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The Republicans Like Sex......

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
As long as only Republican congressmen are having it. With children.

Or, as Brazen Hussy said it, Republicans don't want children to learn about sex in school because they want to teach them themselves. (Ow!)

Apparently the White House has decided to extend abstinence-only education to adults. That's right, 20-29 year olds will be told to wait until marriage. What is their justification for such a silly position? "Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children."

Eck, ah, guh.. I really can't come up with anything coherent to say. My mouth is ajar. Perhaps my pithy wife has something clever to say.

Brazen Hussy: "Marriage rates are going down and children out of wedlock are going up not because women are having irresponsible sex, but because men are too shitty to marry."

Man, I wish I was as cool as her.

Point of information: the HHS claims that "abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. " Uh huh. And where is your evidence that abstinence education is effective? No evidence? Oh, right, I forgot: God told you so.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:54 AM

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Our First Priority

Monday, October 30, 2006
I think everyone should stop and think for a moment about this election - not who we should vote for, but what the analysts have been talking about.

If the polls are to be believed, the American people have a powerful desire for change. The Democrats are accordingly enjoying wide margins in "generic" ballot tests. One would expect a Democratic wave the likes of 1974 (when they won 49 seats) or at least 1982 (when they won 27). This might happen, of course. But there is a very real possibility that the Democrats could win a majority of the national popular vote, and yet the Republicans remain in the majority. The Republicans have even boasted of their "structural advantages": gerrymandering, incumbency, their turn-out operation, and (most importantly) money. We see campaign coverage in which candidates are being judged not on their personal merits or public positions, but essentially on how much money they can raise. And we call this a democracy?

The problem is not so much that these are hurdles to overcome, but that each is fundamentally anti-majoritarian: they are designed to fend off the popular will. The Republicans are trying to build a political system that insulates them any real electoral competition. They want to silence the people's voice, reducing elections to mere symbol - of no more meaning than the elections that were conducted in Soviet Union.

For years the Republicans have been attacking the institutional foundation of the Democratic Party. Well, two can play at that game. Karl Rove & Ken Mehlman think that incumbency, gerrymandering, fund-raising, and low voter turnout are the keys to Republican advantage. Thanks guys - you've just laid out platform for the Democratic Party. Any future Democratic majority should alter the re-districting process to enhance competitiveness, reduce franking privileges, reduce pork, establish universal voter registration, and most importantly - reform the campaignf finance system. Half-measure won't work - corporate lobbyists are already trying to corrupt the Democrats in order to ensure the passage of horrific "pro-business" legislation.

I think that the substantive merits of these proposals speak for themselves - they'd do a lot to create a more just political system. But one could argue that Democrats would be foolish to embrace such a plan. Rahm Emmanuel and his sort might claim that a system of public financing would eliminate an important Democratic advantage, that it would remove an important new support for freshman incumbents.

To which I would reply - do you really think that business will ever give more to Democrats than Republicans. Why not cut the ground out from the Republican party entirely? Why not cripple their ability to compete by preventing them from burying their opponents in slime? Don't you think that we'd be better off, as a party and as a country?

Of course George Bush would veto this package of reforms. But then we'd have something pretty good to run on in 2008, wouldn't we? The Democratic Party wants to restore the government to the people, but Bush Republicans want to perpetuate the culture of corruption. Sounds pretty good to me.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:17 PM

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This Was Cool

Friday, October 27, 2006
Here is a picture of me with a famous Senator from the 1960's and 70's. We met at Drinking Liberally this week. Which Senator, you ask? I'll give you a hint: I got to vote when I was 18 because of him.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:52 AM

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Can We Have A Different Opponent, Please?

Thursday, October 26, 2006
I am beginning to think that the Republican Party is too corrupted to serve as a major political party in a functioning democracy. It's not that just that they're wrong on policy. It's that they're a bunch of power-mad crooks.

Look, I know that negative ads are part of politics. But there's a way to do things and a way not to do them. If your opponent does something stupid or hypocritical, if he/she has something sordid in thier past, it's your job to tell the voters about it. But the attack has to be about something political (rather than personal), it should be about an issue rather than "character." It should never, ever appeal to the darkest fears in society, and it certainly should never just make stuff up.

I'm not talking about the "Democrats are soft on terror" ads, because as much as I dislike them, as much as they're designed to push people's emotional buttons, one could argue that the Republicans are making a substantive point: that the Democratic Party's resistance to the Iraq War indicates a lack of seriousness about the War on Terror. I violently disagree with this position, but it is an argument. I even think that the attacks on Jim Webb in Virginia for writing that women don't belong in the military is fair game.

