Friday, December 30, 2005
Smith's analysis of the harms of unregulated campaign money is largely limited to efforts to find quid pro quo returns on investment for corporate contributors. He takes this as far as analysis of the stock market reaction to McConnell v. FEC for companies that make political soft money contributions. What is this supposed to prove?
This sort of analysis is overly complex and makes it difficult to produce any sort of meaningful empirical data. What sort of scorecard do you use here? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of influence (not least of which the Microsoft example that Smith himself raised). Smith acknowledges that the data he presents has many critics, but claims that since they don't have better data, that makes his data somehow valid.
A simpler analysis is this: our system is based on democratic, one person-one vote principles. Does campaign money subvert those principles? Does it give influence beyond one-vote to big money donors?
In this view the analysis of harms should be considered from the other end. Does the money influence election outcomes? According to opensecrets.org, the odds of a challenger for a house seat in 2000 beating an incumbent were nil for challengers who raised under $500k, 24:1 for challengers with $500k-$1m, 15:1 for challengers with $1m-$1.5m, and 3:1 for challengers with over $1.5m. That looks a lot like influence. Obviously there are still confounding factors here (primarily that one might suppose that campaign money flows to more attractive candidates). But this seems like more meaningful data than the sort referenced by Smith. Additionally you've got quotes like this one (one of my all-time favorites) from Senator Fritz Hollings:
"The body politic has got a cancer of money. I ran in 1998, and I raised $8.5 million. That's about $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. If I missed Christmas and New Year's weeks, I'm $100,000 in the hole. So the race begins the next day [after your election]. We're collecting for six years out. That means we don't work on Monday. We don't work on Friday. I've got to get money, money, money, money. And I only listen to the people who give me money. With the shortage of time and everything else, you've got to listen to the $1,000 givers. I mean, no individual is corrupt, but the body has been corrupted."
It seems, to me at least, fairly obvious that money impacts election results. It seems also obvious that this gives political power to people who wield that money. That is problematic for a one person-one vote system. Smith never discusses this problem.
But he does talk about other evidence of corruption, apparently to show that BCRA is insincere. The hiring of spouses and children of politicians as lobbyists, contributions to personal foundations, and book contracts, for example. Frankly this only amplifies the need for regulation of money in politics. If anything this should support expanding BCRA into broader territory.
Smith criticizes McCain for speaking at a fund-raising dinner for the Brennan Center that raised money to support BCRA and to help defend it against McConnell's legal challenge. Apparently McCain also raises money to support campaign finance reform through his own Reform Institute. This is the sort of self-defeating argument often leveled at McCain and Feingold and other finance reformers: how can they argue for campaign finance reform when they accept the sort of contributions they argue against? A better question would be: if their argument is premised on the fact that the current political environment makes it necessary to raise large sums of money to get anything accomplished, how could McCain and Feingold hope to accomplish anything without raising money? Only people in the system can change the system. They have to play the game to change the rules. And ultimately this is not a discussion of the substantive merits of the issue anyway. It is merely smear attack against proponents of reform.
Here's an interesting thought I'd like to see some of these folks discuss. The Supreme Court appears to be increasingly coming under the control of Scalian originalists. There is a strong argument to be made that the original meaning for the First Amendment was merely to prevent prior restraint of speech. This was a system used in England where printers needed to get prior government authorization of material to be printed. The Sedition Act of 1798, for example, seems to our sensibilities to be a clear violation of the First Amendment. But no one seriously thought it was a violation at the time, and the courts never struck it down. The Republican (Jeffersonian) reaction against the Act was politically motivated (it was a Federalist device to squelch Republican press) and focused on the issue of federalism rather than the First Amendment. It did not implement prior restraint, and it allowed truth as a defense. This was free speech as compared to the English system. An originalist interpretation of the First Amendment would create a tremendous amount of breathing room for campaign regulation. I wonder how keen some of the conservative court cheerleaders would be for that..
Monday, December 26, 2005
Monday, December 19, 2005
This is pure stupidity. I've argued before, and I'm sure I'll argue again, that there will not be a peaceful settlement of this conflict without Hamas' participation. They already have an effective veto over the process through violence, which they exercised over the Oslo agreement. It sure seems like it would be better for everyone if they could exercise their veto through voting in the Palestinian legislature rather than through detonating bombs in cafes in Jerusalem. Here there is an opportunity to mainstream Hamas, to bring political leaders within the organization to its front and into legitimate negotiating positions, and to support and strengthen Palestinian democracy, all in one blow. And it looks like we want to squander the opportunity...
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Such criticism of faith and religion is not new. What was new to me, however, were Harris' criticisms of religious moderates. He claims that moderates are complicit in the acts of terrorism or harm done by religious extremists. Because moderates believe in at least some of the dogma of a given religion, they have no grounds on which to argue against a completely literal interpretation of the religious text. In other words, they are on the same spectrum of belief as the extremist, where at some level their faith becomes dissociated from reason.
Harris covers a broad range of topics in the book. One I would like to mention is torture, given the recent press coverage and Joe's recent post (see Torture Nation, 10/7). Harris' arguments were a little harder to follow here, but I believe his main thrust is that torture is no different than collateral damage caused in a war. In other words, in fighting a war, both are potential unfortunate consequences necessary to succeed. He seems to forget about intention through all of this: there is certainly no intention to kill innocent bystanders in a war (although we might expect this to happen), but there is clearly intention to torture someone as a means to an end.
