish and Jewish, but we had a white Obama, with the same rhetoric. His name was John Edwards. And we all know how well his campaign went.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/13.

Liberal Tolerance

It is now time for a trip into Andrew's less than illustrious past, as it helps to make a point.*

First, a confession. In my teens I was a liberal idiot. Not just any idiot liberal, but the sort of tremendously idiotic liberal that only a bookish wannabe-intellectual can be. I read not just Marx, but Bakunin and other anarcho-communists, and I really believed it. I believed what Jeremy Rifkin wrote. I bought into the whole left wing world view. I went from punk rocker to neo-hippy and back. Only three things kept me from becoming one of those idiot rock-hurling protesters. First, my innate laziness. Second, a vestigial respect for the law thanks to a father who had spent his life in police work. Third, I was popular enough with the young ladies that I did not have the time to pour into political activism. If not for laziness and a social life, however, I could have become the 1980's equivalent of the WTC rioters.

By the time I hit 20 that was over. I had first found Ayn Rand, and then later von Mises and others, and had developed into quite a dedicated Objectivist. That only lasted a year or two, as Rand's shortcomings became obvious pretty quickly, as did the uncomfortably cult-like atmosphere of a lot of Objectivism, and I drifted into the libertarian wing of the conservative movement, spending my free time at college arguing politics in the student lounges. In fact, I did it so loudly that the Campus Republicans at my university drafted me as their vice president even though I never actually joined the club.

The only problem is that an intellectual understanding of conservative principles does not always translate into actually living those same values. At 20 I may have understood quite well how the government should behave, but I certainly didn't understand how I should behave. Maybe it was just inertia, as it is always easier to continue in the same way as you always have, or maybe I just hadn't quite grasped everything about conservatism yet, but whatever the reason, despite my political beliefs, I continued to spend a lot of time drinking and generally wasting my life with the same drug-addled art students and others I had known before.

All of which brings me at long last to my point. The people I knew would accept almost anything. Heroin addict? Unwed mother? Stripper? Prostitute? On parole for manslaughter? Drug dealer? All of those were fine. But when I mentioned that I was voting for a Republican candidate in an upcoming election, I was met with actual hatred. People asked me "How could you do that?" and meant it. They were honestly offended that I could even consider voting for a Republican.

For a time I wondered why liberals tend to be so offended by conservatives, but eventually I figured it out.

For most conservatives, politics is only one facet of their lives, and a small one at that. They may feel strongly about their politics, may even write about it here on Townhall. They may spend hours writing about conservative beliefs, but it still is, in the end, just a part of their lives. Family, work, religion, a whole host of things makes up most conservatives' lives, making politics just one more aspect of who they are. That is one of the many reasons conservative web sites tend to be more open to liberal comments and why conservatives tend to be a little less nasty to liberals than liberals are to conservatives.**

On the other hand, while liberals also have many facets to their lives, their liberal ideology tends to permeate everything. They draw a lot of their identity from their politics. They think that being liberal makes them just a little more moral (and perhaps a little smarter) than everyone else. They draw a lot of comfort from the thought that by being liberal they are doing a good deed. It is their political identity that gives them worth.

Which is why they are so angry when confronted by a conservative. By admitting to being a conservative, you not only admit to being evil in their eyes, but you also challenge their self-worth. You see, if you are a conservative, it means you don't think they are automatically smart and good because of their liberal beliefs. In other words, you are challenging them to prove their worth, rather than just assuming their liberalism proves how good they are. It is an affront to them. To a liberal your conservatism is an implicit criticism of their value.

Of course, conservatives are really thinking nothing of the sort. As I said, politics are just a part of life to most of us, few conservatives immediately draw conclusions about others based on their political affiliation***. So, please, any liberals out there reading this, do not take it so badly when you meet a conservative. We may not think being liberal proves you are a good person, but we don't think it makes you evil either. Just accept the fact that we don't agree, relax and speak to us reasonably, you may find that we are not quite as evil and judgmental as you assume.

And to any conservatives out there, please don't make a liar of me. Be kind to the poor misguided leftists you meet. At least try to convince them they are mistaken, rather than just dismissing them out of hand. You may be surprised how many will actually listen, and a few may even change. I know I did many, many years ago. It takes time, but a lot of leftists can be won over if you just take some time.

