July 21, 2007

travel plans

I'm headed to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where I will be held incommunicado through Sunday, and thence to Des Moines, where I'll have most everything the information age can offer. Even cable!

July 18, 2007

presidential calculuses

So Andrew asked why I'm supporting John Edwards, and brought up some things he's been wrestling with: electability, leadership, and policy positions. All of those things are shorthand for 15 million other things, but here's my best shot at explaining why I'm supporting Edwards. For the people who always read the last page first: it's about policy.

But first, let's talk about something else: experience. Hillary Clinton is the only Democratic front-runner with really serious Washington and policy experience, and even she has very little electoral experience - she's just an insanely savvy person who spent 8 years hearing very directly about the Washington experience of another insanely savvy person. Neither Edwards or Obama has any real experience making day to day government decisions as an executive, or moving bills through Congress in the way a president has to do to be effective. I'm concerned about that, but I'm unwilling to vote for Clinton over it. If Bill Richardson's campaign gets any momentum, I might be interested, but let's put that aside for now.

On to electability. I don't really trust myself to predict who's electable in a general election, and I think that efforts to predict electability have screwed the Democrats six ways from Sunday. Kerry? Gore? Not the world's most electable people (in that Kerry wasn't elected) - yet they were chosen specifically for their electability. So I'm not really playing with that right now. I think Clinton has the most serious electability problem of the three major candidates: the American public is pretty damn sexist, plus she's a very polarizing figure, plus she's kind of varnished, which hasn't been going over well lately. On the other hand, have I mentioned how savvy she and her husband are? Obama's race will likely play against him, but I don't feel completely certain of it. Edwards is doing the worst in the head-to-head general election polls (though Dems reliably beat Reps), but I have some questions about whether the sexism/racism cards would affect Obama and Clinton differently in a polling booth rather than a phone call. I got kind of sick of spinning around in circles about this, so I decided to give up. Also, I think focusing on electability encourages a kind of content-free, passion-free politics that is one of the major problems of the Democratic party.

Leadership: I'm going to talk about race and gender here, since I already talked about my concerns about experience. I feel like I should be supporting Obama or Clinton specifically because I am a feminist and anti-racist. Obama is also super-inspiring for many people, which I think would be great in a president (and speaks some to electability). But ultimately,

It's all about policy. Specifically health, environmental, and economic policies, and specifically because there's pretty good evidence that presidential candidates do what they say they're going to do a lot of the time. Edwards's health care policy is really smart, and I think it could get passed and would work. Universal health care is one of those things that's becoming a middle-class issue in a way that means it'll probably get addressed within the next 5 years or so, and I think it matters a lot who the president is then. Clinton won't put her plan out there, and Obama's is pretty complicated, and I think would have a lot fewer cost-saving effects than the Edwards plan because it doesn't expand the pool of insured people as much, thus keeping risk and premiums higher than they ought to be. Obama's policies over-all are fairly piece-meal: his energy policy is like that as well.

Finally, Edwards has put economic inequality on the table in a way that I think is really, really important.

I would say more but I'm incredibly hungry and I'm leaving town on Sunday. More comparative policy analysis coming in two weeks or so.

(Julie and Andrew: big fat congratulations!)

July 11, 2007

ok, some good news

The Democratic candidates are going to have a gay debate. I mean a debate about gay stuff where Melissa Etheridge and the head of HRC ask them questions. Does the debate itself have a sexual preference? How would we ever know?

I am really really excited about this for some reason. Maybe because I have some hopes it'll cut through some of the not-answering-questions-for-real bullshit that happens a lot with the Democrats. Except for Elizabeth Edwards, of course, but unfortunately she's not running for president.

in which I continue to be appalled

Shorter Bush to Congress: lalalalalala I can't heeeeeeaaaaar you.

Harriet Miers isn't even going to show up. Is there anyone who seriously believes he isn't hiding something pretty damn big?

In other news, the man's approval rating dropped to 29%. How low does it have to go before we can get impeachment?

For serious, call your representative. It is your representative's JOB right now to be submitting impeachment motions. Instructions given here.

p.s. most duh headline ever: White House Is Accused of Putting Politics Over Science.

July 10, 2007

evolutionary psychology and its discontents

There's an article in Psychology Today titled Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature. Echidne of the Snakes spent some time doing a point by point refutation, which I suggest you read if you're interested in that sort of thing. Basically, the article itself is a particularly genius example of how Evolutionary Psychology as most people use the term is basically a collection of speculation about the lives of early humans, most of which gets used to justify sexism and crappy appearance politics. Refuting it requires slightly less work than shooting fish in a barrel. You don't even need a gun!

My sister studied bioanthropology (basically, the study of humans using biology, which includes quite a bit of evo-psych) in college, and I remember vividly two conversations about it that I had with her. When she was a sophomore and deciding to study bioanth, she argued that I was just wrong not to accept that differences between men and women were biologically based, and that my feminism was blinding me to the strong evidence for it. Two years later, as a senior, she called me up while I was driving through Utah and asked what she should do. She needed to write a senior paper - like a small thesis - to get honors, which she very much wanted, but she felt like she couldn't in conscience write a paper on any of the bioanth subjects she'd studied because the standards of evidence were so unutterably lame and unconvincing. Two years of study brought her to the conclusion that even at a fancy-pants research university, most evolutionary psychology is a collection of speculation about the lives of early humans.