With that said, I continue to struggle with the torture issue. In the oft-cited example, a captive holds information about a bomb he has planted that will kill thousands of people, but he is unwilling to give that information. Should he be subject to torture that we might save thousands of lives? Assuming we know him to be guilty and involved, the answer is clearly yes from a utilitarian perspective. And yet, therein lies the potential of gross misuse of torture, for how can we ever truly know whether we have the right man? Is the information gained by torture reliable? From a practical standpoint at least, there are many doubts about cost-benefit of torture.
I would encourage everyone out there to read Harris' book (by the way, Harris has a degree in philosophy and is a doctoral candidate in neuroscience - I love him already). I would also love to hear any discussion on these issues. Some excerpts from the book you might enjoy:
“Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.” (page 19)
“We live in an age in which most people believe that mere words— ‘Jesus,’ ‘Allah,’ ‘Ram’—can mean the difference between eternal torment and bliss everlasting. Considering the stakes here, it is not surprising that many of us occasionally find it necessary to murder other human beings for using the wrong magic words, or the right ones for the wrong reasons. How can any person presume to know that this is the way the universe works? Because it says so in our holy books. How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because the books themselves say so. Epistemological black holes of this sort are fast draining the light from our world.” (page 35)
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Apparently you have not figured out how this antitrust thing works. The proper procedure after you find Microsoft guilty of multiple antitrust violations is to roll over and play dead. Alternately you could send Bill Gates a fruit cake. Certainly you don't make them remove Windows Messenger from their operating system, because that harms customers, who obviously have no reason to want Windows without Messenger. Please try to learn from our example.
U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division
Saturday, December 03, 2005
There is also a link to an NPR interview with a former director of the NSA, who argues that the best thing we can do for democracy in Iraq is leave now.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
"Information saturation means attention, not information, becomes a scarce resource. Power flows to credible messengers. Asymmetrical credibility matters. What's around information is critical. Reputations count. Brands are important. Editors, filters, and cue givers are influential. Fifty years ago political struggles were about the ability to control and transmit scarce information. Today, political struggles are about the creation and destruction of credibility."
There are some very smart people in our government. Sad that nobody pays attention to them. Al Qaeda doesn't need to destroy our credibility. We do it to ourselves, over and over and over again.
Random thought: I know there are various organizations that send questionnaires to political candidates to survey their positions on various issues. I'd like to see one in the form of a spreadsheet that provides an extremely dumbed down version of the federal budget (ie. on the income side provide the rates of the major tax brackets (with built in calculations to reflect the revenue change that results from adjustments to the rates) and an "other" category encompassing everything else, on the spending side have military (including foreign interventions), social security, medicare/medicaid, homeland security, and "other" encompassing everything else). On one line have the actual numbers as of this year. On the next line invite the candidate to fill in the budget that they would institute if they were king. I'm tired of politicians talking about reducing the deficit, but never committing to any sacrifice (on either the tax side or spending) that would make it happen. This system would apply a very simple reality check to the usual B.S. rhetoric.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Update: Howard Kurtz had the same reaction - "can this possibly be real?" His conclusion? No, based on the fact that it would be unbelievably stupid. Like that's ever stopped this administration before... I think the least credible part of the story is the fact that Bush would run it by Blair before he did it.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I think these are good considerations and important points, but they miss a fundamental preliminary question: can we still win in Iraq? Because if we can't, every point raised by Kagan and Kristol is utterly irrelevant. Murtha argues that it is a lost cause. Unless that point is rebutted, his position must prevail over Kagan and Kristol's. They answer this charge with the flat statement that "victory is in fact possible, though it will require a longer war than anyone would like." That is not at all clear to me.
I have been (and remain) reluctant to abandon the mission in Iraq owing simply to the magnitude of our current obligation to the Iraqi people and the high stakes that Kagan and Kristol detail. However, I am becoming increasingly doubtful about our long term prospects for success in Iraq. I see no signs of the insurgency slowing or Iraqi government gaining control. As Murtha noted, the Iraqis don't want us there, and, in fact, at least some Iraqi leaders view the insurgency as legitimate resistance to occupation. There was a column by Helena Cobban (a CSM foreign affairs columnist) that I thought I had blogged (although it appears I never did) from the summer that presents a credible argument that our presence in Iraq is no longer helping matters. At this point I think we have to look very seriously at whether it is worth staying. I am on the threshold. The prospect of a civil war in Iraq worries me greatly. But if all we are doing is delaying it until our eventual and inevitable withdrawal, we are performing no great service. No matter the stakes, if we can no longer win this war, or if we are making matters worse by staying, we must withdraw.
In this case, Kagan and Kristol's points only go to underscore the general stupidity of the Iraq war in the first place. It was always a gamble of the highest stakes with dubious prospects of success. We have paid a high price for it already in many regards (casualties, money, reputation). Now whether we choose to remain or withdraw, the price will only escalate. I wonder if it is only now that the magnitude of this blunder is beginning to settle in for the neocons.