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* I tend to think that I am very reticent to reveal personal information, as I know I feel uncomfortable speaking about myself. But looking back over my blog, I see that I have recently posted quite a bit of personal information. It surprises me, but it appears, despite my discomfort at posting it, I have been quite forthcoming in writing about myself.

** If you doubt that conservatives are more tolerant than liberals, try to post a liberal comment on Townhall and a conservative one on DailyKos (or Huff'n'Puff Post, or Democratic Underground, or any other hard-left site), and see which one is still posted at the end of the day. Even better, count the death threats posted in response. It may surprise you to see how nasty the "tolerant" liberals can be.

*** Before anyone complains about the fact that I generalize about liberals, please note that I generalize only to the extent that I assume liberals have liberal political views, which seems true by definition, and usually have liberal social views, which seems to be generally true. I do not assume anything about liberals beyond that.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/13.

Defending Geraldine

I find myself in the strange position of defending Geraldine Ferraro, or at least half-defending her.

First, just so we are clear, here is what she said:


If Obama was [sic] a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in this concept.

I will not make myself sound snotty by pointing out her poor grasp of the subjunctive (but will sound even snottier by pointing out that this statement is a praeteritio), but I will  say that, despite the comments of critics, this is in no way a racist statement.

Now, the second sentence is feminist boilerplate, and, I think, quite wrong. Were Obama a woman, she would definitely not have the fawning, fainting college girl fans, but she would be such a darling of the Democrats she would not need them.

On the other hand, I do agree with Ferraro's first statement. And it is not racism to say so. Obama may not play up his race, but he doesn't need to. Everyone else mentions his race for him. He can pretend he is above playing on race as he has enough allies to mention it already.

Just think about this question: Were he Barry O'Bama, born of Irish and Jewish parents, with milk-colored skin and red hair, but with the same rhetoric, would Oprah be endorsing him over Hillary? In fact, would he have made it this far in the primaries? Would he even have held his office in Illinois?

No. Of course not. Part of Obama's appeal to those who like him is his race. He is a harmless black man, one who promises racial healing without cost. He is not asking whites to feel guilty, like Sharpton and Jackson, nor does he seem threatening like Farrakhan or even Ellison. (And he doesn't ask them to abandon their liberal dogmas, the way Keyes would.) He doesn't even mention his race. But that is precisely why his race matters to much. He lets liberal whites feel good for their enlightened support of a black man, without demanding anything else of them. They get to revel in their own goodness without actually having to do anything. It is the goal of almost all liberals. Just like voting for welfare funded by other people's taxes, except without all the messy politics. All they have to do is pull a lever for Obama and they can tell themselves the entire history of slavery and racism in the US has been erased, or, at least, they are no longer to be blamed for it.

Of course Obama's race has played a role in getting him where he is. In fact, as he has taken no stand except for being "for change" and pro-hope, what else but his race, looks and glib tongue has propelled him to his current position?

And so I find myself in the odd position of agreeing, at least in part, with Geraldine Ferraro.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/12.

Monday, April 25, 2011

No "Hussein" Allowed

I know I am a bit late writing about McCain's tendency to handle his likely rival with kid gloves, but there is a method to my madness. Of late, I have been writing about Obama's Rezko scandal and his weakness come the general election. In the comments, my regular reader Nee brought up the obvious question "When has a scandal ever stuck to a Democrat?" In response I brought up the possibility of McCain using his media attention to keep the story in the headlines.

All of which brings us back to the question "Is McCain willing to fight hard enough to win?"

Now, I will be the first to say I think McCain made a mistake in criticizing someone for using Obama's middle name. If he had simply said nothing, let Obama's people whine about it and remained silent, I think he would have done better, as not only would that draw attention to Obama's muslim history but also would make Obama look silly and petty.

On the other hand, I don't think it was as bad as do some. Yes, McCain needs to be willing to atatck Obama, to fight as dirty and as violently as he can in order to win the election. Yes, the Democrats and Obama's people will fight dirty, even if they do it through proxies to keep Obama's hands clean. But I still do not see this as a huge mistake. It is still a long way from November. If McCain wants to earn some brownie points with the media by appearing as a nice guy and denouncing dirty politics, so be it. He doesn't have to start fighting for some time. Any attacks now will be forgotten by the election.

