Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

My resolutions for the new year (blog and non-blog related).

1) Write something that isn't published on a blog.

2) Win something. Winnng must include some form of reward. Dorm poker night doesn't count.

3) Take someone to the Midwinter Ball.

4) Feel good about being a gangsta.

5) Hate 20% less playa, 20% more game.

6) Network.

7) Actually do something with that BBC guy that I keep playing email tag with (hi guy!).

8) Develop as a person.

9) Develop as a Halo player.

10) Get a link for a top 10 blog that is not Powerline (knowing the daughters of one of the authors is an unfair advantage).

11) Ace the LSATs.

12) Ace the GREs.

13) Finish at least 50% of the books I start.

14) Go to a Wild game.

15) Beat a video/computer game.

16) Raise my GPA.

17) Figure out a valid pronunciation for "TOETBD" (I may just say "tote").

18) Read new blogs.

19) Don't fail out of the Winter term.

20) Make the new women's hockey goalie an all-star.

21) Rock the casbah.

Happy new year everyone!

No...That's Meanspirited

A man in Texas is holding pig races in reaction to the building of a Mosque next store. The event started when the Mosque asked the man to move the pigs off its newly acquired land. Apparently, the man misunderstood and thought the association wanted him off his own land. Pissed off, he organized the pig races.

Now, I understand how, with the misunderstanding, the guy would be a bit perturbed, as he has every right to his land. But the problem is that, even after thing were cleared up, he's still going through with the pig race.
Earlier this month, Baker conceded that the Muslims probably aren't after his land, but he said he had to go through with the pig races because "I would be like a total idiot if I didn't. I'd be the laughingstock now because I've gone too far."

All the same, Baker plans to continue the weekly pig races until interest dwindles.

The association never meant to imply it wanted Baker to move, Allam said.

"If we somehow communicated that to him, then we apologize," he said.

Resident Susan Canavespe said the pig racing wasn't mean-spirited -- "It's just Texas-spirited."

"Would be"? Let's not get ahead of ourselves, now....

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dead

A Rabbi was eulogizing at the funeral of a prominent Hollywood producer, and was asked to say one nice thing about him. The Rabbi thought for a moment, then said: "he's dead."

I feel roughly the same way about Saddam Hussein. I have no idea whether his execution will quell the violence in Iraq (I'm skeptical). But you can add him to the list of folks I'm not sorry to see dead.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Is Hagel Out?

I thought Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) would make a run for the White House (but lose in the primary), but I would not have been too surprised if he skipped it. What would surprise is if he doesn't run to retain his senate seat. But according to some local sources, Hagel may be doing just that--neither running for President, nor Senate re-election.

If true, this puts the Nebraska Senate seat back into play (admittedly as a second-tier opportunity).

Hagel was one of my favorite Republican's in the Senate, due to his ever-scarcer (in Washington, anyway) independent streak. It'll be interesting to see what he says or does without the specter of re-election or promotion constraining him over these next few years.

Via Kos.

The comments at the Swingstate Project have some projections on who will run to replace Hagel, and points out that, depending on whether Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) decides to go for the GOP nod, we may have a renewed chance to pick up the Nebraska 2nd district in 2008.

Deadbroke

Solangel Maldonado has a really great post up on "deadbeat" Black father that I found fascinating. It really cuts against the grain of the prevailing discussion of absent Black fathers, and adds some really important depth to the discussion.

Professor Maldonado notes that many of the Black fathers who don't pay child support are less "deadbeat" than "deadbroke." A massive portion of child support arrears come from fathers making less than $10,000/year. While this doesn't obviate the harm, it does perhaps signal that many of these "absent" fathers don't pay child support because they can't, not because they're actively trying to avoid a role in their child's life.

This becomes more clear in the second part of Maldonado's post, which requires a long excerpt because it's really good:
Further, although the majority of poor, nonresident Black fathers do not make formal child support payments, many are quite involved in their children's lives and make in-kind and nonfinancial contributions to their children. For example, they buy diapers, baby formula, groceries, toys, and baby furniture. One may wonder why these fathers do not simply pay child support instead, however minimal. There are a number of reasons. The items a father brings to his children are tangible evidence of his efforts to provide for them despite his dire circumstances. As such, the items have greater significance, visibility, and durability than cash payments which often disappear almost immediately as bills are paid or, in the case of children receiving public assistance, are used to reimburse the government for benefits it has provided the children.

Deadbroke Black fathers also make nonfinancial contributions--they often take care of their children in ways traditionally associated with motherhood. Because these men are often unemployed (or underemployed), they are available to take their children to school, to the doctor, and to watch them while their mothers work or run errands. Many researchers, myself included, have been surprised to learn that many "absent" Black fathers see their children not only on weekends, as divorced middle-class fathers often do, but often see them almost daily.

The law does not recognize these contributions. They do not count under our current definition of child support. Maybe they should. American society is alarmed at the high percentage of absent fathers—those who have little or no contact with their children. Studies suggest that children with absent fathers are more likely than children with involved fathers to perform poorly in school, to have low self-esteem, to become pregnant at an early age, to abuse drugs, and to engage in delinquent behavior. These children also feel rejected and often blame themselves for their fathers' disappearance. Although, as Professor Dorothy Roberts has noted, policymakers have treated paternal absence "as a distinctly Black problem," recent studies have found that poor, nonresident Black fathers are more involved with their children than are nonresident white or Latino fathers. Many men with child support arrears, however, are compelled to hide from their children because they fear detection by child support enforcement officials and possible incarceration. If society wants to encourage more Black men to remain a part of their children's lives, we must address an unintended effect of aggressive child support enforcement policies—they drive poor fathers away from their children.

Notably, many Black mothers seem to recognize the nonmonetary contributions that poor Black fathers make. They often do not pursue poor Black fathers for child support and focus instead on securing fathers' presence and involvement with their children. Some Black mothers fear that pursuing deadbroke fathers for payments that they cannot make will discourage them from seeing their children and from contributing at all. As one Black mother stated: "I don't care about the child support. Just see the child."

The question is, how should this non-financial (or non-traditional) support be harnassed. Obviously, it's really important, and if we are to take seriously the claim that absent fathers is a real problem for young Black children, then we need to remove obstacles towards parents seeing their kids (while obviously not swinging too far in relieving them of their support obligations). This is difficult, but a good first step would be recognizing the actual dynamic between "absent" Black fathers and their children and writing policy accordingly. I suspect that, as in so many matters of race, the current plans are dictated less by the reality and more by the stereotypes.

Still Waiting

While I shed no tears over Saddam Hussein's impending execution, there still remains that other terrorist-guy (you know--the one who attacked us on 9/11) that we have neither found dead or alive. CNN correspondent Ed Henry decided to inquire on the subject, and here was the answer he got from a Bush administration flack:
HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.

As Steve Benen (subbing in at The Washington Monthly) puts it:
A "success that hasn't occurred yet"? By that logic, practically nothing could ever be characterized as failure. Indeed, I'm not sure why the Bush gang hasn't thought of this sooner.

"Budget deficits are just surpluses that haven't occurred yet."

"Global warming is just global cooling that hasn't occurred yet."

"Stagnant wages are just raises that haven't occurred yet."

"The civil war in Iraq is just peace that hasn't occurred yet."

And the Bush administration is just an Obama administration that hasn't occurred yet.

Back Home (Amazingly)

So I ended up making it home last night. Early, in fact. But don't let that fool you: It was absolutely wild getting back here. Let my sketch it out for you.

Originally, our travel schedule looked like this:

12/29: Aspen --> Denver --> Baltimore

By the end, our travel route actually went like this:

12/28: Vail (Eagle County) --> Denver --> Washington (Dulles)

Along the way, we were booked and/or on standby for no less than 6 flights involving 5 airports.

But, with some skill and a fair bit of luck (we made standby on both legs of our route, including one flight which we got on the list 15 minutes prior to departure), we ended up getting home several hours earlier than anyone had hoped.

Oh, and the skiing went well, thanks.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Don't Care If I Ever Get Back!

Well, no. That's a lie. I do care. But I may not have a choice. Aspen and Denver are bracing for some major storms, and I have no idea if I'll be able to make it home.

In theory, though, tomorrow is the travel day (we're leaving a day early to try to beat the storm). So I may not be posting until Friday.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say...

I'm going to try something here at The Debate Link. I'm a Democrat. And I will almost certainly be voting Democrat come 2008. But in this space, I am going to make a serious effort to say something nice about all the major Republican contenders for the Presidential nomination (assuming I know more than a cursory amount about them). I also challenge other bloggers--conservative and liberal--to do the same for their political opponents on the 2008 ledger. We'll say the big name conservatives are McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Brownback, and Hagel. And the big name liberals are Gore, Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and Clark (obviously, personal biases infect this list, so feel free to add or subtract based on your own knowledge). Compliments have to be serious--no backhanders ("he's not as psycho as Pat Robertson!").