In the end, I believe this to be a more costly mistake than Vietnam. Where in Vietnam our policy was driven mostly by paranoia of communist dominoes falling (which never actually occurred), here I agree with Kagan and Kristol that this would be a victory for Al Qaeda of real importance. Al Qaeda has operated under the belief, drawn from U.S. interventions in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia, and the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, that the West is weak and has no stomach for fighting. This is a fundamental element of their strategic approach and philosophy. And here, in the most high profile arena possible, we may prove them right. Nonetheless, we cannot allow this to obscure reality in making our choice. If truly this is a lost cause we must not throw more good lives and money after bad. Our military has been courageous and true, and we owe it to them. To quote John Kerry (from when he used to be cool): "How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Thursday, November 17, 2005
It's a pretty common meme at this point that China is poised to emerge as a top global rival to the U.S. Assuming that China's economy continues to grow at a rapid rate (and there are some potential problems there, particularly in the banking system) this seems almost inevitable. But I think suppositions that this would somehow mirror the Cold War are dead wrong. I'm not sure how this rivalry would unfold, but I highly doubt that it would resemble the Cold War. The contours of the Cold War were defined by the all-encompassing differences in the economic systems of the two sides that made the complete severing of ties between them possible and desirable.
The key to China's growth has been the modernizing of its economy and its embrace of free trade. The U.S. and China a crucial trade partners, and I don't see that changing. While China will undoubtedly become more assertive in its foreign policy and more apt to challenge the U.S. as its military and economic power grows, there will be a huge economic incentive for China and U.S. not to let things get out of hand. Of course, both sides will need to be wary, as nationalism can lead people to do stupid things, and no doubt there will be domestic political points to be scored by railing against the other side (indeed this is already the case in the U.S.). Flashpoints will emerge and tensions will flare. But money speaks loudly, and I think will hold things together in this case. The dynamic between the U.S. and China will likely be something we haven't seen before.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
The problem with Judy Miller's effort to hide behind press secrecy protection is that the facts of her case flew in the face of the intent of such protections. The idea is to protect whistle blowers and encourage them to bring to light topics, otherwise hidden from the public, that may be critical to the public discourse and democratic oversight of government actions. Judy Miller exposed details meant to crucify one such whistle blower, details that were otherwise irrelevant to the public discourse. Nor was it a simple or direct impeachment of Joe Wilson's credibility or an attack on the substance of his reports. The Plame story was simply an effort create insinuations about Wilson's qualifications and generally besmirch his reputation and possibly (depending on what you're willing to believe about Libby and Rove) to exact revenge by ruining Plame's career. Hardly a lofty testament to the value of an independent press.
The Post's CIA detainee story, by contrast, contained exactly the sort of critical information that the public deserves to see, and should be given every available legal protection. This is not to say that there should be no oversight of how classified information is exposed or that press organizations should not exercise caution in disclosing it (as the Post did in refusing to name the countries where the detainment centers are located). This was information that the public did not know and had no reason to suspect about government policies that go directly to the heart of what our values are and how we conduct ourselves.
This will admittedly cause difficulties for the CIA in its effort to continue to pursue these policies, difficulties that the CIA can claim impair its mission and endanger national security, but these difficulties arise from the outrageousness of the conduct itself. I fail to see how the exposure of this information will in any way impact on the actions of Al Qaeda relative to the CIA, nor the actions of the CIA relative to Al Qaeda, except to the extent that this is now propaganda for Al Qaeda and a source of domestic and international political problems for the CIA. This is not the case of an agent or undercover program that, once exposed, can no longer no long serve the assigned mission. Secrecy is not critical to the function of a prison camp. The exposure of these policies hurt the U.S. and the CIA not because it imposes functional problems, but because the policies are stupid.
The only reason they were likely secret in the first place was probably to avoid political fallout, in both the U.S. and the host countries. That is not, to my mind, a valid reason for government secrecy. If a democratic country allows its government to conceal its actions because the public would not like those actions, something has gone seriously wrong. If some investigation does arise from this leak, I certainly hope that a critical element of that investigation is to discover why exactly the public did not know about these facilities prior to the leak and to inquire into the validity of the profferred justifications for concealing the facilities.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
From Marty Bahamonde (DHS) to Michael Brown, Aug. 31, 2005:
Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know.
Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water.
Hundreds still being rescued from homes.
The dying patients at the DMAT tend being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evactuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.
FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner wecan get them out.
Phone connectivity impossible.
Michael Brown's reply to Marty Bahamonde, Aug. 31:
Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?
Brown press secretary Sharon Worthy to Cindy Taylor (DHS) and others:
Also, it is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner. Gievn that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more that 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise, followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc.
Bahamonde to Taylor:
OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! No won‘t go any further, too easy of a target. Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants. Maybe tonight I will have time to move my pebbles on the parking garage floor so they don‘t stab me in the back while I try to sleep.
This stuff is pure gold! Laugh all you want, but please do keep in mind that Michael Brown is, in his own words, "a fashion god."
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Update: On Alito-Scalia comparisons, Robert Gordon of the Center for American Progress (a liber think-tank) makes the case on Slate that Alito is more extreme than Scalia.
Update (11/02): For some balance, here a CSM story suggests that Alito is not a hardliner on abortion.
Yet Another Update (11/03): I had to add a link to this rebuttal to the CSM column UVA's own Richard Schragger.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Posner: "My mother was forced out of her job as a public school teacher, and later hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee, because of her communist sympathies. I consider her political views to have been idiotic, but I am quite sure that she was completely harmless."
Stone: "Let's see, how does it go: A liberal is a conservative who's been mugged; a conservative is a liberal who's been arrested; and an advocate of law-and-economics is a Red diaper baby whose mother's been hauled before HUAC."
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Friday, September 30, 2005
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Monday, September 05, 2005
"For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."