But what they're doing to Harold Ford down in Tennesse is just awful. Bob Corker is a lousy candidate, and out of desperation he (and his allies) are appealing to every negative racial stereotype they can think of, attacking Ford's family, and making accusations so ridiculous that the tv & radio stations won't even play them. In Ohio the Republicans won't pull an ad against Sherrod Brown that has been demonstrated to be absolutely false. And I wish I could be amazed about Rush Limbaugh's insinuation that Michael J. Fox was "faking" Parkinson's symptoms for political purposes, but Limbaugh does this kind of thing all the time.

Whatever the Republican party used to be, it is now full of scoundrels. They run up piles of debt, undermine the Constitution, bungle a war, turn Americans against each other, abandon a major American city, turn the entire planet against us, and get indicted for everything from bribery to pedophilia. All the while they have the audacity to claim that they are the party of morality, liberty, competence, and strength.

I know some Republicans read this blog. So I ask them: how can you in good conscience continue to support these people? How can anyone?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:19 AM

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Should Liberals Support Barack?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
No sooner does Barack hint that he might run for President than he comes under attack. What surprising is that the criticism is coming from Democrats. I'd link to Bob Herbert's piece in the Times, but I can't because the NYT wants me to pay to read their opinion about things. Matt Stoller at MyDD wants Barack to run, but apparently that's because he thinks it'll be the end of Obama's hype. And Ezra Klein wonders whether any black man can get elected.

There are three separate issues here: whether he should run, whether he can win, and whether liberals should support him.

1) Should he run? If he wants to. I think everyone who wants to be President should make a run for it and see what happens. There are those who think he should wait, but the opportunity is there for him now, and it might not be there later. Charlie Cook is right - he has the hot hand right now, and you don't have the hot hand for 6-10 years. I might be now or never.

2) Can he win? I certainly think he has an excellent chance to win the nomination. Democrats are hungry for an inspirational leader, and Barack is certainly that. He'll come under attack for not being liberal enough (which I'll get to in a minute), but rhetorically he can run rings around everyone but John Edwards - and maybe even him. Obama is a "fresh face" - which always sells well. He would deprive Hillary Clinton of one of her key voting blocks - African Americans, who make up about a quarter of the Democratic primary electorate. Barack would also have a good chance to win over the liberals unhappy with Clinton's moderation and support for the war. Barack is in fact a mortal threat to Clinton's chances. And if Clinton and Gore both don't run, I would hazard to guess that Barack might be the frontrunner.
Oh, but you meant can he win the general election? To which I answer, why not? The factors that make him a contender for the nomination would prove equally beneficial for a general election run - his eloquence, his newness, and high black turnout. It has been argued that his inexperience would hurt him, as it will hurt Edwards. To which I would respond that while in some cases experience is very important in the minds of the electorate (it was in 2004), in most cases it isn't. There's also Klein's "Bradley effect" - that there are a lot of white voters who will never vote for a black candidate. I think that there's a strong possibility that this problem is less serious than it appears. The unreconstructed racists who hate black people aren't going to vote for ANY Democrat. I could be wrong, but I really don't think that we would lose anyone that we weren't going to lose anyway.

3) Finally, and most importantly, should liberals support a Barack candidacy? It has been suggested that Barack lacks experience, that he has never been tested in a campaign, that he's timid, and that he's a closet moderate.
I'll confess that Barack's limited experience gives me pause. I could give you a list of successful Presidents with almost zero experience, of course (Lincoln being the most famous example), and experienced candidates proving disastrous Presidents. Or I could argue that none of the other potential candidates have much more experience. Or that there is perhaps no job other than the Vice Presidency which gives any meaningful experience of what it's like in the White House. These are all debating points, however. Barack's lack of experience would be a mark against him that he would have to overcome by proving that his other assets outweigh that liability. It's a problem, but by itself not a decisive one.
Barack has never been put through the test of a major campaign. Fine. But does anyone think that the act of running for President wouldn't mean he would go through that? Also, no election is like a Presidential election. How many proven vote-getters have been nominated, only to prove the weren't up to the rigors of a Presidential contest?
The accusation that Barack is too timid (he wants to get along in the Senate), that he hasn't been an outstanding leader in liberal causes in the Senate, and that he uses moderate or conservative rhetoric on occasion is the most serious criticism of Obama.
First of all, I think people have to understand what the Senate is like as an institution. It's very clubby, and if you make a stink as a freshman, you will get frozen out of the legislative process. Obama's first responsibility is to the people of Illinois, and if he had been an ideological champion in the Senate from his first day, he would have annoyed everyone in BOTH parties and lost any ability to influence legislation. If he decides to run for President, he will have to make more of a public stand. Some have suggested that he should have behaved more like Russ Feingold, but they forget that Russ wasn't much of a firebrand in his first term. He had to build his credibility with his colleagues and his constituents before he did so.
Second, Matt Stoller and others who have been angry at Obama's occasionally moderate to conservative rhetoric have been pretty unfair. They have been very selective in their quotes, inflexible in their ideological approach, and have even grossly misinterpreted what Obama was saying. For example, Matt attacks Barack for saying nice things about Bush. But I saw the Russert interview, and he said that Bush was a decent man who was very clear in his beliefs. For all we know both of those things are true. Barack also said that Bush's clarity had thusfar been a political asset - which it has been. This statement is polite, but scarcely an endorsement of Bush as a leader! What does Matt want, Barack to burn Bush in effigy? Has Matt forgotten that any Democratic presidential nominee is going to have to win voters who aren't lefties?