My only concern is whether it is an act or is part of McCain's character. As I see it, there are three possible explanations:

1. McCain really is too nice to win. Or at least too interested in staying in the good graces of the media. If he is unwilling to attack Obama in any way that will appear unkind to the media then we are in trouble. Obama still will have problems keeping his base while winning over the middle, so it is not a guaranteed McCain loss, but it definitely makes it less likely.

2. McCain is playing nice now, but only because it doesn't matter. He is either trying to appear nice to offset the compassion he will lose later when he truly attacks Obama, or maybe he is playing up to the media so they will be more willing to cover a Republican than they would be otherwise. In either case, McCain has a good chance of winning, provided he knows when to switch from being nice to attacking.

3. McCain is truly clever. He accepted an opening speaker he knew would attack Obama, and then denounced it. In that way he wins over the press, getting him less critical attention later on, yet his opener still got out the attack message. It is akin to Obama's attacks by proxy on the black superdelegates supporting Hillary, but even more clever, as McCain not only got a stealth attack in, but even got media sympathy for denouncing his own attack.

Only the first option bodes ill for the Republicans. But even if McCain is devoted to avoiding "negative campaigning", Obama's situation still promises Obama a difficult race, as I have explained before. And, even if Obama manages to overcome that, there is no guarantee that McCain will stay nice forever. If it becomes clear Obama is pulling ahead, I have a feeling that McCain, no matter how much he values the press' good graces, will not continue to fight clean when it might cost him the white house.

Of course, I could be wrong. A lot of people seem to see McCain's comments as portending a McCain loss. They may be right, but I just don't see it. It is too early, and the act was too unimportant for it to mean anything.

I suggest we wait and see what happens in June or July, as anything before the middle of the year is just too early to mean much come November.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/12.


NOTE:Despite my concerns in this post, McCain did later prove he was more than willing to fight for the presidency. His problem eventually proved to be, not a lack of will, but an inconsistency of message, and a lack of decisive action when it was required. His inconsistent behavior and confused message more than anything else spelled the end of his campaign. Though his subsequent behavior did manage to convince me that, of the three explanations I offered, the first and last are likely not true.

A Problem With Amateur Historians

Have you ever mentioned the Civil War on a TH blog or in the comments to an article? If you have, you probably heard something along the lines of "The Civil War had nothing to do with slavery" or "The Civil War was all about states' rights" or "The Civil War was just about economics."

It is a problem common to amateur historians, and also to even those professional historians who insist on seeing every event from their own ideological perspective, the attempt to find "the cause" of any historical event. Amateur historians, usually because they want to make an impression by going against conventional wisdom, have a bad habit of not only finding a single cause for any event, but also finding the most surprising and counter-intuitive reason. Thus we hear again and again that Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, World War I had nothing to do with Slavic nationalism, and the Crusades had nothing to do with religion.

The problem with this approach is that there is no single cause for any historical event. Some Confederates fought to defend slavery, some fought for states rights, some fought because their neighbors did so, and so on. And the same for the Union. And those involved in politics at the time were much the same. Some were fighting to defend or to weaken states' rights, some to defend or to end slavery, some to strengthen the union, and some for more venial or personal motives. As the Civil War was not fought by one individual, there was no singular "cause of the Civil War" and those historians without an ideological axe to grind admit as much. Sometimes historians may attempt to discern the motives of a given individual or the range of motivations for a group, but rarely will a competent historian try to ascribe a single motive to any large group, or a single cause to any event.*

So, should you hear again someone arguing that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, you can be sure that, whatever the causes of the Civil War, that statement has nothing to do with history (or thought).

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* I suppose it is possible that there have been some rare events where all the participants agree they have a single motive. However, in those cases, one should be even more skeptical. For example, the First Crusade was nominally about reclaiming the Holy Land, and all the crusaders posited that as their motive. Yet in many cases the promise of land for younger sons or increased ecclesiastical power for lower echelon clergy motivated individual crusaders, no matter what they claimed. So, even when all the participants claim a single motive, we should be leery of listening to their professed motivations, and certainly should not simply accept this monolithic cause for that event.