***

John McCain: I do believe that, once in office, he'll be the principled character that ran in 2000 (and was floated as a Kerry running mate in 2004). He's expressed willingness to take on the base, and I believe that as President he will act because he thinks what he's doing is right, not because he thinks it will be to a political advantage.

Rudy Giuliani: Obviously, his 9/11 leadership was important. I also think he is a geniune social liberal, and will reverse the GOP's propensity towards anti-gay demonization (among other issues) as President.

Mitt Romney: The stances he's taken on gay rights while running in Massachusetts are textbook what I want to see out of Republican. Hopefully, that will translate to similar moderation once he's through the GOP primary.

Chuck Hagel: He's one of the few Republicans I still think has credible foreign policy instincts, which is important and something I respect. He was one of the earliest GOP Senators to really step out of the Bush administration line on Iraq.

Sam Brownback: No brainer. Sam's work on human rights issues and genocide has been nothing short of spectacular.

Any conservative (or fellow liberal) blogs going to take me up on this offer?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Settlement Issue

The New York Times reports that Israel plans to build a new settlement in the West Bank, the first new one approved in a decade. To be fair, Israel claims that the settlement was approved decades ago, but had been used as an army training base previously and was only now being converted. The settlement would contain about 30 houses, but possibly would expand somewhat via "natural growth."

Two thoughts:

First, buried deep in the story is the news that two Israeli teenagers were seriously wounded in a Palestinian rocket strike on Sderot, a town in Israel proper near the Gaza border. This highlights one of the reasons pro-Israel writers get really frustrated by coverage of the conflict. There are very few ethical frameworks in which the deliberate--and successful--attempt to harm two innocent teenagers via rocket attack is of less moral concern than is the building of a few dozen houses in the desert. This doesn't require us to discount the manner in which settlements pose an obstacle to peace. Even if we take the expressed Palestinian position that these settlements constitute "theft," robbery is less serious a crime than attempted murder. The rocket strike was not only a deliberate attempt to kill or maim innocent civilians, but it was done with the express motivation of sabotaging the peace process. It deserves more than three paragraphs of coverage. And when it is buried like it is here, and makes Jews around the world--myself included--feel like anti-Semitic violence (I completely and utterly reject that deliberate violence targeted at Israeli civilians is anything but anti-Semitic) is something the world simply does not care about.

Second, on the decision itself. On face, it is a spectacularly stupid and wrongheaded move. However, there may be some method to the madness.
One Israeli official hinted that the new settlement might be part of a deal with Jewish settlers to get their tacit acceptance of the removal of illegal settlement outposts from the West Bank.

I'm not sure what to do with this data point. If this is true, and if it plays out exactly as planned, then it might be worthwhile. But those are two big "ifs" (and the "might" is fuzzy too). I'm not convinced that such a trade will be made. And if it isn't, then the decision loses any and all justification and becomes something that everyone--pro-Israel commentators included--ought to condemn.

Update: Marty Peretz claims that the Jordan Valley (where this settlement is being built) has few to no Arab residents outside Jericho. I have no idea if that's true--I have heard it is sparsely populated. He also argues (plausibly, to my ear) that Jordan privately demands that Israel remain in control of its border with the West Bank, lest the new Palestine destablize the kingdom (which is ruled by a minority family but is majority Palestinian).

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Somalia Status

The UN is calling for a halt to combat in Somalia.

That's the UN's job, and I don't begrudge them for it.

But I have to wonder (and I feel like a jerk for asking): Is this a case where we might want to Just Give War a Chance?

Stemming from Edward Luttwak's 1999 Foreign Affairs article, the "give war a chance" argument is one of those claims you feel like a really terrible person making, but probably has some substance behind it. Fundamentally, the piece argues that prematurely stopping conflicts (through cease-fires and the like) artificially "freezes" combatants at a point where both sides feel like there is something left "on the table." So both sides use the time out to re-arm and re-group, and then start fighting afresh, creating an endless cycle of violence-ceasefire-violence. Luttwak argues that we should instead let conflicts burn themselves out naturally. This, he argues, creates stability by removing the incentive for further conflict, because both sides will have come to the conclusion that they have gotten all the can via armed fighting.

Somalia hasn't had a unified government since 1991 and has been locked in a low-grade anarchic civil war ever since. Stopping the conflict now likely will prevent any side from gaining a clear victory (Ethiopia's support for the provisional government has been crucial, but given enough time Eritrea will probably jump in to support the Islamist fighters). This is a rare opportunity for one side to score a major victory, possibly paving the way for permanent stabilization.

The problem, of course, is that this is highly speculative, and the collateral we'd place on that bet is a rather nasty war in a country that has endured far too much of it already.

So I don't know. But I thought it was worth throwing out there.

UPDATE: More on the situation from FPWatch and Security Dilemmas.

Pro Flip

I am not a John Kerry booster. Sure, I voted for him in 2004--and I won't say it was only because the alternative was so unappealing (though he was). But I don't think he is anything more than an average politician, and I would be quite happy if he stayed pat and put in his Senate position and let his higher ambitions wither away.

That being said: this is a great editorial. I believe it was Bill Maher who asked when changing one's mind in response to new evidence became a bad thing, and Kerry does a stellar job ramming home the point.
There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop.

I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand. Barbed words can make for great politics. But with U.S. troops in Iraq in the middle of an escalating civil war, this is no time for politics. Refusing to change course for fear of the political fallout is not only dangerous -- it is immoral.

I'd rather explain a change of position any day than look a parent in the eye and tell them that their son or daughter had to die so that a broken policy could live.

Actually, as it progresses, the editorial gets less compelling and more preachy (classic Kerry). But even still, it makes a really important point. "Consistency," as a wise man said "is the hobgoblin of small minds." President Bush is so afraid of being wrong that he refuses to be right: he persistently refused to put us on the right course on Iraq, and now I fear there is no right course. By itself, this is merely an example of poor leadership. But the real sin is how this vice was, through clever ads and cheap soundbites, turned into a virtue--a model to which all politicians were supposed to aspire. John Kerry lost because he was effectively "tarred" as a leader who would not stay the course. Today, of course, that translates to being tarred for being a leader who may have still given us a chance at victory.

Ezra Klein with the link.

You Go gURL!

Every once in awhile (okay, compulsively), I check my sitemeter hit stats. It tells me how many people are visiting my site, but also where they are coming from. Most of the time it's Google or The Moderate Voice, but checking the list is usually the fastest way I find out if I've picked up a link from another blog.

Every once in a while, though, the link comes from a message board or forum. Curiousity gets the best of me, and I follow the link. The kink comes when the board requires registration. Most of the time, I'll do it, which means I am member of some very weird forums.

Which is to explain why, as of tonight, I am a brand new member of gURL, "a leading online community and content site for teenage girls." Kind of awkward. But that's what it takes to see what the populace is writing about me.

Cooperation Makes It Happen!

I'm finishing off "The Evolution of Cooperation" by Robert Axelrod while I'm in Aspen. It's somewhat of a miracle that I'm even reading the book. My friend (and former guest-blogger) Greg Ihrie lent it to me a few weeks ago, but I never got around to reading more than a few pages. I was planning on giving it back, with apologies, before I left for Aspen, but I got back from dinner late the night before and we just agreed I'd give it to him when I returned from skiing. So, on a lark I brought it with me. And wouldn't you know it, but it's quite good!

Axelrod discusses how cooperation can develop via the lens of game theory--specifically, the prisoner's dilemma. For those of you who don't know, I'll try to explain the dilemma briefly. For the rest of you who know about game theory, skip to the stars.

The prisoner's dilemma modeled off the following scenario:
Two criminals are arrested for a crime they committed together and put in separate rooms, where they cannot communicate. Both prisoners are told that if neither squeals (i.e., they both cooperate with each other), then they'll only be able to be convicted of a minor crime and each will get a small sentence. If, however, one prisoner rats out the other (i.e., one defects), and the other stays silent (cooperates), then the rat will be released immediately, while the sucker gets hit with a harsh jail time. If both rat each other out (both defect), then both will be sentenced to moderately long (longer then the minor charge, but shorter than the sucker's sentence) terms in jail.