I think liberals have a couple of very good reasons to consider supporting Obama if he runs. He knows have to defend liberal causes while appealing to middle American values, a characteristic we desperately need. He is in fact pretty liberal. And I think the fact that he a credible African-American candidate for the Presidency is a strong reason to support him. A black President would do an enormous amount to heal racial divisions in this country, much as Kennedy's election as President did for Catholics. Barack is in this sense what JFK was - a talented candidate who happened to be a member of a minority. Since 1960 it hasn't mattered whether someone is Catholic. Can you imagine what it would be like if being black didn't matter any more either? I'm not saying that we should support someone just because he's a minority. I'm saying that the fact that he's a minority is an additional positive factor, much the same way that because Hillary is a woman is a positive reason to support her. It's important to break barriers - after they're broken we don't have to use their existence as a considering factor anymore.

I'm not saying that I'd necessarily support Barack myself if he runs (although I'd be strongly tempted). All I'm saying is that he deserves as much consideration as John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, Evan Bayh, and whoever else runs. We shouldn't just write him off because he's not liberal enough, or that he hasn't been in the Senate for 20 years.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:43 AM

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His Royal Highness

Friday, October 20, 2006
Loki has annexed all the pillows to his Empire.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:55 AM

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Thursday, October 19, 2006
Well I didn't get that job either. Shit.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:50 PM

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What A Fun Day

It's rainy and cold.

My back is KILLING me from campaign work yesterday. Try bending over 500 times (TO PLACE FLYERS UNDER DOORS!). Ow.

I've been waiting for over a week to hear about a job I really want. They were originally supposed to let me know last Wednesday, but wrote me on Friday to say that it would be "sometime this week." It is now Thursday, which scarcely fills me with confidence.

I had data entry work planned for today, but I suddenly discovered that I already had the data I needed and had forgotten about it. Which makes me a moron, but also leaves me with nothing to do.

There is nothing on TV.

Can I just go to bed and have it be tomorrow already?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:03 PM

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Gee, What A Coincidence

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
It's an election year. The Republicans are in deep trouble. And suddenly Wolf Blitzer is breathless about a dirty bomb plot at NFL stadiums. Good thing I'm not a cynic, or I'd be suspicious.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 5:20 PM

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Um, honey?

Make sure you check out the next to last sentence. My God, that's funny.

The Gentleman
Deliberate Gentle Love Master (DGLMm)

Steady & mature. You are The Gentleman.

For anyone looking for an even-keeled, considerate lover, you're their man. You're sophisticated. You know what you want both in a relationship and outside of it. You have a substantial romantic side, and you're experienced enough sexually to handle yourself in that arena, too. Your future relationships will be long-lasting; you're classic "marrying material," a prize in the eyes of many.

It's possible that behind it all, you're a bit of a male slut. Your best friends know that in relationships you're fundamentally sex-driven. You're a safe, reliable guy, who does get laid. In a lot of ways, you're like a well-worn, comfortable pair of socks. Did you ever jack off into one of those? All the time.

Your exact opposite:
The Last Man on Earth

Random Brutal Sex Dreamer
Your ideal mate is NOT a nut-job. She is giving and loving, like you, but also experienced. Avoid the The Battleaxe at all fucking costs.

CONSIDER: The Maid of Honor, someone just like you.

Link: The 32-Type Dating Test by OkCupid - Free Online Dating.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:32 AM

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Symbolism Can Be Silly

Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Images can have a lot of power over people's minds. Put up a cross and tell people that a holy man was killed on one, and they start worshipping. Then dip said cross in urine, and they get cranky. You get the picture.