I find this very interesting, I was having a discussion last night with a friend on nearly this very topic. Bertrand Russell in his classic book, The History of Western Philosophy, frames the last several hundred years of Western philosophy as a struggle between the Enlightenment empiricists and reactionary Romantics. It's a theme I've recently run across (in nearly identical terms) again reading Edward O. Wilson's Consilience, and very distinct threads of the same issues popped up in the documentary about the neocons, The Power of Nightmares that I posted on over the summer.
The basic idea is this:
The millenia before the Enlightenment (basically from the end of the Roman Empire on) was a vast wasteland for thought and discovery. For various reasons (mostly relating to the dominance of religious philosophy) little of value happened in the realm of philosophy or science. Eventually empiricism happened along (thanks in no small part to John Locke) and the Enlightenment was born.
Philosophers and intellectuals realized they had uncovered a tool of amazing power to learn about the world around them, and science as a meaningful discipline was created. These early Enlightenment philosophers were awash in optimism believing that in no time they would map out all of the knowledge to be had and perfect mankind in our interactions with the world and one another. As time went on what they discovered that while empiricism was able to unlock the secrets of the physical world at a phenomenal rate, human interaction was a different story. Human society is too complex, has too many variables and dimensions and does not yield to the scientific method in the straightforward way that physics or chemistry does. Empirical truths, they felt, do exist that govern the relations of man, but they would be painfully slow in yielding to empirical study (which is not to say that they did not develop important advances in government and economics). In the meantime we would simply have to live with the uncertainty of knowing that the truth is out there, but that we don't necessarily yet know what it is.
The Romantics, beginning mostly with Rousseau (who is the villain of Russell's tale) rejected this uncertainty and opted instead for answers that were simple, neat, and wrong, based mostly in existing cultural or religious values or in the naive sort of philosophy the preceded the Enlightenment. Rousseau rejected empiricism as the means to discover truth, and held science to be incompatible with virtue. Rousseau believed that truth should be found, not "from the principles of a high philosophy", but "in the depths of my heart, written by Nature in ineffaceable characters." He thought that conscience and intuition should be the only guide and "we are thus freed from all this terrifying apparatus of philosophy; we can be men without being learned; dispensed from wasting our life in the study of morals, we have at less cost a more assured guide in this immense labyrinth of human opinions."
Fast forward 250 years and we are still locked in this same battle between empiricism and romanticism. The terms have hardly changed a lick. The Lockian empirical perspective has descended through our Founding Fathers and the ever-increasing reach of scientific discovery, while Rousseau's Romanticism has passed down through Kant, Hegel, the Transcendentals, and the Straussian neoconservatives. We see it expressed in battles between empirical relativism and absolute moralism, between the scientific method and truth by revelation (intelligent design), in the clash between modernity and traditional cultural values (a thread that manifests itself both domestically between red and blue politics and internationally between the modern West and extreme Islam), and in the certainty of neocon policy in face of contrary data. The conflict between Locke and Rousseau is the defining conflict of mankind these last 250 years and looks to be nowhere near resolved.
And here we are arguing over whether common sense intuition is superior to book-learnin.
I don't mean to be rude, but I do think that intuition informed by book-learnin is superior to naked intuition. I believe in the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the importance of empiricism. I choose Locke.
And I would note that empiricism does not dismiss the importance of intuition. Intuition is a critical element of the Scientific Method and guides its every step. But it is not an end point. It is the starting point. It provides the questions and the hypotheses that empirical study then attempts to evaluate. Intuition anchored by evidence, is to my mind, clearly superior to intuition alone.
Friday, August 05, 2005
I must admit I was shocked to read Patrick Chisholm's editorial "The Bright Side of the Blues" (8/5). In a publication as reputable as CSM, it is unusual to find such misinformation and misrepresentation.
Let's begin with the concept of depression. In psychiatry, depression by its very definition is maladaptive and prevents the afflicted person from thinking about anything else other than how terrible their life is. It is not the sadness that you or I feel as a natural response to life events. Our sadness is adaptive indeed and allows us to alter our behavior and think about life, but it is not the depression that psychiatrists talk about.
Now to antidepressants. A good psychiatrist does not indiscriminately treat every depressed patient with a pill and send them on their way. Evey patient is different - some benefit with just behavioral therapy and an antidepressant may be added if therapy alone does not work. Multiple studies have now shown that a combination of therapy and antidepressant treatment is superior to either therapy alone in treating this terrible disease. There is also no proof that antidepressants "result in suicide". If you read the studies carefully, antidepressants may increase reporting of suicidal thoughts, but were not associated with increased suicides in teens. Far from "handicapping the client's ability to navigate and control their social environment", antidepressants may actually enable a person to start working through their negative thoughts in a more constructive way, thus ending their depression. Chisholm also quotes that "the fact that we can feel depressed in the first place means depression must have a purpose". Does this also mean that cancer has a purpose because we can all get cancer? My hunch is that most people would disagree.
It is obvious to me that Chisholm has not suffered from depression, and I wonder whether he has even known someone with clinical depression. If he has, then perhaps he would understand just how debilitating this disease is. This kind of misinformation and faulty thinking is a disservice to the American public and certainly to all of those suffering from depression. I might expect this from Tom Cruz, but certainly not from the Monitor.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Friday, July 22, 2005
Update (7/24): Finished watching the series. It makes some fairly startling claims in the latter part, and presents really interesting arguments to back them. Quite a thought-provoking program, you should give it a look.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
--The lightning-quick attacks came after 50 top liberal bloggers joined in a 45-minute conference call Tuesday night. "On the left, we've always talked about the need to have an echo chamber," says John Aravosis, a Washington lawyer and gay activist who writes at Americablog.com . "We believe the right has a whole media network, from talk radio to Fox News to Matt Drudge. The left doesn't have that because the left doesn't play well with others."--
Yeah, this seems to be pretty much what Sunstein was talking about... Viva la talking points!