Put in simpler terms, the prisoner's dilemma occurs when the T > C > D > S, where T = temptation (you defect when your partner cooperates), C = cooperation (both parties cooperate), D = defection (both parties defect), and S = sucker (you cooperate and your partner defects). Often times, it is expressed in terms of points. In a "T" scenario, you (the defecter) get 5 points while your partner (the sucker) gets 0 (5,0), while in an "S" scenario it is inverted (0,5). If both parties cooperate, both get 3 points (3,3), while if both defect, they each get one point (1,1).

The prisoner's dilemma is used in many fields (prominently in International Relations) to demonstrate why sub-optimal outcomes can occur even among rational actors. Specifically, if the prisoner's dilemma "game" is played only once, rational actors will always choose to defect (thus getting one point each), even though an optimal outcome of mutual cooperation would give them both three. Some people say it is for fear of becoming the sucker (getting zero points, or the harsh prison term), but that's only part of the story. In reality, the reason both parties will defect is because it is always the better option. If you think your partner will defect, then you also should defect because it gives you one point instead of zero. If you think your partner will cooperate, you should still defect because it gives you five points instead of three. This shows why cooperation--even when it is mutually beneficial--can be very difficult to bring into being.

However, this logic only occurs if the game is played one time. If the game is played repeatedly (is iterated) over an indefinite period, then it is possible for cooperation to develop, because one can build trust and thus convince partners to go for the mutually beneficial arrangement (which yields more benefits over the long run), then be stuck in a mutually suboptimal cycle of defections.

***

A prisoner's dilemma "tournament" was devised by which different players would submit strategies and compete against another "player" using their own strategy, the goal being to get the most points possible. So, for example, a player could submit "defect every time", where they would always choose defect. Each strategy faced all the others (plus "random") in a round-robin format.

The winner was called "tit-for-tat." It would always cooperate first, and then thereafter would do whatever move its partner did in the previous cycle. So if the partner defected, it would defect the next term, and if the partner cooperated, it would cooperate the next term. This is an example of what Axelrod called a "nice" strategy, in that it would never be the first to defect--it would only defect in response to the partner defecting previously.

It turns out that "nice" strategies have some interesting qualities (finally, the meat of the post). The first is that the benefits of being nice were pervasively under-estimated--it turned out that the vast majority of top-performing strategies were "nice," far over the proportion of "nice" submitted strategies. Similarly, the bottom of the pack was almost entirely made up of "mean" strategies. This is very counter-intuitive--in a world with a strong assortment of "meanies", not only can "nice" guys survive, but they can thrive.

Axelrod posits that cooperation can occur when players meet each other frequently and the benefit of preserving a future relationship outweigh the benefits of the short-term gain from defecting. So, for example, I'm far more likely to cheat a businessperson I know I'll never see again, than one who I have to work with day in and day out. Axelrod also establishes that such cooperation can develop without conscious thought (as in non-human symbiotic relations where one party could prey on the other), and even between supposed enemies.

This has interesting political implications. First, it implies that the world does not have to be dog-eat-dog. If people see each other and interact frequently, then cooperation becomes the optimal strategy. Specifically, it is an excellent argument for diversity (economic, racial, and otherwise). The short-term benefits of "selling out" another person are only worthwhile if one has no interest in maintaining a positive relationship with them. So, for example, a person who knows no homosexuals pays very little price in supporting their demonization. But if that person is their neighbor or grocer or banker or brother, the costs of defection become significantly higher. Hence, if we want to increase social cooperation between erstwhile feuding groups, it is quite possible--if we are willing to put resources into integrating the communities. The reverse, of course, is also true: if we want to maintain a conflict scenario, it is vitally important that we segregate the parties so they do not often encounter each other and are unlikely to "play the game" with the same person on multiple occasions.

What it also tells us is to not despair at the prospect for cooperation even among long-feuding foes. Given the right conditions (conditions which are very possible), cooperation becomes the most stable and most rational course of action for all parties. Of course, there are responses to this analysis (in IR, for example, realists would argue that short-term gains always outweigh long-term ones because a country that is exploited [played for the sucker] in the short-term might not survive to see the long term). But by and large, it is important to remember both that cooperation is quite feasible, and that humans tend to be empirically far too pessimistic about its possibilities for success.

Aspen Report

So today was my first ski day in Aspen (Snowmass, specifically) this year. Unfortunately, my leg was far worse than I thought, and I had to go in early. It's quite frustrating, because while I still can ski, I'm skiing significantly worse than I have at any point in the past four years or so (because I'm loathe to put pressure on my left knee), so runs I loved before now are chores.

Nevertheless, Aspen is a pretty neat place. I'm fortunate enough to have cousins with a ski-in/ski-out condo on Snowmass Mountain, which is wonderful. We also know a fair amount of people who ski here, so there's usually someone to bum around with (although many are significantly better than I am). And of course, the conditions are spectacular. In most years, I can handle about half the double blacks on the mountain (Hanging Valley Glades is my favorite). I went on one double-black (Powderhorn) today. I got down it fine, but much slower than normal for me and with a lot more effort.

The other issue with Aspen is that it feels like (and is) a playground for the hyper-rich. Now, we're reasonably well off ourselves, but a) I really prefer mixed-income arenas (like college) and b) the folks who go to Aspen are, by and large, a few steps above us as well. With people casually talking about private jets and how James Brown sung at their birthday (not to mention some of the houses!), I definitely sometimes feel a little bit out of my league.

On the other hand, I won $40 in poker tonight. So all is well.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Kos and I

Often times, after writing a post describing some instance of right-wing lunacy, I get a comment offering up Daily Kos as a counterexample. I figure now is as good a time as any to tell where I stand on that titan of the left-wing blogosphere.

I resisted putting Kos on my blogroll for quite some time. I didn't want to be associated with "that wing" of the blogosphere--partisan, shrill, and utterly predictable. But even when it wasn't on my blogroll, I still read it fairly frequently--just to keep my finger on the pulse, I said. However, I only read the front pages (never the diarists), so whatever lurks in that morass is pretty much a mystery to me.

In my mind, there are three different types of Kos posts. The first are posts on issues of policy. In terms of equivalent craziness, this is the analogue to the "women shouldn't be allowed to vote" column I just blogged about. But I don't think they write those very often (Iraq, mostly), and I rarely read them when they do. I don't recall any policy post ever reaching the lunacy of women not voting, though.

Indeed, the kind of "go to post" for Kos extremism was his "screw 'em" post after some American mercenaries were lit on fire in Iraq. That, of course, was a hideous sentiment, and I condemn it utterly. That being said, it isn't a policy position (which doesn't make it better, or worse, but different). Also, not to excuse what he said, but Markos was a refugee from El Salvador--a country literal torn apart by a merc-fueled civil war. If I recall correctly, Kos apologized for his post and explained that something in the story had triggered his reflexive animosity towards mercenaries--an animosity I can entirely understand.

But I digress. The next category is posts on political strategy. These, I think, are hit or miss--and I read them as hits or misses. I don't think Kos stands out as either particular savvy or poor in providing strategic political advice for the Democratic Party. It probably wouldn't be enough to read the blog by itself though.

The third category, however, is where Kos really shines. This is on political coverage. It most certainly is not non-partisan. However, in terms of always having the latest polls and data on the horse races, as well as alerting me to races that are not getting media attention but deserve to have an eye kept on them (many of those this year), Kos does a truly magnificent job. It is that service that kept me returning to the site, and that service that eventually compelled to put it on the blogroll.

So, to conclude. There is plenty about Kos I don't like. They are certainly too partisan for my tastes, and they have a tendancy to hold grudges and cheer the literary deaths of even people who could be their friends (i.e., TNR), which I find very distasteful. But they are an unmatched resource for keeping up with the latest polls and inside campaign information. And I've yet to read anything that would be the left-wing equivalent of saying that women shouldn't vote, or that soy makes you gay.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

To Aspen

I'm leaving for Aspen tomorrow. I may or may not blog while I'm there. I get back on the 29th, then leave for Carleton on the 1st of January. Blogging probably won't resume a full schedule until then. All predictions assume I don't get maimed on the slopes. Wish me luck!

And to all my readers, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Self-Loathing

There's a great Boondocks strip (I know, that applies to like 80% of them. Bear with me) where Huey and Caesar are trying to figure out whether a Black radio commentator (I forget who) was conservative enough to be a potential date for Condi Rice (don't ask). The punchline comes when said radio commentator ends his show with: "So, should we bring back slavery to give Black youth some discipline? Ultimately, I say...maybe."

I thought of that when, at Feministe, I saw this statement by conservative woman Mary Graber:
After watching The View and following the inane statements made on the program, I've come to the conclusion that it really is true what Aristotle, Saint Paul, and John Milton said: Women, without male guidance, are illogical, frivolous, and incapable of making any decisions beyond what to make for dinner. . .