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Note: And yet again, my spell checker surprises me by thinking that the word "axe" is invalid. I am beginning to realize that this software would actually make my writing worse. If I tried to avoid words it underlines my vocabulary would be quite pathetic, though I would think the word "facer" is acceptable.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/12.

Legal Schizophrenia

In general our laws are pretty consistent. Once we establish a precedent, the law builds on the logic of that initial decision, and inexorably pushes the laws to the final conclusion implied in that decision. Except, it seems, in the area of pregnancy and childbirth.

Our laws about children and pregnancy are horribly inconsistent and contradictory. Thanks to the imposed national laws concerning abortion, we have a strange hodge-podge of decisions which are remarkably inconsistent.

For example, take the very simple question of what is a person, for purposes of legal rights. A child with one toe in the birth canal is not a person, not technically alive, and can be killed with impunity in states which allow such late term abortions. On the other hand, the second that toe leaves the birth canal, that fetus is now a full, living being, possessed of full rights, and cannot be harmed without consequences.

Then there are other strange birth circumstances. For example, the position supported by a state senator named Obama, that a child accidentally born alive during an abortion attempt can still be killed with impunity, even if outside of the body and presumably a person, as the mother's intent to abort prevents the child from becoming a person. Fortunately for legal consistency, this position is not the law, but it just shows how strange abortion makes our law, when a competent person can argue the mother's wishes remove rights from what is obviously a living, functioning human being.

Or consider premature babies. At 20 or 21 weeks they can be supported outside the body, and, if they are, they have full rights of a human being. Yet, if they are still within the womb, they can be killed with impunity. The same stage of development, the same type of entity, yet the rights of one are much greater than the other.

Now, I am sure someone will say "Well, one is still in the womb, so it is different." But location is not the determinant here. As with the Obama argument and the case of a child not completely expelled, a child can, in the minds of some, be fully, or almost fully, outside the body, yet still be subject to being killed.

Nor is that the only inconsistency. Take for example murder laws. A child, still inside the womb, which is killed by an attack upon the mother is considered a person for purposes of homicide laws in many states, yet can be aborted without consequence. In other words, a mother, on the way to an abortion clinic, is murdered at the doors, and the child is legally a person. Yet if she survived, and made it inside, the child is not a person, and can be killed. It boggles the mind.

If anything, the only consistent rule I see is that the mother's choice seems to be paramount, in the Obama case absurdly so. If the mother says it is not a child, then it can be killed, but if she says it is a child, full rights attach to it. In this way, I suppose, the alws are consistent. But is it a consistency we want? Do we care to take this to its logical conclusion?

If we accept that a fetus is only a fetus until the mother says she wants it to be a child, then what argument do we have against Senator Obama's position? If a child is accidentally born in the process of abortion, why should we not commit infanticide? After all the mother did not want it to be born, so why not kill it?

But from that idea, other, worse conclusions flow. If it is only a mother's decision that makes it a child, and we accept that accidentally born children can be terminated, what about mothers who did not realize they were pregnant? Or who simply failed to get an abortion in time? What objection can be raised against infanticide in these cases as well? And if we can commit infanticide on the newly born, why not later?

If we accept the basic principle that a mother's decision makes a fetus into a child, then really, what objection can we raise against killing a child at any point prior to achieving full adulthood? Does not the logic of "choice" inevitably lead to a matriarchal version of the old Roman pater familias rule, where the father (now the mother) can kill off any dependents? If a child is not vested with rights unless the mother wants it, and if a child can be killed after accidental birth, does not the logic lead to that conclusion?

I am not taking a stand one way or the other on the question of abortion. I am not speaking of the morality of abortion at all. I am simply pointing out that our current laws seem to have no consistency unless we accept the premise that a mother's wishes are the sole means of granting rights to a  child, and that that logic leads to conclusions that no one, not even the most ardent NARAL partisan, would want to contemplate.