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
The question that keeps coming to me is: who would you rather have? Who do these people expect will be nominated if Roberts is rejected? Roberts is obviously a very smart and talented man, and he doesn't strike me as an ideologue. Yes, he is a conservative, but this is a Republican administration. Was anyone expecting a liberal? Is this just a fight for the sake of fighting?
I have been very excited by the rise of a populist liberal movement on the internet, and to some extent I still am. But lately I'm beginning to wonder if it is possible for a populist movement to be sustained without devolving into partisan extremism. I can hardly read Kos anymore without wanting to throw things at my computer. It seems everything is a conspiracy, and everyone is out to get them. I don't begrudge far-left die-hards their right to have an online community, but is there any liberal community left that isn't dedicated to this level of pointless partisan bickering? Maybe there's one out there that I just haven't discovered yet. But it seems that the liberal populist movement is increasingly mirroring the conservative populist movement, and that both seem to be subject to a strong drift towards partisan extremism. It may be that this is an inevitable result of Sunstinian group-reinforcement.
I guess I should note that I haven't gone establishment. I'm still as anti-establishment as the next guy. But my problem with the establishment has never been that it isn't liberal enough; it's that it's too fake, too staged, too deeply engaged in politicking without enough consideration for the policy that is supposed to result from politics. It seems to me that this is exactly the problem that comes from the knee-jerk response against John Roberts. I don't see any consideration of what comes from winning (i.e. how would the next nominee be better than Roberts), there's just a strong desire to beat the other side. It's not a results-based response, it's purely political. It signals an approach that will never be interested compromise or in building common ground across political boundaries. That's disappointing. It's important to fight when there's need for it (say, plans for an ill-advised war), but that doesn't mean you have to fight all the time about everything.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Friday, July 15, 2005
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Reverend Bush published a book in 1837 entitled The Life of Mohamed. It seems that some of our friends in the Muslim world have discovered this book and are none too pleased that the book, among other things, consistently refers to Mohamed as an imposter. Bizarre and meaningless, yet totally fascinating.
Q: Scott, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us, after having commented with that level of detail, and tell people watching this that somehow you've decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium or not?
MCCLELLAN: I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said. And I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation...
Q: (inaudible) when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?
MCCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish.
Q: No, you're not finishing. You're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation. Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn't he?
MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
Q: Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question.
QUESTION: You're in a bad spot here, Scott... because after the investigation began -- after the criminal investigation was under way -- you said, October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this," from that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began.
Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?
MCCLELLAN: No, that's not a correct characterization. And I think you are well aware of that.....
And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this. Because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States.
It's gotta suck being a Bush press secretary...
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
As best I can tell, the short answer to your question, Ryan, is that the founders did not even consider election of judges at the time they drafted the Constitution. In the Federalist Papers, No. 76, Alexander Hamilton wrote that
It will be agreed on all hands that the power of appointment, in ordinary cases can be properly modified only in one of three ways. If ought either to be vested in a single man, or in a select assembly of a moderate number, or in a single man with the concurrence of such an assembly.Of course, as you point out, all hands would no longer agree those are the only options for selecting judges that are on the table. To be sure, other methods of selection might more properly be referred to as something other than "appointment." Two other models have been implemented in the United States: election and merit selection. (For more background on these other methods, see these materials posted in connection with Frontline's special titled, "Justice For Sale.") To avoid this post becoming too unmanageable, I will focus upon the election of judges -- in particular, the election of appellate judges.
The election of trial or magistrate judges has a very long history -- too long to trace its source by this amateur historian. According to this article (again from materials provided by Frontline), Mississippi was the first state to require the election of all judges (in 1832). Many states followed course, particularly in the period between 1846 and 1860, during which period many states revamped their state constitutions. According to this press release by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, as of 2002 38 states, representing 87% of all state judges, use elections to select judges. In 18 of these 38 states, judges are initially selected by election; in the remainder judges are appointed and then must be reelected to stay in office.
There is too sizable a debate to summarize here all the reasons in support of and against each methods of selecting judges. The argument I would make against the election of judges conforms with the reasons Hamilton offered in No. 78 of the Federalist Papers, but a brief lead-in is first necessary. I assume the election of judges entails not only the initial selection of judges, but also their periodic reelection -- as far as I can ascertain, no state has ever instituted a system by which judges are initially selected and remain in office "during good behavior," the standard the Constitution provides for Article III judges.
In my view, the harm of electing judges comes about by subjecting the interpretation and application of the law to the same public pressure as is responsible for crafting of the law. Assume a narrow majority succeeds in promulgating some vague standard of behavior to which all citizens must comply -- insert any controversial issue of your choice, particularly those involving criminal behavior or health and safety standards (euthanasia, abortion, and the prohibition of recreational drugs come to mind). Assume also that a harsher standard could not have garnered a majority. It is reasonable to expect, and experience confirms, that judges will often favor the harshest reading of the law that can be reasonably extracted from the text (and sometimes even unreasonable interpretations too) out of concern for getting reelected. The concern, to frame it differently, is that judicial interpretation plays less in most electors' minds than does outcome -- a tendency I suspect often factors into the decisions of elected judges. That concern is more significant where the law to be interpreted is a constitution, which serves in part to protect the rights of the minority.
