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|Thursday, October 20th, 2016|
|Thursday, October 13th, 2016|
|How Likely is a "Democratic Wave Election in 2016."
It is generally agreed that for Dems to take back the House, as well as the Senate, they need a "wave election." Generally, a wave election is one where the electorate decides to sweep out a party and replace it with another party at a much higher than usual rate. Since elections are traditionally considered pretty stable, "waves" that eliminate large numbers of incumbents (and Dems would need to capture 30 seats to win a House majority, a very high number) are considered very rare. How likely is a "wave" election for Democrats? I muse on this below. But despite popular wisdom, waves have become much more the norm in recent years, and there is good reason to think 2016 could be another.( Collapse )
|Monday, October 10th, 2016|
|Sometimes, You Must Wrestle With A Pig.
There's an old expression about never wrestling with a pig in mud, because after awhile people can't tell the difference.
But, as the debates are showing, sometimes someone does have to wrestle with a pig.
It's not something to do by choice. And if a pig is just wallowing in his own metaphorical mud hole then you can afford to let the pig be. But if a pig is running around getting garbage and pig poop on everything, then you need to actually wrestle the pig down and get it back where it belongs. In such a situation, wrestling a pig is not an immature mistake to be avoided, it is a noble thing for the benefit of everyone.
I have often made the point that politics requires people of good conscience to get down and dirty, because if good people are too pure to play then we cede the field to those who are corrupt. This year that is more true than ever. Even if you want to vote thrid aprty to show your disgust for the status quo, or because you believe Jill Stein or Gary Johnson is the best of 4 choices, then do it
. To greet the current election with indifference is not high minded purity; it is enabling the awfulness to continue without protest or demurer.
|Friday, October 7th, 2016|
|Elisha and the Bears: A Parable for The Unexpected Power To Harm
Some may be familiar with the story of Elisha, the student and successor to Elijah. There is a short reference to a disturbing incident that is one of the most misunderstood parables in the Bible -- the story of Elisha and the bears. (I shall follow the Rabbinic dictum that the incident with the bears did not literally happen but was a prophetic vision, but this works just as well if we hold that the story is literally true) (or, if you don't believe in the veracity of the Bible, that the author intends the text as actual part of the timeline and not as a vision).
The text on this is extremely terse, which is common to the Biblical style. In fact, it takes a mere two sentences in the text. Kings 2 Chapter 2 v. 23-24. To quote in full:23. And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Beth-el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth children* out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him: 'Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead.' 24. And he [Elisha] looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore forty and two children of them.
*the Hebrew word "Na'arim" (singular=na'ar) is hard to translate to get the right connotation wrt age. It can mean anything from young children to early teenage years (e.g., Gen. 21:12, where the teenage Ishamel is refered to as a "na'ar).
That seems rather grusome and disproportionate, especiall when view as a pure translation without either textual or cultural context. Below, I give an explanation that ties into the idea of the season of repentance and understanding that our ungaurded speech, even when provoked, may unintentionally cause others terrible harm. Hence we must work to control our temper, gaurd our conduct and our speech, and always bear in mind the potential unintended harm we may do if we act in careless anger.( Collapse )
In our age of social media in particular, we can see again the power of speech. We can use social media to help people. We can use it to make people feel miserable, calling forth with our words mobs of Internet trolls to rend people apart (whether we mean to summon a mob or not, our words have power). We can use social media to try to educate or even to rebuke in a useful way. And we can use social media to try to coerce others to do what we think is right -- whether they actually agree with us or not. We are all potentially Elijah on Mt Carmel, or Elisha purifying the spring of Jericho. But we are all also, if we do not use our power wisely, Elisha and the bears.
|Sunday, October 2nd, 2016|
|I attempt to explain exactly what is wrong with JASTA
Folks may have heard about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). That's the bill that most people only vaguely know as the one that lets the 9/11 families sue Saudi Arabia for 9/11 or something. But it has suddenly dawned on the leaders of Congress that there are "unforseen consequences" with the law, which they hope to correct when they get back from campaigning. Also, they blame Obama for somehow not stopping them from overriding his veto.( Collapse )
The problem is that the law does what it is actually supposed to do. It is the very concept of the law and its passage that creates the "unforeseen consequences." As I explain below, America just drunk tweeted its break up with Saudi Arabia, and that's not something you can fix with some legislative tweaks after you get to run on the very popular but insanely stupid bill.
|Monday, September 26th, 2016|
|Why Are Dems Doing Poorly? Maybe They Should Run On their Economic Policies.