I have a similar problem with a great deal of political theory, including all social contract theory. These theories rely on some kind of imagined history of early humans: life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," then we all got together, signed the social contract, and turned our power over to the state. Hobbes is one of the most honest about this kind of thing (he doesn't make up rights without explaining where they come from) but still. Wasn't it great when we all signed the social contract? What a great party! No wait, no one was there. IT NEVER HAPPENED. (One of the things I like about Aristotelian political theory is that, while there's a theory of human nature, there's no just-so story about how we came to be this way.)

We know a little more about the lives of early humans in a factual sense than we used to, but we still have essentially zip about social structure. Among other things, it's pretty unreasonable to argue that social evolution just stopped at some point (which is what you have to say for evo-psych to still be relevant, or to use modern hunter-gatherers to learn about ancient hunter-gatherers), when we have very clear evidence that lactose tolerance evolved in some places as recently as 3,000 years ago. Humans continue, however, to be very good at coming up with reasons to justify whatever it is we want to justify right now, including rights, greed, censorship, free speech, monogamy, polygamy, etc.

Evolutionary psychology and political theory share one gigantic missed opportunity. Yes, it would be very very interesting to know more about how human brains really work and have evolved, and yes, it would be very very interesting to know how the social structure of early human societies developed, and think about what implications those have for our ideas about politics and community. Aristotle assumes that humans are by nature social - he doesn't even really imagine an isolated state of being human - and that seems likely to have some foundation (unlike, for example, his transparently bad justification for slavery). There's some serious work to be done matching up science and archeology about early humans with theories about human nature and society. But political theorists (who have some excuse, since they're not scientists or historians) and evolutionary psychologists (who have none, since they claim to be both) have done a pretty dreadful job of it. Too bad!

decision made

I support John Edwards for president. In case you were wondering.

July 9, 2007

the course of human events

I drank some very good peach beer, ate some very good Mexican food (restaurant review coming soon), had Queen Anne cherry sorbetto with dark chocolate gelato (Capogiro: still amazing), took the famous outlaw cattens to their temporary home with a very nice woman and a yappy dog. All this with the Political Schmientist. Then I went to the beach! A Feral Hat reunited, plus some excellent people who are and are not getting married. There aren't enough exclamation points to tell you how I feel about boogie boards! Why don't I live at the beach? Then we spent an hour between exits 113 and 120 on the Garden State Parkway and was late to dinner with my parents. And then my parents were in the LA Times, and then there were various not very surprising revelations and some excellent talk at hat-brunch. I had dinner with a food writer and his wife and aforementioned parents. It's hot. The diner for lunch with Fire Boss and a non-practicing Ph.D. with crazy eyelashes decided we didn't need pie. Got described as 'well-behaved' for the first two times in my life.

Then I drove home, read for a while, ate dinner. Listened to some awesome music, if I do say so myself. Drank another peach beer in the shower. Now I will watch TV.

When will someone make Hotel Yorba into a movie? I want it now!

July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July. Impeach Bush.

Look. It's the 4th of July. This is a great time to love your country, and celebrate the noble words of the noble documents that started the whole thing. But it's an even better time to talk about how, as people who care what the hell is happening in this country, we have work to do. The gap between the lovely words and the violent and unethical actions should be our concern today. (All links below go to the relevant outrage.)

The history of the present [President of the United States] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has called together [judicial] bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.


For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Here's how we do it.
1. Call your Representative. The House needs a simple majority to pass articles of impeachment, and there's a Democratic majority right now. Call your Republican Representative too. Tell your Representative that by not calling for impeachment, he or she is failing to represent you and failing to support and defend the US Constitution, which they swear to do when they take the Oath of Office. Contact information is at http://www.house.gov/writerep/.

2. Call your Senator. Contact information is at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm. The Senate would have to convict, but you're mostly calling to encourage your Senator to support articles of impeachment.

3. Still got energy? Write your local newspaper. Tips for getting in: make it short, find an angle other people aren't using (e.g. a specific reason for Bush to be impeached, not an overview of his crimes).

4. Send this to everyone you know. Better yet, write something to send to everyone you know. Your parents, your friends, your relatives you haven't seen in five years, everyone.

5. Go eat some sweet corn.

Happy 4th of July. Impeach Bush.

July 2, 2007

gym manners (nobody wants to hear that)

I work out (when I work out) at the university gym, which is mostly pretty pleasant. But dude. I mean you, the one in the muscles. The one grunting. The one who drops his weights after every single set. Say it with me: If you can't put it down carefully, don't pick it up. No, again: If you can't put it down carefully, DON'T PICK IT UP.1

Every time you pick up a weight, you know you're going to have to put it down. Every single time. You can apparently gauge your own strength well enough to always pick up something you can't put down, so change your calculations. It's loud, it's distracting, maybe someday you're going to drop it on your toe or hit the mirror or my leg. If you can't put it down carefully, don't pick it up.

Oh, and stop with the grunting already. Nobody wants to hear that.

1. There are big signs saying that all over the gay gym, where the Gardener used to work out. The gay gym is very very professional. People do things right. You get sessions with a personal trainer as part of your membership. But the guy who used to own it donated to Rick Santorum.