But it's a sign of our crumbling civilization that a bunch of girls of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds, sitting around all dressed up for a coffee klatch, some of them with cleavage spilling out of Victoria's Secret Infinity Edge Push-Up bras, spout off opinions borrowed from disturbed teenagers and Michael Moore, and call it a talk show.

This was the danger of giving women the vote. The danger to conservatives (and the survival of this country) is the voting bloc of single women, i.e., those who lack the guidance of a man in the form of a husband or intellectual mentor.

I'm really not sure when the last time a women's right to vote was seriously questioned. I suppose it had to be a women who did it--not that this makes it better, just that people all too willing to cannibalize their own exist on gender issues as well as racial ones. Meanwhile, the column was published on Townhall, which looks to join World Net "Soy Makes You Gay" Daily as completely off the deep end of rational discourse.

There are plenty of smart conservative voices out there. But why is it that the aggregators, their "alternative media" (because the real media is so liberal), are so comfortable with being so off-base?

Happy Fan

Me: I got to go to the Devils game last night.

Friend: That's great. How was it?

Me: Good. They won. And my parents say that the Christmas Party was just crab dip and sliced ham anyway.

Friend: So you didn't miss anything.

Me: Well, I missed celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior to root for a team called the Devils.


It's good to be Jewish.

So, the Devils won decisively last night, 4-1. My seats were good, the game was exciting for the most part, before the Devils pulled away at the end (fine by me). And Brodeur stoned Alexander Ovechkin (check the video highlights at the link) in one of the finest saves I've ever seen live. Excellent.

After the game, I got to try the Nintendo Wii for the first time. It was loads of fun, even though I was atrocious at it (except at Monkeyball Bowling, which I dominated). I have to wonder, though, how much of the appeal is in the novelty of it--swinging the little Wii stick like a bat or jabbing out a punch or whatever. I mean, I can see it going both ways--I can see it really having staying power, or I can see it getting tiresome quick. It's definitely a paradigm shift, and gaming hasn't had a real revolution in controllers (adding those little mini-joysticks is the closest thing) since I've started playing consoles (i.e., since the days of NES). I give Nintendo full credit for thinking outside the box, and wish them luck.

Finally, on a sadder note, conservative blog Southern Appeal is closing down. I haven't agreed with the SAers on, well, pretty much anything (except Darfur, for which lead blogger Feddie was a strong and consistent voice), but they were always fun and respectful debate partners. I wish all the members of the site all the luck in the world.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Genocide Division

Here's an intriguing idea. Michael O'Hanlon, a leading liberal foreign policy thinker and Brookings Institute scholar, calls for the creation of a dedicated anti-genocide division of the US Army, numbering around 20,000 troops. The argument is that we should never be restrained from fighting genocide simply because our troops are otherwise occupied (in, say, Iraq):
A genocide-prevention division within the U.S. Army would circumvent this problem. Since its only mission would be to stop genocides, deploying the force would never require us to ask more of soldiers who already have their hands full with other conflicts. Moreover, those volunteering for the new force would know exactly what they were getting into and enlist specifically because they embraced the mission. These soldiers could be recruited from the ranks of idealistic college and high school students across the nation who have done so much to keep Darfur in the public eye.

I think O'Hanlon is a little over-optimistic about how the division would play out in real life, but I think there is some merit to the idea. Matt Yglesias, by contrast, is not as enthusiastic:
Color me skeptical. Different kinds of soldiers get different kinds of training, but they're all at least semi-fungible. If we had a spare genocide-prevention division lying around, it would be getting sent to Iraq as part of the "surge" not to Africa. The President would simply argue that escalation of the Iraq War is a genocide-prevention mission because of the sectarian violence. Then on the flipside, I'm not sure there's a discrete military task called "genocide prevention." You might, in an effort to halt a genocide, bomb some buildings or troop formations somewhere. Alternatively, as part of a war to overthrow the Taliban you might wind up policing the streets of Kabul and taking responsibility for the safety of the city's residents. So you want some military forces who specialize in bombing, and others who specialize in policing, but you don't have some troops who specialize in genocide prevention and others who specialize in attacking hostile governments.

I disagree that "genocide prevention" (or perhaps, intervention), is not necessarily a discrete task from other military activities. I seem to recall, in the wake of the Iraq fiasco, several calls for the US to develop dedicated "peacekeeping forces", under the theory that the training required to "shock and awe" a defending army is not the same as is required for counter-insurgency, peacekeeping, and reconstruction. I believe that stopping a genocide--which is less about crushing an opposing army than it is about securing civilians--probably requires a different skill set and mentality (building trust with the locals, negotiation to end the conflict, strengthening long term institutions) than the regular army has. This isn't to say that a genocide division would never need to be supplimented by regular forces (such as air support), but I do think it would serve a unique role. And of course, just having a division with anti-genocide work as its specific role makes it more likely we will actually engage in such interventions.

As to Yglesias' worry that such a division would never be able to be completely separated from regular army work, he's probably right that this is a risk, but I'm not sure I see it as controlling. If we're going to send 20,000 troops as a "surge" in Iraq anyway, it doesn't really matter where in the army we get them from. Compared to the increase (however marginal) in likelihood that we will effectively intervene to stop genocide, I think that it's worth the chance.

Iowa Numbers

Real Clear Politics has the latest numbers coming out of Iowa. Things look good for the Democrats. But not for Hillary, who comes in fourth place among Democrats. Obama and Edwards are tied for the lead (22% each), and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (who has the same chance of winning any state outside of Iowa as I do) comes in third. Hillary also loses head to head match-ups with every major Republican but Mitt Romney.

Obama and Edwards, by contrast, win every single head to head--surprisingly, to my eyes, besting both Giuliani and McCain by comfortable (albeit narrow) margins. Both candidates must be pleased by these numbers, but they are especially good for Obama, who still isn't known by a third of the country and probably has more "upside" potential than Edwards, Giuliani, and McCain (Giuliani, especially, has nowhere to go but down).

Meanwhile, Giuliani and McCain are dueling for the top spot among Republicans (27% and 26%, respectively), with Romney and Gingrich trailing.

Via The Plank.

Good Riddance

The Jerusalem Post reports that Jewish terrorist Asher Weisgan, convicted of killing four Palestinians in cold blood to try and stop the Gaza pullout, has committed suicide in prison.

Weisgan was an insult to the Jewish community and a despicable human being. I'd rather that he be alive right now, so that he could continue to rot in jail during the four life terms he was sentenced to. But I can't say I'm cut up that he's dead.

Devil of a Time

I'm going to the Caps/Devils game tomorrow (Friday) night. I've been a Devils fan since I was 8 (specifically, the 1994 Conference Finals between the Devils and the Rangers--or to put it another way, for virtually all of Martin Brodeur's career), but I've only seen them play once or twice before. The perils of rooting for a non-hometown team. So I'm excited.

The Devils enter the game second in the Atlantic Division (one point behind the Rangers) and 5th overall in the Eastern Conference. The Caps are in a three way tie for 7th in the Conference and 3rd in the Southeast Division. However, they've been on a tear lately, going 7-2-1 in their last ten.

I'll be rooting for the Devils, of course, but I will also be keeping a fan's eye on the Cap's Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin is a once-in-a-generation type of player--truly magical on the ice. Check out this goal: It's nicknamed "the impossible goal," and if you see it you'll know why. Hockey is desparately in need of a new superstar, and Ovechkin is just the type to fit the bill (perhaps even more that Sid "the Kid" Crosby).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Chanukah Roundup

In honor of possibly the most blatant example of a holiday receiving a battle-field promotion, I give you a Jewish news roundup!

Joel Stein decries the "war on Chanukah", and announces that Jews are going to fight back:
Until Hanukkah gets its proper respect, we're pulling our singers from Christmas albums. No more Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow. You'll quickly find you don't have many entertainers of your own when you're at Banana Republic listening to that one Kristin Chenoweth album over and over.

You have deployed your most annoying Gentiles against us: John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly. So forget Al Franken. Once we find the alley that Pauly Shore is sleeping in, he'll be singing the dreidel song outside your house. We'll force storeowners to greet you with a "Happy Hanukkah" -- and not the secular version but the one with the "Ch" in front and all the accompanying spittle.

Alan Dershowitz comments on Jimmy Carter's aforementioned refusal to debate him (along with Carter's amazingly hypocritical whine that nobody will debate him).

The Mormons were going to baptize Simon Wiesenthal after his death. After his representatives said "thanks, but not thanks," they agreed to withhold it (via Bitch, Ph.D).

When a Jewish lesbian marries a Muslim girl with a Catholic mother, wild craziness ensues!