And interesting survey and report from Democracy Corp (James Carville's outfit) that confirms what I keep talking about.
Tl;dr lots of voters are dissatisfied, particularly younger voters. These "change voters" do not respond well to a simple anti-Trump message. Money quote:
"Clinton widening her lead and winning states and Democrats making gains in the Senate and House depends on the right strategy and messages for reaching these voters. We tested one on GOP extremism, one linking Republican candidates to Trump and one offering a positive Democratic economic message.
"Democrats, millennials and Democratic target voters are desperate to hear where the Democratic candidates want to lead the country. The message that consolidates Democrats more than any other tested in this survey is one that offers a clear positive economic agenda. It says that Democrats have a plan for the economy, and that to get these things done, we need a Democratic majority in Congress."
( Collapse )
So what does this suggest:
Carville and his outfit are not exactly a font of progressivism. If their data is coming up with "run on a goddamn progressive economic message about fairness and good jobs and investment in infrastructure" then you might really want to consider it.
|Friday, September 23rd, 2016|
|Today's Mussar Drash: Why We Must Teach Women Halacha to Prevent Avodah Zarah
Or: Charedi Rebbis are screwing everything up for us.
This is written in my Yaakov Hamizrachi style. I'll try to provide suitable interpretation of the nuances.
Baruch haMakom Baruch hoo. Blessed be the Lord, blessed be He. Until today I was not worthy to understand that which is written in Kohelet: Al tihiyeh Tzadik harbeh, v'al titchakam, lamah tishomaim. (trans: Do not be overly righteous, nor make yourself too wise, why would you destroy yourself.") (Ecl. 7:16) But by the wicked it says: Al tihiye rasha harbeh, v'al tihiye sichlut, lama tamut b'lo itecha. ("Do not be overly righteous, nor be a fool, why would you die before your appointed time?") (Id. 7:17) For why should it be that if one is overly righteous or makes oneself too wise you will destroy yourself, but if one is wicked or foolish you will merely die before your time? Even if we understand how one can be "overly rightteous" or make oneself "too wise," how can it be that the outcome of such a thing is far worse than the outcome of wickdness or foolishness? For while the wicked or foolish merely die early, the overly righteous will destroy themselves.
Then I read this article: http://www.timesofisrael.com/ramat-gan-statue-attracts-women-hoping-to-conceive/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=2ef8db260b-2016_09_17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-2ef8db260b-54549337( Collapse )
|Monday, September 19th, 2016|
|Ted Cruz's Ridiculous Bill on The IANA Transition
It can be hard to stop something you don't understand.
Here is a link to the bill Ted Cruz is pushing to prevent the transfer of the IANA function to ICANN.https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/3034/text
It instructs NTIA not to let the IANA contract lapse. It has one flaw, what if IANA says "no thanks, we're not interested in renewing?"
In theory, the NTIA can then rebid the contract and find someone else to perform the "IANA function." But who cares? The recognized IANA will go with ICANN. Everyone will point to that. No one will give a crap about NTIA does, including NTIA.
This requires a longer blog post, but it is an illustration of how some things are based on a mutually assumed set of circumstances. The IANA contract worked, and ICANN worked, because it provided a way to resove a bunch of thorny political issues without everything falling apart. Those issues are resolved. Done now.
|Wednesday, September 14th, 2016|
|Tuesday, September 6th, 2016|
|As I keep saying, the fundamentals of political science in the US are changing
This Washington Post piece
outlines how political prognosticators are having such an incredibly difficult time predicting how things will come out this election year.