My argument against election of judges, therefore, depends more upon the value of the life tenure of judges than it does upon how they are initially selected. I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by Hamilton when he stated that
The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the judicial magistracy is certainly one of the most valuable improvements in the practice of government. In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is no a less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.Here (in RealMedia format) is a video excerpt of an interview with Justices Kennedy and Breyer displaying some hostility to the concept of election of judges.
I would be happy to elaborate upon any points I made here or, for that matter, upon points I missed. More important, I would be very happy to learn what you think.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Monday, June 27, 2005
One of the most interesting questions of the case, whether Grokster and Morpheus had substantial noninfringing uses, was not decided by the Court and was argued at length in the concurrences. Justice Ginsburg (joined by Rehnquist and Kennedy) wrote a concurrence arguing that they did not have a substantial noninfringing use, while Justice Breyer (joined by O'Connor and Stevens) argued that they did have substantial noninfringing uses. I agree with Breyer's arguments for a low bar on substantial noninfringing uses, particularly in conjunction with consideration of intent as in this case and Aimster. To have a high bar for substantial noninfringing uses that sets some sort of a cutoff based on the percentages of use creates a real problem for developers of new technologies who cannot accurately predict how exactly their technologies will be used. There would be a definite chilling effect on technological innovation. Policing intent should provide a sufficient avenue for nailing bad actors.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Monday, June 06, 2005
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Friday, June 03, 2005
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Monday, May 23, 2005
The next story, a happy one for a change, discusses various much-needed efforts at reforming the jury system. As the article notes, there is a great deal of variation among the states (and some are doing nothing at all). Hopefully some of these programs will prove successful and spread to other states.
The story I most wanted to comment on, however, discusses the frightening perceptions among Arabs of our treatment of prisoners in the war on terror. The story focuses on recently leaked pictures of Saddam in his underwear. It also comments on the Newsweek Koran flushing story and the recent NYT story on abusive treatment leading to the deaths of two prisoners, as well as the light sentences and lack of high level accountability for Abu Ghraib. While the Newsweek retraction provided a high profile opportunity for the scoring of political points, I hope that we haven't lost sight of the very real problem that our cavalier treatment of prisoners is creating. These are not isolated incidents. University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin has been keeping a watch for torture stories on his blog. A sampling:
- U.S. takes hostages to coerce relatives into surrendering
- Guantanamo prisoner claims to have suffered violent sexual assaults and near drowning during his captivity.
- Guantanamo prisoner claims that Gitmo tapes would be as explosive as the Abu Ghraib photos
- Guantanamo prisoner claims innocence, details physical mistreatment
- Guantanamo prisoner claims prisoners were handcuffed naked and attacked by dogs
- 15-year-old Guantanamo detainee claims abuse
- Pentagon inquiry confirms use of sexual tactics in interrogations
- Military lawyers at Gitmo try and fail to end physical abuse of prisoners.
- Afghan prisoner, left exposed to the elements by the CIA freezes to death.
- Gitmo prisoner claims torture, assault, near-suffocation
- Mother Jones story details many claims of torture at hands of U.S.
- Navy disgusted by abusive treatment at Gitmo.
- Terror prisoners claim to have been beaten and abused at New York's Metropolitan Detention Center.
- Iraqi prisoner hung from the wrists until dead (Abu Ghraib related)
These are stories that may not get much play in the U.S., and to be fair, many of them are unconfirmed allegations. However, they almost certainly draw attention from Al-Jazeera and other Arab outlets. As the CSM story notes, U.S. treatment of prisoners is having a strong impact on Arab public opinion. It is difficult to believe that high level decisions (such as the DoD memos exposed after Abu Ghraib) within the administration are not fostering such treatment. Unless I've been grossly misinformed, these sorts of actions do not typify American treatment of prisoners in past conflicts. Moreover, it is difficult to see what we gain from all of this. There have been few claims that we've gained critical intel from this abuse, and many claims to the contrary. I simply don't understand why we aren't doing anything about this. Abu Ghraib never got any real reaction within the administration or the DoD, and all of these stories roll by without attracting any significant attention. Aside from the fact that this treatment is shameful in view of Americans' generally shared values of human rights and human dignity, it seems ruinous from a strategic PR standpoint. But no one in the administration, and few in the press, are paying attention. Whatever stupid things Newsweek may have done, that's the real story here.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
In the bigger picture, I worry about the ever increasing cost and size of our government. It reminds me of Windows and the ever-increasing amounts of code added without simplifying the existing code first. Inefficiency and waste only grow in this scenario. Are we reaching a point where government operations become compromised by their own complexity?
Monday, May 16, 2005
I think any analysis of the defense budget needs to start from the recognition that the U.S. military is light-years ahead of any other in the world. Our nuclear arsenal itself is enough to ensure that U.S. will never be attacked by any nation-state. And there is not a conventional military on the planet that the U.S. could not steam-roll over. In light of these things, Rumsfeld's plans for a lighter, slimmer military make a lot of sense. However, it doesn't seem feasible to make these cuts while we are digging deep into the reserves and National Guard to keep enough troops in Iraq.
But it seems there must be places to cut, given that we had 500,000 troops in south-east Asia with a lower defense budget than we have now. Perhaps there is something to the quote in the article that we're doing a very poor job of getting reasonable prices from defense contractors (on whom our military has grown increasingly reliant). Certainly there seems to be a disturbingly incestuous relationship between the public and private military sectors (starting in the VP's office). Some of the big ticket programs (nuclear bunker-busters) seem wasteful and unnecessary as well.