If we are to have laws making abortion legal, then could we please define these laws in a consistent way. Either a three month old fetus is a child or it isn't. The same at six months, or seven. If it is not a person, then it cannot be murdered, and it cannot have rights, even outside the body, until it reaches the age at which rights attach. Or else we need to say it is not a person so long as any part remains in the mother's body, and eliminate all of these laws calling it murder to kill a child inside the mother. It must be one or the other, as nothing else will work. We cannot base our laws on the vague criterion of the mother's wishes, nor can we have a muddled law where a child is sometimes a child and sometimes a fetus, depending on the context. The law, regarding abortion or any other matter, needs to be consistent and must be based on concrete, objective, and well defined definitions, as anything else only leads to chaos.*

In other words, if we must have abortion laws, then please make them consistent, and well defined.

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* The pro-life side is guilty of inconsistency as well. In allowing no abortions "except int he case of rape or incest" is just as much a muddle as the current laws. You cannot legally murder someone because they were conceived by rape or incest, so how does anyone justify calling a child not a child simply due to the circumstances of conception? Either a fetus has rights and cannot be killed or it does not. This exception makes a farce of the pro-life position.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/12.

Why a Recession?

Whenever people start talking about recession and blaming it on wars or oil or monetary factors, I have to point out one other cause. Yes, all of those (especially manipulating money supplies) can cause untold economic harm, but another source of harm, and a huge one, can be laid at the feet of the voters themselves.

Voters?

Yes, the ones who elect people like Elliot Spitzer.

Now I will not go into Governor Spitzer's recent woes, as that really doesn't help my point. I can't say I am not pleased to see such a detestable man in trouble, but I have little to add.

My point is that Spitzer made a name for himself by nothing more than engaging in legalized extortion. He prosecuted Martha Stewart on shaky charges, then won a conviction by characterizing her defense as "perjury". Then, having left executives with the choice of pleading to his charges or facing a perjury conviction for offering a defense, he proceeded to shake down Wall Street to build a name for himself. He took money from the productive members of society and from the investors who had given them money, and handed it to the state of New York, all so he could win office.

And the voters went for it.

So, the next time some petty official starts shaking down a company, slowing progress, stopping economic growth, and transferring money from investors and builders and giving it to the state, remind yourself that voters are to blame. The voters made Spitzer governor for destroying economic progress, and the next shakedown artist is just repeating a formula that has worked.

So, yes, the economy can be slowed by oil prices, and monetary inflation, and a number of other things, but one big drag on the economy, one often unnoticed, is the repeated extortion of our productive members by those who are vying for office, and those voters who fall for it and place them in power.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/11.

You're the Ginchiest!

I know it seems a bit presumptuous to criticize the pope, but I am afraid I must. As I said in the post before this, I think his efforts to update the seven deadly sins are misguided.

It reminds me of those attempts to "update" Shakespeare, which appear dated the moment they hit the stage. The original sins were timeless, basic human vices which anyone, Catholic or not, Christian or not, could recognize as human failings. They were timeless and have shown it by lasting unchanged for centuries.

In contrast, the new sins will age as well as flared pants, pompadours or zoot suits. It seems in a century or two, reminding people of the deadly sin of "environmental pollution" or "drug dealing" will be as "timely" as saying "keep on truckin'" or "gabba gabba hey!" or asking Kookie to lend you his comb. The pope has taken very real concerns, but concerns that are very much of their time, and tried to elevate them to the timeless plane of the original seven deadly sins. And it just doesn't work. It sounds too much like someone saying "Mariah Carey is the most beautiful woman who ever lived", definitely a product of its time, and overwhelming in its hubris.

And even if we postulate that these new seven will be "timeless" and last forever, they still lack the simple elegance of the original seven. They are not simple, one word descriptions of basic vices common to all men. What is drug dealing? It is not even clear what the sin is. Does my doctor commit a deadly sin by giving me morphine? Is it a deadly sin where the drug is legal, or only where the state has prohibited it? It is too vague to be a deadly sin. Wrath is easy to define with specificity, drug dealing is not.

Nor do the new sins have the beautiful symmetry of the originals, with sins matched to virtues. Forgiveness is the cure of wrath, chastity of lust. What is the cure of drug dealing? "Not drug dealing"? That hardly sounds like a holy virtue for the new millennium. I somehow doubt that it will be considered a virtue that a man did not commit genetic engineering or failed to pollute. The beautiful symmetry of the originals is just lacking.