What amuses me is how little people usually know about the origin of said symbols. Their meaning can change profoundly over time as they appropriated by new socal groups.

Which brings me to today's interesting bit of trivia. The star and crescent are universally recognized as the symbol of Islam. When there was a memorial planned for Flight 93 with a big red Crescent, the wingnuts got...well...nutty. But has anyone bothered to find out where this symbol comes from? You might guess that Muhammad used it, or perhaps one of the Caliphs?

You would guess wrong. The star and crescent was the symbol of the Byzantine Empire, the bulwark of Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean for a thousand years, and the determined enemy of Islam. The old city of Byzantium (then Constantinople, then Istanbul) had a crescent standard as a tribute to their patron goddess, Artemis (avatar of the Moon). When the city was re-founded by Constantine as a Christian metropolis, it added the star to symbolize the Virgin Mary. (Anyone notice similiarities between Mary and Artemis?).

So how did the star & crescent come to mean "Islam"? When the Turks finally took Constantinople in 1453, they wanted to claim the legacy of the old Eastern Empire, so they took over the flag of their old enemies. As the Turks assumed the Caliphate and became the representative of Islam to Europe, so to did the star and crescent.

So what's my point? Everybody should just relax a little. It's just a symbol. It can mean anything. And it probably has.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:00 AM

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The Inadequacies of Religion AND Science

Monday, October 16, 2006
I recently watched the BBC programs by Richard Dawkins (via orcinus) on the dangers of religious belief. Dawkins argues that religious faith is a bunch of silly superstition that is no longer necessary to explain natural phenomena, and that the world's dominant monotheistic religions have cultivated intellectual immaturity, political authoritarianism, and social conflict.

Dawkins makes a very powerful case. The the effects of religious faith on political and social life (whether Muslim or Christian) are deeply troubling. Religious fanaticism exacerbates racial tensions and makes it easy for unscrupulous politicians to manipulate the citizenry. I would certainly agree with him that intolerant adherence to a religion, and the mixing of it with politics, is perilous for the human mind and for human society.

But is Dawkins right? Is atheism the only answer? I've spoken before in defense of faith (in the general sense), but Dawkins' argument is persuasive enough to merit a rebuttal. I would of course accept the Dawkins' position that reliance of religious dogma to explain natural phenomena, and too-great a reliance on external authority, can only lead to problems. Where I think Dawkins goes wrong is thinking that science in and of itself can fill the human needs that religion has historically addressed. Whereas religious fanatics claim too much for their faith, Dawkins claims too much for science. Dawkins is right to discard the material & metaphysical justifications for religious faith (that it requires a miracle to explain the world). Where he stumbles is where he challenges the psychological and social justifications for religion.

The social justification for religion is that revealed truth is necessary to ensure adherence to basic morality, that without the carrot & stick of an afterlife and universal law giver, people would be murdering and raping at will. Now Dawkins' critique of this position is correct - the Kantian argument that a morality based on fear of retribution and the offer of reward is no morality at all. But Dawkins' argument that we have an "altruistic gene" seems somewhat suspect. As an evolutionary biologist, he wants an explanation for morality from evolutionary biology. The problem is that to be good because of "hard-coding" is no more moral than being good from authority. It is also to commit the naturalist fallacy - that what we are is all that we can be. Human beings possess reason, and are therefore capable of transcending biological imperatives. Biology does a very poor job of explaining the human mind, for which I am profoundly grateful. If we could explain all human behavior and society as the product of chemicals, freedom as we know it would disappear. We would simply be cogs in the machine. I'm not saying here that religion IS necessary for morality, only that science isn't an appropriate foundation for it either, because it is ensnared just as quickly as religion in the difficulties of the "problem of evil" and free will.

Which brings me to the psychological justification for religion - that religion provides comfort in the face of an unjust world. If there is an afterlife, then all the unfairness of this life will eventually be settled - the good will prosper, the innocent given another chance. It also ameliorates the great fear of death - that we will simply end.

Dawkins simply wishes these fears away. He thinks that that the recognition that our existence ends with corporeal death should be liberating. Rather than filling us with fear, this realization should produce a commitment to make this life a good one. But what if this life is just a disaster, through no fault of our own. Many people never have a chance - their prospects are ruined by error or the accident or the ill-will of others. Are we to say that the too-brief life of a child raped and murdered by their parent has been "the best life possible."