All the Conservative Teshuvot (those that passed and those that did not) are now available online. In particular, Rabbi Tucker's opinion is available here, and it is beautiful.

Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant wrote an order expelling all the Jews from his "military department" (an area that included Tennessee and parts of Mississippi and Kentucky)? UNC Law Professor Eric Muller wrote about the sad event, which occurred 144 years ago (amazingly, when Ed Cone first raised the issue, the first thing one of his commenters did was try and defend the action!). Here is a taste from Muller:
Thus, all Jews in the Department of the Tennessee had twenty-four hours to clear out or be arrested. Grant's order applied indiscriminately to all Jews -- men, women, and children; traders and nontraders; recent arrivals and established members of the community. On its face, it applied even to Jewish soldiers in the Union army. Such a military order would not be seen again until General [John] DeWitt evicted [Japanese Americans] from the west coast eighty years later.

Like the west coast Japanese-Americans, the Jews of the Tennessee complied with the military order. Twenty-five hundred Jews desperately began looking for scarce transport up the Mississippi river and out of the reach of Grant's order. Their departure was rushed and traumatic. One surviving account tells of "a baby almost left behind in the haste and confusion and tossed bodily into the boat" and of "two dying women permitted to remain behind in neighbors' care." Another account tells of a group of four Jews in Oxford, Mississippi, whose horse, buggy, and luggage were confiscated shortly before they were sent away by train under guard. When one of them asked the reason for their detention, he was told, "Because you are Jews, and are neither a benefit to the Union or Confederacy."

To his credit, President Lincoln rescinded the order virtually as soon as he heard it.

American Muslims join hands with the Holocaust Memorial, condemn Iran's "Holocaust Conference."

A fascinating look at some of the events of the Nuremberg Trial.

Women First

Townsfolk on the Ipswich serial murder case:
Residents of Ipswich, once they express their initial shock about the killings, display an undercurrent of resentment. Not just over the serial killer label that now looks to forever be associated with their town, but also the media defining the victims by their profession: as prostitutes. Many in Ipswich are quick to note that the victims were women first. They were also daughters, sisters, mothers and friends to others within this community.

Important to keep in mind.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More On Goode

Pun intended.

The Virginia Representative who expressed great fear at the impending hordes of Muslims who will be democratically elected to Congress (if we don't stop Catholic Mexicans from immigrating) has refused to apologize for his faux pas.

Scott Moss asks: "What are other recent [since 1990] examples of public officeholders expressly advocating discrimination against other groups in terms of fitness for public office?"

I can't remember an elected politician issuing this type of call in recent memory. Perhaps my readers can jog the memory? Or is Goode really on his own in xenophobic lunacy?

Hi Julia!

This post goes out to the one and only Julia--the baddest thing ever to come out of Oakland (Maine).

For those of you who don't know, Julia is a sophomore Carleton student, majoring in Astronauts. She looks Jewish, and likes making wishes on Hershey's Kisses. She hates regifters, and has a propensity to turn people into Eunuchs when she gets mad. People say that Julia is White. She is a close associate with the lethal assassin known only as "The New Market Ninja." And when I said that I was having trouble find something to blog about today, she made the mistake of asking me to blog about her.

So, let's hear a round of applause for Julia! Or she'll chop off your...well, you know.

Love ya, Julia!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lead Me From The Fear

U.S. Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA) has a rather interesting view of there being a Muslim in Congress. Here's a letter he wrote to a constituent of his:
Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and "In God We Trust" are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, "As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office." Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

The emphasis is my own. The xenophobia is Rep. Goode's (rhymes with "food") own. Aside from weirdly linking Keith Ellison with illegal immigrants (He was born in Detroit. And I'd wager money that most illegal immigrants are Roman Catholic), this whole rhetoric of "fear" behind their being Muslims in America (along with their scaaary Koran) is just frightening.

I'd also note that, while I don't think Rep. Goode has any obligation to have a Koran on his wall, the stern, "over-my-dead-body" language he used in addressing the Muslim student is rather disconcerting in its own right.

It's a good thing nobody mistakes the War on Terror for a War on Islam. Because that would make our job a whole lot tougher.

Menachem Begin on Sleep Deprivation

The KGB used it on him while imprisoned in Russia. So, is it torture?
"In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.

"I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them.

"He did not promise them their liberty; he did not promise them food to sate themselves. He promised them - if they signed - uninterrupted sleep! And, having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days."
.
Yes. Yes, it is.

One last word, from Texas Law Professor Sanford Levinson:
It is foolish to assume that "torture" need involve the rack and the screw (or even waterboarding, which the U.S. seems to be moving away from). It is enough to keep people up for almost literally inhuman lengths of time. Or would anyone seriously argue that the sleep-deprivation apparently visited on Begin "really" wasn't "torture"? If so, what would such an argument be based on, beyond basically juvenile notions--drawn from reading too much action literature--that torture is necessarily restricted to certain kinds of inflictions of pain (or inductions of psychosis) and not others?

I just love having this debate.

Where Race Comes In

The Genarlow Wilson case has been making the rounds in the blogosphere as an example of a breakdown of justice. For those of you who don't know, Wilson, a 17-year old boy with good grades and no prior police record, was convicted of aggravated child molestation for receiving consensual oral sex from a 15-year old girl. He received a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, plus lifetime registration as a sexual predator. A frustrated Georgia Supreme Court upheld the ruling, finding no legal reason why the sentence could be overturned.

One of the interesting wrinkles of the case is that Wilson is Black, while the DA and prosecutor were White. And so sentencing law guru Douglas Berman asks: If Wilson was White, would this case ever had gone to trial?

Eugene Volokh tries to deflect the question:
One can always speculate this way; but it's not clear to me why this is a sensible speculation. The girls with whom Wilson had sex -- the alleged rape victim, and the 15-year-old whom the oral sodomy age-of-consent is supposed to be protecting -- are black, too. (See this story.) As the article paraphrases the prosecutor's view, "Had he not pursued charges against the boys, his critics could have just as easily chastised him for failing to protect the rights of the two black females. 'I'm standing up for African-American victims in this case, as I would for any white victim,' says [the prosecutor] .... 'Calling me a racist denigrates the people who are victims in this case.'"

Harvard lawprof Randy Kennedy had made this point in other contexts as well - since most crime is intraracial, seeing prosecutors or police being tough on black criminals (and the defendant in this case did indeed commit a crime) may simply mean that they're trying to protect black victims. Conversely, an environment in which prosecutors are afraid to take a hard line against black criminals because of the fear of being assumed to be racist is an environment that's not good for law-abiding blacks.

Before I proceed to rip into Professor Volokh, it's important to note that he, along with every other sane-minded individual, thinks that the decision is far too harsh to be justifiable.

However, in terms of dismissing the racial angle as idle speculation, he is far too quick. As Publius notes, this problem is one of prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutorial discretion is a good thing: It would be bad if prosecutors were mandated to try cases like this. But it doesn't do anyone any good when it isn't used--and certainly when it isn't used evenhandedly. Race becomes a factor when there seems to be a split between how Black and White defendants who have committed similar crimes are treated. I agree entirely that since most crime is intraracial, refusing to prosecute Black defendants can be seen as being insufficiently committed to Black victims. This is Volokh's argument, as well as the DA's, since the 15-year old girl in this situation was Black as well. However, I think the argument is inapplicable in two cases: Victimless crimes (such as drug possession), and crimes where the purported victim does not wish to prosecute. The former case strikes me as a situation where this abuse of discretion occurs endemically--Black users getting sentenced to draconian prison terms for simple possession (even as first offenders), while White (especially upper-class White) defendants get treatment after treatment option. In the latter scenario (of which this case is closer), it is difficult to see how the DA is protecting Black victims when they themselves don't want to see the case go to trial. I won't say that is true in every case (one can imagine a victim intimidated into pressing for a case to be dropped), but in the proximate situation it has been made abundantly clear that the "victim" in this case did not want this case prosecuted for entirely legitimate reasons.

The point is, to my ears the DAs claim that he's simply protecting Black victims rings quite hollow. Racial angle aside, cases like this arise, in my opinion, when prosecutors cease seeing their job as being the pursuit of justice and begin seeing it as the pursuit of convictions. Citing "Office Policy", the DA refused to ask that Wilson receive "first offender" status, despite the fact that he had no prior criminal record. The judge agreed, reportedly, because the other five defendants did have criminal records(!?!?). In a system where prosecutors have discretion, we have an obligation to be vigilant in ascertaining that this discretion is not abused to benefit certain classes of person at the expense of others. It appears that this is a problem in the jurisdiction in question:
But there are also other cases of adults--white adults--prosecuted by the Douglas County District Attorney's office for sex crimes involving minors and received far lighter sentences than any of the teens in the Douglasville Six case.