So, in short, I just do not find that these new "deadly sins" really merit the appellation of the "New Seven Deadly Sins". Had the pope published an encyclical denouncing these, that would have been fine, but to declare them the new deadly sins seems to give too much credit, too much timelessness to transitory sins peculiar to this moment.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/11.

NOTE: Time has proved my prediction correct. Only three years out and I had forgotten all about this nonsense until I read this post and the one preceding it. It took very little time for the "New Seven" to vanish from the public consciousness, while the originals are still widely known. Then again, it was hardly a brilliant insight to recognize that these new sins would not have a chance of replacing the originals.

The New Seven?

I am not a Catholic, not even a Christian, so I will leave aside for the moment the theological question of the new seven deadly sins.

All I want to say is this:

The original seven deadly sins, and the matching seven holy virtues have a beauty and elegance to them that have stood the test of centuries.Does anyone think "drug dealing" or "environmental damage" will last anywhere near as long?



Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/10.

The Sky Isn't Falling, Again

I just saw more news coverage of the supposedly shocking news that some parts per billion of pharmaceuticals were found in certain water supplies.

This is yet another example of something I discussed with an EPA employee in the past*. While the news often gives the impression that discoveries of chemicals show the world is getting more contaminated with man-made chemicals, the truth is quite different. It is not that more and more chemicals are entering the environment, but rather that we have gone from being able to detect parts per million, to detecting parts per billion, and even parts per trillion. In other words, we can now find things that we previously could not.

This has created a mistaken impression, in this case and others.It is not so much that chemicals are increasing, but that we are finding chemicals that were always there.

Rather than panic about long term exposure to minute amounts of pharmaceuticals, we should instead realize that we are simply detecting something that has been there for some time. Perhaps it will prove harmful in the long run, more likely not, especially at the incredibly minute doses detected, but whatever the harm or lack thereof, we need to stand against media attempts to paint this as a sudden increase in water contamination.

We are not seeing any proof of increasing contamination, just the outcome of ever improving methods of detection.

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* In addition to my own conversations, this point has been discussed in several articles I have read, most focusing on the way improved detection methods can lead to the impression that chemicals are increasingly spreading out into the environment. I do not have citations handy at the moment, but will update this article once I do. I recall a few in Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, which I have previously recommended. I will find if any can be found on-line. If not, I will provide author and title.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/08/10.

Thank You HBO! No President O'Malley!

As I watched the final episode of "The Wire" last night, I realized I had to thank HBO. Not for providing an entertaining show, though they did that. Not for a scathing (if a bit superficial) critique of the Baltimore Sun, though they did that too. No, I must thank HBO and "The Wire" for making absolutely sure we will never have to say the words "President Martin O'Malley".

Some may laugh at my fears of an O'Malley run for the White House, but it isn't that far fetched.

It is easy to forget now, in the wake of Obamania, but O'Malley once filled the same role Obama does today. When he spoke at the 2004 convention, it was obvious that O'Malley was being groomed to be the pretty face (and empty suit) of the Democrat Party. Having parleyed a marriage into a prominent political family into first the presidency of the Baltimore city council, then the mayor's office, and finally the governor's mansion, it seemed O'Malley was on the fast track to a top position in the Democrat party, perhaps even an eventual presidential run.

Of course, Obama came along, with a better pitch, a prettier face, and a broader appeal, and O'Malley found himself playing catch up, no longer the party's golden boy. But all of that could change in a moment. Should Obama lose the nomination, or, worse for Obama, lose the general election, his star would rapidly fade, and O'Malley could again find himself in the driver's seat.

Or he could, until HBO stepped in.

Starting with the miniseries "The Corner" and following that up with five seasons of "The Wire", HBO managed to paint Baltimore as a drug ridden cesspool, whose police department, crippled by political manipulation and corruption, was unable to handle the deluge of murders and the hordes of drug dealers that caused them. Unlike the relatively neutral portrayal of Baltimore in "Homicide", the HBO picture of Baltimore was extremely unkind, though also quite accurate. HBO began to show the rest of the nation the Baltimore residents knew, the city run by drug dealers, ruined by machine politics, with those who could fleeing as quickly as possible, while the rest simply tried to endure the crime and decaying infrastructure, without any hope of improvement.