I think many - if not most - people would call that a horrifying prospect. It requires a heroic ethic, a belief that we are in fact the masters of our own destiny. Perhaps Dawkins believes so, but then he is a very successful man. For the vast majority of humanity who feel that their lives are full of injustice, deprivation, and misery, it is an insult to call this the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps there are real dangers to faith, but the fact that they help people cope with the horrors of this world means that faith should at least get a hearing, rather than contemptuously waved away by a fat and comfortable englishmen.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:37 AM

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The Whole Kitty Crew

Friday, October 13, 2006
I wish I knew what in the world was so interesting.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:07 AM

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The Republican Collapse?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Anyone paying attention knows that the Republican poll numbers are just terrible at the moment. I have no idea whether this means that we're looking at a Democratic landslide or not. I know that by any reasonable calculation, the Republicans should get crushed this year. But by the same calculations, John Kerry should be President. Heck, Al Gore should be enjoying his 2nd term! So much for reasonable calculations.

What I want to point out is Chris Bowers' insightful piece over at MyDD. He lays out in pretty clear terms that the problems confronting the Republicans are not due to accidents or slip-ups, but are integral to the Republican governing style. Because they are holding power with a remarkably narrow coalition, and are implementing unpopular policies, they are forced to resort to ever more desperate measures to retain power. Scandals and incompetence are the inevitable result of this way of doing things.

Which brings up something I've said before. It's easy as liberals to get demoralized by our repeated electoral defeats over the last few years. But given the Republicans' superior organization, their money advantage, their message discipline, and their ruthlessness, they have never been able to put together anything like a big majority. They've scraped by in election after election, not a strategy that can be expected to work in perpetuity.

Now if only the Democratic leadership weren't quite so incapable, I'd be far more confident that better days were ahead. But perhaps the sheer weight of evils will be enough to drag the Theocons down this time. Maybe.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:08 AM

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Big. Bigger. Suck.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Raise your hands if you've noticed that as Google has gotten bigger, it's gotten worse. How many times have we experienced odd outages and other frustrations from Blogger? I remember when I first discovered Google. I thought the search engine was great, and the free blog service was cool. But now the child has grown up, and we are left with a pudgy adult. I expect that Google's recent acquistion of YouTube will just make things worse.

Empire building is bad. Not just because it's an exercise in vanity, but because companies go from doing one thing well to doing many things poorly. You see this over and over again. A company like Google will master one element of service or production. It will then get ambitious and try start to expand in new areas, frequently by just buying its way in to new fields. The result is that the business that it originally excelled in starts to suffer. My God, just look at Microsoft. They do everything, and none of it well.

I was worried when Google went public. It seemed like the founders were ready to cash in. The only reason to go public was to raise additional capital for new ventures. Predictably their old ventures will suffer. Part of the reason is that they'll be pulled into the dominant market model of trying to post huge annual increases in profit. A private company can accept steady profits and plan for the long-term. A public company needs to be splashy every quarter to keep its stock price up. It's a recipe for recklessness.

I'm also very skeptical about the value of buying a company in order to get your foot in the door. The planned economies of scale rarely seem to manifest themselves, and the products if anything decline in quality. If you really want to develop a new branch of the business, why don't you try growing it from scratch? Y'know, learn something about it first?

The fact is that good organizations are ones that specialize: they pick one area of expertise and learn to do it well. The more they get away from that central focus, the more they become a sprawling corporate behemoth that makes paper plates and sells credit cards, the more ridiculous and inefficient they become.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:58 PM

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What A Week!

Monday, October 09, 2006
Are things always this exciting, and I have been jaded? Or did the fates decide to make life very interesting while I was in a self-induced information coma? It's hard to believe, but I entirely missed the Mark Foley scandal. It had just started last weekend when I stopped reading the papers. All I'm going to say about this is that, as usual, it's not the crime but the cover-up. It's hard to believe that the Republican leadership has known about a pedophile in their midst for years and done nothing about it. What a bunch of crooks.

I'm going to wait for election day and see how the so-called "values voters" behave. If they still pull the lever for Republicans (which it looks like they might), then I am going to take great joy in pointing out what hypocrites they are. If they stay home, then I'm going to pop a bottle of champagne, because a Democratic majority would be assured. I'll have my fun either way.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:49 AM

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Taking Some Time Off

Tuesday, October 03, 2006
The passage of the torture bill - the biggest boulder in what seems an avalanche of bad news lately - has exhausted my ability to think about politics. I need a break. So this week I'm just not going to pay any attention. No news shows, no liberal blogs, not even the Daily Show. In short, a perfect imitation of my fellow citizens (See how cynical I've gotten?).

Don't worry, I'll be back next week. I just need some time to get my head together.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:50 AM

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