Case in point: Jack Stewart, a 24-year-old volunteer coach at Heirway Christian Academy in Douglas County, who received 30 days in jail and 10 years probation for fondling the 15-year-old daughter of a couple whose house he was living at temporarily. McDade notes that he objected in court to the "inappropriately light" sentence.

In the case of 26-year-old George Tsimpides, First Offender status was extended in a sex crime. Tsimpides received 20 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to luring a 15-year-old girl he'd met on the Internet to Arbor Place Mall with the intention of engaging in sex with her. McDade says he publicly objected to that sentence.

The D.A. himself has not been immune to sexual misconduct charges. In 1995, two female employees who worked in his office claimed McDade sexually harassed them, creating a "hostile work environment." The charges were later dismissed. McDade insists they are irrelevant. "According to the summary judgment, I won completely and they lost completely," he says.

These cases, according to the Douglas County chapter of the NAACP, point to a pattern of discrimination. The civil rights organization, which has led rallies in support of the Douglasville Six, contends that if the young men involved were white the charges would have been dismissed. "The D.A.'s office is caught up in that good ol' boy syndrome, misapplying a law that was never meant for teenagers," says chapter president Kimberly Alexander.

(Unless I'm deeply mistaken, just because McDade won on summary judgment does not mean he didn't harass female employees, it just means that the manner in which he did it does not have a legal remedy. Any lawyer out there want to confirm?).

At the very least, what we have here is a breakdown in the justice system, where it ceases to be "just" and becomes a mere conviction machine. Georgia has a problem if it cannot tell the difference between two teenagers, two years apart, engaging in oral sex, and child molestation (the law has since been changed, but the state explicitly (and inexplicably) refused to make it retroactive). This is a case that begs for executive clemency. This man should not be in prison.

By the way, here are the stats on teen oral sex rates.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Our Bad

If this doesn't make you feel comfortable with our detention system in the war on terror, I don't know what will!
One night in mid-April, the steel door clanked shut on detainee No. 200343 at Camp Cropper, the United States military's maximum-security detention site in Baghdad.

American guards arrived at the man's cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

Yeah, yeah, I know. He was sleep deprived, subject to "harsh interrogation methods," blah blah blah. Nothing new here right? Wrong.
The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.

If we can't figure who our own operatives are in these operations, how the hell are we supposed to know if we're detaining run-of-the-mill innocent people?
[A Pentagon Spokewoman] said officials did not reach Mr. Vance's contact at the F.B.I. until he had been in custody for three weeks. Even so, she said, officials determined that he "posed a threat" and decided to continue holding him. He was released two months later, Lieutenant Fracasso said, based on a "subsequent re-examination of his case," and his stated plans to leave Iraq.

This is what "posed a threat" has been reduced to? I know that this administration is not a fan of whistleblowers, but this is ridiculous.

Oh, and by the way--perhaps this is just me being Jewish, but I always find it particularly creepy when people are assigned numbers in place of their names. It is a classic dehumanization strategy, there is no purpose behind it other than to make it easier for guards to brutalize their wards, and it has no place in American policy.

Vance says he's suing Rumsfeld. I have no idea what the legal merits are here, but at some point there needs to be some accountability--criminal accountability--for the violations Rumsfeld and his ilk have approved against our own citizens.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hungry For More

Jonah Goldberg:
I could swear Ted Kennedy said this morning on Fox News Sunday that some 36 million Americans go to bed hungry every night and 12 million of them are children (I'm quoting from memory). He insisted that the numbers were on his side. I'm sorry, but does anyone think that's even remotely true? That systemic hunger is a chief symptom and problem of poverty in America? Come on.

Heehee...that Ted Kennedy. So ridiculous.

The Food Research and Action Center, October of 2005:
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) announced today that a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report based on Census Bureau surveys shows the fifth consecutive annual increase--and by far the worst increase since 2000--in the number of food insecure Americans--people living in households suffering from hunger without resources to purchase an adequate diet. The total number of people living in food insecure households in this country went up to 38.2 million in 2004. This number included 24.3 million adults (11.3 percent of all adults) and 13.9 million children (19 percent of all children.)

So it appears that Kennedy was right on the money (indeed, unless the numbers dropped over the past year, he lowballed it).

If these numbers are absolutely unfathomable to Jonah Goldberg, then mayhaps that's a sign that our nation needs to be a tad bit more aggressive in the fight against hunger and poverty. Like Goldberg, I find those numbers unbelievable. Unlike Goldberg, I suspect my initial response isn't to deny (or minimize: "Kennedy's Definition of 'Hunger' is 'food insecure.' For what that's worth.") the data but rather to press as hard as possible to address the problem so that we can reduce this blemish on our national honor.

Via Matthew Yglesias.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

10% Is Nothing

One of the more popular "race-neutral" alternatives to Affirmative Action is the so-called "10% plan" adopted by Texas in the wake of the Hopwood decision. In essence, it automatically grants admission to any Texas state university any student who graduates in the top 10% of his or her class. It has effectively mantained diversity at Texas Universities--mostly because there are enough heavily segregated schools where nearly all of the student body (and thus, the top 10% as well) is Black.

However, as Ilya Somin powerfully demonstrates, 10% plans are worse in nearly every possible respect than traditional affirmative action plans--even hard quotas. Traditional affirmative action rarely accounts for more than 20-25% of any entering class. But at the University of Texas' flagship campus, a full 71% of the class is comprised of top 10%ers. That gives almost no flexibility to admissions directors to try and find balance, admitting students who attended more rigorous schools but were not in the top 10%, or have special talents or experiences that aren't manifested in a GPA.

Somin continues:
To be sure, this result could happen with traditional racial preferences as well. However, the ten percent plan affects a great many more admissions decisions than even the most rigid old-style affirmative action systems do. Rarely, if ever, do traditional affirmative action plans determine the admission of more than 15-20% of a school's student body. By contrast, at the University of Texas at Austin, over 70% of the student body was admitted under the ten percent plan. While some of these students would surely have gotten in anyway, it is highly likely that the ten percent plan leads to much larger sacrifices of academic merit than do racial preferences similar to those used at most other academic institutions.

Second, and probably much worse, the article notes that the formula creates perverse incentives for students to try to game the system by transferring to weaker schools or taking easier classes. While neither the article nor other evidence I have seen provides precise data on the numbers of students who do this, the effect may well be large. When I lived in Texas in 2001-2002, I met quite a few people with high school-age children who had switched to weaker schools in order to take advantage of the plan, or were considering doing so. Obviously, there is no similar perverse incentive created by traditional affirmative action. With a system of racial quotas or "plus factors," both white and minority high school students still have incentives to go to strong schools, in order to maximize their college admissions chances.

Third, the tradeoffs inherent in the ten percent plan are less transparent to both students and the general public than those involved in racial quotas. As a result, it is more likely that harmful effects will remain unmonitored and undetected. If public universities are going to strive for racial diversity, the costs and benefits of doing so should be as transparent as possible.

Finally, the ten percent plan also has the effect of disadvantaging high-achieving minority students who go to strong schools and - in part for that reason - fall short of the top ten percent in their class. Not only are these students disfavored relative to minority students attending weaker schools, they are also disfavored compared to whites in weaker schools as well.

I've noticed this dynamic in situations outside of the "10% plan." When debating the merits of the Louisville and Seattle plans, one thing that impressed me about all the "race-neutral" alternatives is that they all seemed to worsen the negative aspects of affirmative actions. Students would have to travel even further, academic standards would become less relevant, assignment would have no bearing on any remotely meritorious characteristic and would often be completely random. The only advantage was that they didn't "use" race--but yet, everyone knew they were an end-around for racial diversity as well! It's incoherent.

Of course, one could say that 10% plans have the advantage of not explicitly race-based, which might excuse them under a pure "color-blind" view. Yet, as Somin notes, you would then have to excuse not "explicitly race-based" efforts by the Jim Crow South to preserve racial hierarchy (of which there were many).

In the end, if we're going to pursue racial integration in the schools, we might as well be overt about it. It's not just more honest--it also works better for all concerned.

On The First Night of Chanukah

My voters gave to me....Second Place!

I'm thrilled. Really, I am. To think, I started this blog before I even entered college. And now it is getting recognition from all corners of the world. 2nd place in a category that nominally includes 1,500 blogs is quite an accomplishment. And I thank every person who voted for me and this blog.

Oh, and as for the real Chanukah present--I got a $25 iTunes gift card. Which I proceeded to immediately use to buy the "Final Fantasy IX" soundtrack. Delightful.