Unfortunately the current politics of national defense are such that neither party could feasibly propose any significant cuts. Moreover, it is difficult to see how this could change any time soon. There was no significant focus on fiscal problems in 2004 by either side, and it seems that budget deficits would need to take an immeasurably higher profile in order to compete with the terrorist-mania that governs politics. There is a very real argument that our fiscal situation poses a greater threat to American dominance and security at the present time than terrorists, but I don't see that as a politically salable idea. It's a bloody mess, no doubt about that.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Friday, April 29, 2005
With foreign policy no longer providing a safe refuge, Bush has had to return to domestic policy. He's now simultaneously trying to prop up Tom Delay against ethics charges, support his nomination of John Bolton, push his social security program, and back Senate Republicans in eliminating the filibuster, all issues on which he has little public support and on which Democrats feel they can capitalize. Add to that the failed and unpopular gambit to intervene in the Schiavo affair, and the Bush presidency appears to be a key setback or two from descending into irrelevance. His party is wavering and beginning to drift. This looks much more like Bush the bumbling amateur politician of mid-2001 than Bush the avenging war hero of more recent times.
Undoubtedly the Bush team still has a few tricks up their sleeve. In political cycles it's a long time until 2008 and Bush will have ample opportunity to try to reinvent himself. I can't even speculate which direction he might turn, but it does seem that much of his difficulties are related to his stubborn, hard-line approach to policy and his close relationship with the Religious Right, and I have a hard time picturing him compromising on either point. Time will tell. Perhaps the best hope of the administration at this point is that the Democrats will fumble the ball, as they did in the election last year. I can't say I have a great deal of confidence in them, but the Democrats can't screw up all the time. They'll get it right eventually. Everything is set up for them right now. All they've got to do is bring it home. I've got my fingers crossed..
Monday, April 25, 2005
Monday, April 18, 2005
Sunday, April 17, 2005
I am out here in the hinterland with the rest of the "rational" population, so reading this was the equivalent of mental weightlifting. I am happy to state that I not only got it done but actually feel stronger for it. As a member of the over 50 age group, my eyes were not well served by the experience. (BIGGER PRINT WOULD BE APPRECIATED!)I will give Joe or Henry the first shot at a substantive answer, but I agree with the commenter that we should consider making the default setting a little easier to read (note, however, that one can always change the text size in the browser). I am happy we have a reader beside ourselves!
It would be hard for me to make any comments of a sufficient intellectual rigor to feel worthy of this discussion. But my question would be, Is the academic world, particularly or especially the "disciplines" of the social or soft sciences, engaged in this kind of discussion? Or is it the elephant under the proverbial rug?
Saturday, April 16, 2005
My two cents.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Friday, April 01, 2005
Friday, March 25, 2005
ps. I don't know if audible.com allows deep linking, if it doesn't work, do a search on audible.com for Lawrence Lessig, click on the Library of Congress Speech, then click on the link to C-SPAN on the speech page, then click on See All Matches.
I like Henry's interpretation of Mises, and I can see where he found support for it and I think this is the correct interpretation, but I'd like to note for the record that Mises' statement regarding action necessarily being rational and that the term rational action is pleonistic does not jive with Henry's explanation. Mises is actually asserting that volitional action is necessarily rational. I disagree with him even on that point, but it is a far more defensible position than stating (as Mises does) that all action is rational.
Given this interpretation of Austrian subjectivism, I think there are two approaches through which behavioral criticisms could be viewed. The first would be to assert that even volitional actions can be irrational. The second is to suggest that there may be more economically significant actions than Mises would suppose that are not volitional. I think these two approaches are just different sides of the same coin. I'd like to preface my discussion of these criticisms by agreeing with Henry, that behavioral critique does not render Austrian economics (or neo-classical economics for that matter) invalid, but merely offers a refinement. The assumption of rational preferences and action that characterizes neo-classical economics and Austrian economics is for the most part (as stated in my Round I:Part I response) a good assumption. This assumption is the critical insight on which both theories are based (as well as many political theories) and yields a great deal of useful theory, theories which have validated themselves quite well in actual practice. The behavioral critique is merely an effort to define some possible boundaries for the operation of these theories.
~> Read More!
Coming around then to the criticism, I think the first step is to question the realm of possibility. We don't know precisely how cognitive processes work, and probably won't any time soon. However, we know enough to speculate. Based on current knowledge I think it is valid to speculate that all cognitive processes may not be equal. We know that the brain is a mechanistic device, that neurons fire in networks, that different parts of the brain are engaged for different purposes. We also know from information theory (as was brilliantly illustrated in Henry's chaos discussion) that some calculations are more difficult than others, and that there are many different methods to achieve approximate results and many degrees of precision which can be applied to calculations for approximation. We also know from computer science that many of the tasks of calculation in which the brain engages are phenomenally complex and difficult from an information processing standpoint. Even given equivalent processing power, human programmers would face immense difficulty trying to program something that could accomplish all that the brain does. Taken altogether, I conclude from this that the brain employs many wonderful shortcut algorithms (heuristics) to allow it to perform with the remarkable efficiency that it does.
From here we need to note a few things about heuristics. We know that (by definition) in the act of approximation, some precision is lost. From experience in mathematics and computer science we know that each heuristic has certain limiting characteristics; each heuristic has varying strenths and weaknesses. In some cases one algorithm for compressing an image file will outperform a second algorithm, where a different image file may yield the reverse result. We also know that it's usually (but not always) the case that the more efficiently a heuristic performs, the greater the loss of precision.