But HBO went one step farther, which is why I thank them. They didn't only show the nation Baltimore as it really is, though that would have been enough to make an O'Malley run difficult, they came out and laid the mess at O'Malley's doorstep. Oh, they may have renamed him for the show, and they may pretend he is a fictional character, but anyone who lived in Baltimore can tell that it is O'Malley and no one else. And, more important, should O'Malley ever decide to run for higher office, the rest of the nation won't have any trouble identifying him either. HBO has painted a very clear picture of the O'Malley tenure as Mayor of Baltimore.

So, once again, I have to thank HBO. I know it is far from most minds at the moment, as Obama and Hillary loom large, but I do rest a little better knowing that, thanks to HBO, I will never have to worry that Martin O'Malley will think of running for the highest office in the land.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/10.

Meaningless Polls

I received a comment recently from someone raising the points that Obama leads McCain in the polls and that Democrats outnumber Republicans, leading the poster to the conclusion that Obama will win. As the media sometimes says essentially the same thing, I will address this idea.

First, polls themselves can be misleading. Besides the Dewey-Truman fiasco always used when discounting polls, we also have Mondale beating Reagan in many polls prior to the 1984 election. Both of those show that polls may sometimes be incorrect even right on the eve of elections, much less 9 months out. So, our current polls should be taken with a grain of salt.

But even if we assume that the polls are correct, what do they tell us? Not much. McCain has largely been out of the news for some time, as he has had the nomination sewn up for some time. As he has been getting little coverage, he gets fewer votes. Any pollster can tell you, often poll numbers reflect media exposure more than actual support.

Obama's numbers are equally misleading. Obama has not truly faced a challenge or any real criticism of his policies. Even the supposed Clinton "attacks" have been pretty gentle compared to what he will have to face in the general election. Combine that with a media which has allowed him to get away with running a content-free campaign and the fact that he has taken no firm stands, and you can see that his current numbers are based on nothing but personal charisma. Once he is forced to take a stand, or once McCain begins to truly challenge him on his qualifications and positions, Obama's numbers will begin to change. He has yet to really campaign.

Finally, to address the supposed disparities between Republicans and Democrats. First, nationally the difference is not that great, but even if it were, this decision will not be made by popular vote. The Democrats are concentrated in a few heavily Democrat states. Yes, that means some electoral votes are a lock, but only those votes. By having states loaded with 80-90% Democrats (eg. Maryland), that "disparity" is largely neutralized.

Anyway, there are neither enough Democrats nor Republicans to ensure a win for either candidate. Whoever wins will win by appealing to the middle, and, as I have explained here, here, here, here, and here, Obama will either be completely unable to carry the middle, or, at best, will manage to woo some of the middle at the expense of making many of his fanatical followers sit out the election. In either case, I just do not see the man building a coalition of far left democrats, young foolish idealists, and independents. Once his far left history comes out he will either have to disavow it, and thus lose his constituency, or embrace it and lose the middle.

McCain may have problems with the far right of his party as well, but he does have Republican support from the moderates, and may get the conservatives once an Obama presidency becomes a real possibility to those conservatives. Even if the far right sits it out, it is still less of a problem than Obama faces. Obama will eventually have to choose between 20-30% of the population who can accept his far left policies, or choose to chase after the centrists, at the cost of much of that 20 or 30% on the left. In short, McCain can appeal to the center without any costs, Obama cannot.

I know Obama's supporters will disagree. Right now nothing will convince them that they will ever stop loving Obama. But just like a teen's first crush, the Obama romance will not last forever. The supporters may not believe me now, but wait until August or September. Come back then and tell me how much you love him. If there is anyone posting love letters to Obama in September, then I can guarantee that the center has gone completely to McCain, as the only way Obama can keep the love-fest going is to ignore the moderates and the center, and continue to pander solely to his base. A sure recipe for disaster in November.

But Obama is a politician before all else, whatever he may claim, so I don't foresee a lot of ardent supporters left come November.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/09.