So, Happy Chanukah, and congratulations to the champion!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Naughty or Nice

Buried at the end of an Obama-related post over at Captain's Quarters, I noted a very interesting observation:
The issue for Obama is the vulnerability he has to scandal. His trump card will be his outsider status and his candor. Obama represents the hope of a change from business as usual in Washington, a uniter instead of a divider -- the kind of meme that elected the last two Presidents, of course, and we have seen the resultant increase in partisan rancor over the last 14 years. If Obama's relationship with Rezko gains any traction, it threatens to hurt Obama's greatest strength.

Emphasis my own. I was six when Bill Clinton first ran for President, so I really don't know to what degree he ran on a platform of inspiration and unity and whatnot, but I certainly recall the "uniter, not a divider" rhetoric of George W. Bush in 2000. I always understood it as distancing from the vicious attack machine of the Republican Congress, whose constant scandal-mongering and ill-advised impeachment push had seriously turned off voters to the entire concept of Republican leadership.

Of course, "uniter, not a divider" rapidly became a sick joke with regards to the Bush administration, which without fail has set out to divide the country as deeply and as passionately as possible. That's how a guy like me went from supporting the Iraq war in 2002 to a bona fide anti-Bush firebreather in the Daily Kos vein.

Even still, however, I wonder whether there might be a grain of truth to the idea that "unity" pledges are ultimately self-defeating. This is not a happy thought for me, as I am a to-the-bone supporter of Obama's brand of politics.

But consider: Politics feeds off a division. Politicians need to formulate a reason to vote for you, which means voting against the other guy. Normally, that division comes down simply on a policy level--politician A argues that his opponent's plans are ill-advised, weak, or wrong, and the opponent responds in kind. However, if A attempts to take the high road and reach out to his opponent's base, that paradigm doesn't work as well. B's policies aren't under attack, they're being co-opted. That leaves B with two responses: Either a) press even harder to show policy distinctions, which means focusing on the most extreme elements (or perceived elements) of A's beliefs, or b) go straight mudslinging. Either way, it's a recipe for increased, rather than decreased, negativity. Since one can't counter nice with nice, one has to go naughty. And political discourse gets dragged down with it.

Agree? Or am I being too cynical?

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Last Push! Let's finish the vote strong.

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Also, before I forget, I added Captain's Quarters to the blogroll. Welcome aboard! (I'm sure he's thrilled).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Vote For Me!

Note: As long as voting remains open, this post will stay at the top. Newer content will appear below.

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If you want to cast a vote for this blog in the 2006 Weblog Awards (Best of the Top 3501 - 5000), you can do so here. You can vote once a day, so I'll be bumping this post to the top each day.

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12/14 11:25 AM: Well that will teach me to be optimistic. About anything. Not only did I have a sucky day in general, but my 35 vote lead completely evaporated, with Blue Gal storming ahead by as much as 70 before settling down at 47 when I went to sleep. Currently, she's up 53.

12/13 Midnight: The blogs are finally starting to space out. I'm sitting on a 34 vote lead over Blue Gal, who herself is up 17 on CDR. Good news for me!

12/12 Midnight: Today was a big day. The current tally stands as follows:

The Debate Link: 361
Blue Gal: 349
CDR Salamander: 339

This is my largest lead in some time (a whopping 12 vote margin!). I like the trend lines, but its too early to celebrate--after all, I came back from an even greater margin to take this lead in the first place!

12/11 Midnight: I guess miracles can happen. The race is in a dead heat, with Blue Gal 4 votes ahead of The Debate Link 4 votes ahead of CDR. I made up some serious ground today. At this pace, I may well yet pull this baby off.

12/10 Midnight: Blue Gal and CDR seemed locked in a battle for first (there within a vote of each other now. I'm 25 votes behind, nestled comfortably in third. Unless I stage a rally, it looks like that's where I'll stay. Do you believe in miracles?

12/09 Midnight: As Friday draws to a close, here are the top 4:
1) Blue Gal: 125 votes (22.77%)
2) CDR Salamander: 113 votes (20.58%)
3) The Debate Link: 99 votes (18.03%)
4) Geeky Mom: 74 votes (13.48%)

It drops off significantly after that.

12/08 Bump: After a fast start, The Debate Link is fading hard. I'm now in third place, and threatening to drop back into fourth. Get on it, TDLers!

"Fit the Description"

The Washington Post has a stellar story in today's "Style" section about the experiences Black men in Queens have with the police. It's extremely powerful.
The stomach flutter starts as a cop strolls up, or a patrol car flashes its lights, or two officers stand atop the escalator at the Jamaica Center in Queens and run their eyes over the subway riders.

"I see a cop and I can't help it -- I feel butterflies," said Tareaphe Richards, 21, a college student with an oval face and husky good looks. "They'll pull me aside sometimes because they say I fit the description. Yeah. Young black male. I always 'fit the description.'"

One of the problems with trying to impress upon White America the immense psychic (and other) damage racial profiling inflicts upon Blacks is that the practice (and its pervasiveness) is so foreign to them.
The Washington Post interviewed 12 young black men in Jamaica -- streetwise and college students alike -- and each said he had been stopped by police at least three times. The Post interviewed 12 young white men in Greenwich Village and Tribeca in Manhattan. Just one of them reported ever being stopped by an officer, for skateboarding in a subway station.

I've never been stopped "on the street" by a cop. But I do remember one time when I was a teenager playing "hide and go seek in the dark" by my house. I was crouching behind a leaf pile in my front yard, wearing a dark hoodie, when a cop pulls up behind me. It could not have possibly looked more like a stakeout, and I knew it. So I stood up and heartily waved at the cop, who looked at me for a moment, then kept driving. There is no way in hell he would have just kept driving if I was Black.
Richards lives in Jamaica and serves as a youth minister at his church. A year ago, he walked to church in his finest suit, hands jammed in his pockets. As he rounded a corner on a street of single-family houses, two officers spotted him and one raised his gun, ordering him: Take your hands out of your pockets!

The police were investigating a shooting from the night before and feared Richards was a Dapper Dan gang member in search of more victims.

The cop's hands wavered; Richards could smell the adrenaline, his and theirs. In a methodical voice he said he-was-taking-his-hands-out-of-his-pockets-and-raising-his-arms-over-his-head.

Fear? Embarrassment burned worse. "I felt violated, I can't even explain it," Richards said. "Imagine someone I minister to seeing that."

If it happened once, maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal. But that's the problem--it's pervasive. It's a fact of life. And it happens again, and again, with real consequences.
You'd like to think that's it and turn to Deacon, but Richards has another story. A few months later, he drove his church's white van to a youth basketball game. He had 11 black teenagers in his care. A police car flashed its lights and Richards pulled to the curb.

"They said there was an incident the night before with a van," Richards says, his face wrinkling in disgust. "I asked them, 'And that van, it had my church's name printed on the side of it?' "

The officers didn't appreciate his humor. They told the kids to get out and spent an hour ransacking the van. Richards arrived at the gym so late that the team had to forfeit the game.

Communities need cops. They need people who will do a tough job in dangerous neighborhoods to keep people safe. But the police can't do its job effectively if its wards are afraid of them as much as they are afraid of the criminals. Communities need cops, but cops need to maintain the support of their communities as well.
Richards has something else to say. He had given a lot of thought to becoming a police officer; he had even scored in the 99th percentile on the police test. Good salary, benefits, retirement after 20 years -- what's not to like, except this:

"How could I become something that everyone is scared of now? How could I risk becoming what scares me?"


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Nothing witty this time. Just go vote Debate Link.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's Written Apology Time

The Salt Lake Tribune (just a hunch, but I suspect not part of the liberal media) reports on a immigration raid at a local factory:
HYRUM - If only for a few minutes, Maria felt like an "illegal alien" in her homeland - the United States of America.

She thought she was going on break from her job at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant here on Tuesday, but instead she and others were forced to stand in a line by U.S. immigration agents. Non-Latinos and people with lighter skin were plucked out of line and given blue bracelets.

The rest, mostly Latinos with brown skin, waited until they were "cleared" or arrested by "la migra," the popular name in Spanish for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), employees said.

"I was in the line because of the color of my skin," she said, her voice shaking. "They're discriminating against me. I'm from the United States, and I didn't even get a blue bracelet."

Steve Benen: "If the DHS really conducted an immigration raid by separating people based entirely on their skin color, somebody better lose their job over it."

Wrong. Someone should lose their job. And the department should get sued. And they should have to pay a massive settlement for forgetting that it is no longer 1925. And then they should get someone to explain to America's Latino population that our immoral crackdown on undocumented workers is absolutely nothing they need to be concerned about whatsoever.
In Cache County, minorities make up 12 percent - Latinos are 8 percent - of the population of 98,000 people.