At this point we might make a few conclusions and assumptions about brain operation. Due to its use of various heuristics, it is likely that the brain performs more efficiently on some types of calculations than others. Perhaps more importantly, if we are willing to contemplate that the brain may use more than one unique heuristic to solve the same problem in different situations, the brain may yield a varying quality of results to the same question based on which heuristic is applied at a given time. The final step needed to reach the behavioral position is to suppose that external factors may consistently (and non-volitionally--I'll come back to this) trigger the use of one heuristic over another.
There are a lot of assumptions involved here, and I don't ask you to accept them all as true. I would only ask that you consider them as reasonable proposals not obviously contravened by present knowledge about cognitive processes (and I would be entirely happy to hear any criticisms you have on this point). What you are looking at is the central premise of the deductive argument of behavioral theory. It is a theory which Henry rightly states cannot be proven at this point.
The experiments carried out by behavioral psychologists, as Henry notes, do not fully eliminate the possibility of interfering factors (including rational volitional reasons for the actions taken). However, these data are not meant to prove anything, but rather to offer some support, by whatever limited means are available to us, to the premise above. I again disagree with Mises' position that because we cannot know how cognitive processes work nor definitely predict what action they will produce we must treat them as ultimately opaque and (while accepting Mises' own assumptions on cognition) question no further. His assumptions about which actions are volitional and that volitional actions are rational are no less a reach than the assumptions of behavioral theory. As an unknown quantity, cognitive processes remain open to deductive argument and to experimentation such as it is.
From my perspective, I find the assumptions made by behavioralists to be emminently reasonable. They very much conform to my own intuitions about cognitive processes and my knowledge of data processing and heuristic algorithms and my observations of human behavior. I find that behavioral experiments, although they vary in quality (and I agree that the VCR one is particularly weak), do offer at least some support for behavioral theory. The results of many of them are difficult to interpret as anything but the application of a weak heuristic in a decision which, in other circumstances, humans are capable of applying a stonger one.
To determine, finally, how behavioral theory plays with Austrian subjectivism requires behavioral heuristics to be placed within the context of actions, volition, and rationality. This may be a discussion about cognitive processes, but I see it as rather more a matter of semantics. The key cognitive insight (and a largely subjective one at that) is that we don't generally think in terms of heuristics. I had been planning on making an argument of this, but arriving here I realize that this argument would probably equal in length the rest of this post and I'm not up for that at the moment. Feel free to challenge this premise and I will flesh it out at a future date. For now, suffice it to say that the immense amount of effort invested by cognitive scientists, behavioralists, and computer scientists to uncover the heuristics utilized by the brain speaks volumes about our conscious awareness of the heuristics applied on our behalf. While we do experience a conscious phenomenon of weighing decisions before us, resulting in volitional action, the selection of heuristics and the application of them in the weighing process appears to be entirely subconscious.
The rest of the analysis descends into a semantic morass. In undergrad I took a 500-level philosophy course that dedicated an entire semester to a single question: What is agency (i.e. how do we define a person's actions)? Based on my experiences therein I'll offer the following conclusion to the above conundrum: Nobody has the first fricking clue what any of this means. At some point in the discussion the level of detail is such that we have no remaining useful intuitions about the basic terms (action, volition, intent, etc.) and they become maleable and in some senses interchangeable. But I'll try...
First, going back to my initial theory of rational as "consistent with or based on reason," I conclude that the variation in outcomes caused by the application of various heuristics are irrational. The output of the more precise heuristic here represents a rational action. By contrast the output of the subpar heuristic is simply not consistent with or based on reason. It is rather the product of, in essence, a cognitive defect. There is a sense in which you could say even the better heuristic is irrational, since it also is frequently an approximation, and it is only by comparison to the subpar heuristic that it appears rational. In other words, there is a danger here that I am calling any nonoptimal (in some ultimate sense) decision irrational. That is not my intent. I think there is something noteworthy about the supposition that a) the human mind can apply heuristics of varying quality to the same problem and b) external stimuli can consistently alter which heuristic is applied. I do not assert that the reasoning relied on needs necessarily to be optimal to be rational, but only that the subpar heuristic is inconsistent with that individual's own ability to reason through the problem (applying their own subjective values and objectives in the process), and that the subpar heuristic is applied not due to a rational choice (i.e. I don't have time to think this through), but as the result of the nonvolitional impact of seemingly irrelevant external circumstances. It is this quality that makes it irrational.
Next, in these cases the action is volitional in any meaningful sense, and yet the decision is framed by heuristic analysis which is subconscious and involuntary. What does that mean? One could say that this infection of nonvolitional framing which resulted in an irrational act caused the act to be effectively nonvolitional. This would fit with Mises' view of action (being nonvolitional, it is no longer assumed to be rational), although the scope of behavioral impact on economic actions would remove from his theories many actions that I think he would have thought covered by them. The alternative, which seems rather more straightforward to me, is to consider this a volitional action, but an irrational one, hence my basic conflict with Mises' assumption.
In either case the results would be the same. In the former, we've just removed a lot of economically significant actions from Mises' theory. In the latter Mises' theory would need to be amended to cover only rational volitional actions and the same thing occurs. In either case we now have a whole class of actions for which we need to reformulate existing economic theories.
Whew. Well, that shoots my afternoon. :)