NOTE: Sadly, while all the points I raised here were correct, McCain did everything he could to hand the election to Obama. Admittedly, the media assisted Obama as well, but they could have been overcome. One need only look at the severe slump during the "Obama Euro Love Fest" when overexposure and absurdly gentle media handling -- not to mention the many gaffes and plain stupidity made public by 24x7 coverage -- turned off even Obama supporters, much less independents. But McCain proved that, while his beliefs may not be completely conservative, he is definitely a real Republican, able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and turned around Obama's slump into a strong victory. (McCain also shows his Republican credentials by regularly participating in Republican "circular firing squads", taking out his allies in order to help out the opposition.)

Why Rezko Matters

Recently, when discussing the Obama-Rezko affair with people who are not obsessive followers of politics (and not Obama supporters) I found their reaction tended to be "So what? Don't all politicians do that?" So, I have decided to give a very brief explanation of why the Rezko affair really does matter, and matters more for Obama than it would for any other politician.

First, I do not think that Obama will be found guilty of any wrong doing, or at least, he will not in time for it to change the course of the elections, primary or general. I am not even alleging that he really did anything illegal. He may have broken the law, he may have only violated ethics guidelines, he may not have done either by skating just inside the boundaries of what is allowable and what is not. But none of that matters.

What does matter is that, so long as the Rezko matter remains in the press, it forces Obama to explain himself. And that is where his campaign begins to falter.

So far, Obama has adopted the "innocent naif" position, and that is a wise choice. At the moment Obama has only to worry about the Democrat primaries, and in those primaries his legions of devout Obamaniacs are key. He can do nothing to upset them. Since they support him primarily because he is "new" and "fresh", an innocent, clean, untainted politician, they are pleased to hear his protestations of almost childlike innocence. They can believe him, they want to believe him, when he claims that he just did not know what was going on. They are ready to accept that he is so devoid of guile that he simply stepped into this scandal by accident. And so his defense of complete ignorance is perfect for his supporters.

But should the Rezko issue remain once the primaries end, and should Obama be the nominee, his explanation will become a liability. The independents, moderate to conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans he needs to win over to carry the general election are very different from the base to which he now appeals. He will not be able to sell them on his innocent act. Those who believe his story will think it proves him too inexperienced and naive to server as president, and those who don't (surely the majority) will think he is a particularly maladroit liar. In either case, professing wide-eyed naivete as the reason he became involved in a political scandal will do little to win over the middle of the political spectrum.

On the other hand, should he try to win over the middle by offering a more plausible explanation, he confronts new problems. Whether a Clintonesque justification of "unseemly but legal" or some other more sophisticated argument, the appearance of both corruption and excessive political savvy will be a problem for his more fanatical followers. The Obamaniacs don't want a crafty politician, or someone involved in politics as usual. In their eyes Obama is something else, a rebellion against politics, a way to be involved without getting caught up in the tainted world of governing. Once he shows himself as just another candidate, their unrealistic vision of Obama will be crushed. And, even if he wins over the middle, without his legions of devoted followers, Obama has little hope of a general election win.

Which leaves Obama with a dilemma. Does he continue to appeal to those infatuated with a vision of a new type of politician, and throw away the moderate voters, or does he appeal to the moderates and risk losing his base?

As either choice leads to defeat, the only real hope Obama has is that the Rezko story doesn't gather any steam and fades from the headlines before the convention. Should that not happen, his prospects are very poor.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/03/09.

NOTE: For once, my prediction proved correct, though I dismissed as unlikely what did eventually happen, at least when I mentioned the possibility I came to the right conclusion. Or, to be more detailed, though I did not imagine the media would ignore the Rezko story, as I figured the Clinton camp would milk it for political advantage, somehow the story, like the Farrakhan and Ayers issues, as well as others, simply never even appeared in the consciousness of most mainstream voters. And so, though Obama came into the election with what would be crippling baggage for many candidates, he did not. Bouyed by a still enthusiastic horde of Obamaniacs, and free of the scandals that should have plagued him, he easily won the election. And that was what I predicted would happen if the story was ignored. My only mistake was failing to realize how far the media wa sin the tank for the Obama campaign.