Women were crying as they were handcuffed with plastic ties and put on the buses. Some weren't allowed to get their belongings from their lockers. Maria, who declined to use her last name, argued with an agent because she was getting the coat for her 34-year-old niece, Blanca, who was arrested.

"She [the agent] told me, 'Do you think it's going to be cold in Mexico?' "Maria said, holding back tears. ''I've never seen people get treated como animales."

Maria was able to give Blanca a goodbye hug and promised to pack up her trailer. Gloria Alvanes looked for her husband at the plant. He called a relative before he was arrested and taken away. She said she is upset because she doesn't understand why the government is treating undocumented workers as criminals when most of them are just here to work. Alvanes has been married to her husband for five years, but he hasn't become a legal U.S. resident because the immigration process is taking longer than they expected. Now, she and her daughter, Marilyn Cornejo, a high school junior, are worried because they have a tight budget, it's 12 days before Christmas and there is no money for an immigration lawyer.

"What do they want us to do?" Marilyn asked. "Do they want us to drop out of school and get jobs?"

At five schools in Cache County, counselors comforted students who feared their parents had been taken into custody. Some school leaders explained to Latino students what was happening and made sure there was someone at home.

Latino leader Rolando Murillo, who happened to be at Mountaincrest High School in Hyrum, talked with about 100 students, including children whose parents are in this country legally but who fear "la migra."

"La migra is a nightmare for them," he said.

As usual, the immigration debate forgets that we're dealing with actual human beings. "Being Brown", as one of the women at the plant put it, is far more relevant to how their treated (como animales) than "being human." And that is a shame. A shame to the DHS, and a shame to the nation.

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Silence Is Ungolden

Solangel Maldonado at BlackProf has some interesting thoughts on the recent poll on racism I just blogged on, as well as a panel discussion.
Jared Taylor of American Renaissance magazine stated that Americans spend too much time talking about whites' racism against Blacks, but never address Blacks' racism against whites. As an example, he pointed out that Blacks can call whites "crackers" without any repercussions, but whites cannot use the "N" word. Although I do not believe this is a good example, it might be worthwhile to examine whether Blacks should be able to use potentially offensive words when referring to whites. According to Mr. Taylor, whites live in constant fear of saying something that might offend Blacks. Is this true? If so, does this "fear" hinder opportunities for cross-cultural communication and impede the development of personal and professional relationships between Blacks and whites?

Taylor is not my favorite human being, to say the least. When even FrontPageMagazine calls you a "white nationalist who has clearly rejected a multi-racial society," that's a pretty powerful sign that the charge of being a racist is not hyperbole. I have no clue how he got included on a panel on a major television network.

That being said, I agree with Professor Maldonado: Taylor's "cracker" "N-word" example is really dumb, but there is something to be said for the notion that White people walk on egg-shells when talking to Blacks. This doesn't get discussed for a variety reasons. Obviously, its difficult to start a discussion when the topic is "we're anxious about having discussions." Moreover, the Whites who do tend to broach the topic tend to be the ones like Mr. Taylor, who are appalled they can't say the "n-word" on equal grounds with Black people, rather than White people who honestly want to pursue the topic in good faith. Because of that, the public discourse on race conversation tends to come from a particular wing of Whites that doesn't seem interested in truly pursuing a race-equal society. And thus, Black people look warily on the topic as a whole as well.

This is problematic. Patricia J. Williams notes that race topics are made to be unmentionable
[both] blacks and whites will feel keenly circumscribed. Perhaps most people never intend to be racist or oppressive or insulting, but by describing zones of vulnerability, by setting up regions of conversational taboo and fences of rigidified politeness, the unintentional exile of individuals as well as races may be quietly accomplished and avoided indefinitely. [Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights 65 (1991)]

Breaking this discursive impasse has to be considered a top priority for anti-racism scholars in the years to come.

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Insult to Injury

In the last congressional election of the cycle, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez has defeated incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla to take the 23rd Texas District for the Donkey.

Henry Bonilla (R) - 32,165 45.68%
Ciro D. Rodriguez (D) - 38,247 54.32%

The district is heavily Latino and heavily rural, though it does include portions of the San Antonio area.



The race was a run-off because Bonilla could not crack 50% of the vote in the first round of elections. Yesterday, he ran behind his election day total (around 48%), giving Ciro the victory. What to we glean from this?

Well, in part, the results can be explained by the simple fact that Democrats are energized right now and Republicans are demoralized. But I think there is more to it. Given the extent that many people were seen as voting "against" the GOP rather than "for" the Democrats, there was always a risk of buyer's remorse setting in. The Democrats, by taking both the Senate and House, exceeded many people's expectations. It's entirely possible that when they woke up the morning after election day, they'd be like, "oh crap, what have we done?" The election of Ciro Rodriguez in a post-election day race he was seen as an underdog in is a signal that voters are comfortable with the idea of a Democratic House and Senate, and are at least willing to give us a shot. That's good news for Democrats hoping to consolidate their gains come 2008.

Congratulations to the victor!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Self-Fullfilling Prophecies

I was catching up with an old friend today, and the subject turned to Affirmative Action. My friend is a Republican (but the sensible sort), and was discussing a paper she had written in opposition to AA. One of the arguments she made was the popular claim that Affirmative Action hurts Blacks by increasing White resentment because it is perceived that they are getting something they don't deserve. My first thought on that front is what Pittsburgh Law Professor Richard Delgado pointed out--it doesn't seem borne out by the facts. In the era since we've had Affirmative Action, the public image and perception of Black Americans has improved dramatically. Many experts chalk that up to the increased presence of African-Americans in higher education, elite jobs and industry, and overall prevalence in the daily lives of White people. It's possible that this is just masking some negative effect AA has on popular views of Blacks. But it seems that any reduction in Black public image, if there is one, is outweighed by the positive effect of increased Black presence directly fostered by Affirmative Action.

But after reading about this controversy at Tufts University, I realized there is another issue in play here. The people who think less of Blacks or think them "undeserving" of their spots in elite colleges are the same as those opposing Affirmative Action! By and large, I haven't noticed the people who support Affirmative Action also subscribing to the view that Black students are inferior. So to the extent that there is a correlation between AA and views of Black inferiority, it's self-fullfilling! At Tufts, a conservative publication wrote up the following Christmas Carol "parody":
O Come All Ye Black Folk
Boisterous yet Desirable
O come ye, O come ye to our University
Come and we will admit you,
Born in to oppression;
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

O Sing, gospel choirs,
We will accept your children,
No matter what your grades are, F's, D's, or G's,
Give them all privileged status;
We will welcome all.
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

All come! Blacks, we need you, Born into the ghetto.
O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas.
Descendants of Africa, with brown skin arriving:
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

O Come All Ye Black Folk!

Made out as a critique of Affirmative Action, this carol reveals more than it intends to. It just assumes that all the Black students at Tufts are D or F students, underqualified, accepted only to fill a racial quota. Even under the most cynical view, this is highly doubtful. Satirical or no, it is still a racist poem, and the overlap between the anti-AA and anti-Black camps should be disturbing.

The point is that I don't think the people who subscribe to the view of Blacks as undeserving of their earnings are the ones best suited to dictating policy on reparative action for African-Americans. They should not benefit from a problem of their own making.

Meanwhile, an interesting poll was just released detailing America's views on racism. Unsurprisingly, there were some racial splits, with 84% of Blacks but only 66% of Whites believing that racism was a "somewhat" or "very serious" problem. However, I would have lowballed even the 66% figure, so I think that's pretty good news. Twice as many Blacks compared to Whites reported being victims of racial discrimination (50% to 25%). Excerpt from the article:
Professor Jack Dovidio of the University of Connecticut, who has researched racism for more than 30 years, estimates up to 80 percent of white Americans have racist feelings they may not even recognize.

"We've reached a point that racism is like a virus that has mutated into a new form that we don't recognize," Dovidio said.

He added that 21st-century racism is different from that of the past.

"Contemporary racism is not conscious, and it is not accompanied by dislike, so it gets expressed in indirect, subtle ways," he said.

That "stealth" discrimination reveals itself in many different situations.

A three-year undercover investigation by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that real estate agents steered whites away from integrated neighborhoods and steered blacks in to predominantly black neighborhoods.

Racism also can be a factor in getting a job.

Candidates named Emily O'Brien or Neil McCarthy were much more likely to get calls back from potential employers than applicants named Tamika Williams and Jamal Jackson, even though they had the same credentials, according to a study by the University of Chicago.

I think publicizing the degree of "stealth discrimination" in America is absolutely crucial to revitalizing anti-racist sentiment here.

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