As I have been saying for some time, the underlying fundamentals on which the various predictive models are built are changing dramatically. And even for people like me who have been predicting this for years and trying to track the trends, we don't have nearly enough data on the new fundamentals (which are complicated, and intereact with a wide variety of other factors in ways no one has really gotten a handle on) to make solid predictions.
Start with what should be a basic question -- who turns out to vote this year? In what numbers? Why? If you simply recite about how older people vote more often than younger people, you are ignoring the huge swings between POTUS years and non-POTUS years. Further, now that the 70 year olds are from the first generation of voter participation decline, will we see the same trend of enhanced voter turn out for older Americans?
In some states, like North Carolina, the 4-4 Supreme Court decision allowing the stay of North Carolina's election law to stand has significant potential impsct. Same for TX. Does that mean models should enhance non-white participation? Or were the previous models failing to take voter supression into account.
By all conventional measures, the current election should not be happening. But it is. For those of us who study such things, it's a fun time. For those who make their living as professional prognosticators, it is quite unsettling. As I remarked on FB, it is rather like in Dune at the Battle of Arakeen, when prescience failed. The Guild spokesman looks at the Emperor and says: "We cannot tell how this will end."
|On the Death of Phyllis Schlafly
One of my favorite authors wrote: "Some attitudes couldn't be changed, they could only be outlived." Schlafly was a spokesperson for a particular time and era. Schlafly -- as far as I know -- never strayed outside the bounds of recognized debate in this country. She fought for her social views -- which at the time were more mainstream -- using the tools available in our democracy.
And, as we who defend the First Amendment and democracy hope, from this crucible of debate, a better truth emerged. For while she participated in several successful campaigns, such as to prevent passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, ultimately she emerged as on the wrong side of history. The principles that were taken as an unspeakable given when she was born: that homosexuality was a perversion and mental illness, that women were inherently different from men in a way that should convey to men greater formal economic and social power, are now only the opinions of self-styled conservatives who complain that the rest of society has left them behind.
I do not defend Schlafly. Her views were wrong and reprehensible and she defended them to the very end. But I would not make her worse than she was, and I recognize what she did is part of the process by which societies change. Just as virtue requires vice to become visible as virtue, the evolution of society requires visible debate to continue to form new consensus. Some attitudes cannot be changed, they can only be outlived. Let us hope we are at last outliving the attitude that sex or sexual orientation are relevant to competence or character.,
|Monday, September 5th, 2016|
|Review: Star Trek Beyond (Spoilers)
I am extremely annoyed by this film.
Why? Because until the last half hour or so, I could ignore all the "CinemaSin" type problems because the movie was fulfilling it primary function -- being a fun summer movie. Then, with about 30 or so miniutes left, it's like the "Boys (and I mean boys) in the C Suite" phoned down and said: "Hey, this is a big summer block buster and we're releasing it in 3D as well. We want you to change the ending so it makes absolutely zero sense, but gives us a huge space battle."
"But that makes no sense, and everyone has already seen a big space battle ending for the last two movies. Couldn't we have an intelligent ending."( Collapse )
|Tuesday, August 30th, 2016|
|Sunday, August 28th, 2016|
|A not very subtle allegory on sending Aaron off to Israel today
Once upon a time, I had a terrible headache. A very bad and distracting headache.
So I miniaturized myself and slipped into my ear. Making my way to my brain, I found the problem. A great big beautiful diamond was lodged in my brain.
It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. It had thousands of little facets that caught and reflected the light. And every single one of those facets was razor sharp. It was unique. It was beautiful. And it was absolutely driving me crazy from the pain. Of course, I went up to grab hold of it and pull it out. But the tighter I held it and the harder I pulled it, the more it cut and hurt.
A peculiar thing. The diamond didn't seem too happy about it either. I know, diamonds don't have feelings. But this one did.
So I sat for awhile. The diamond getting more and more antsy and wiggly, cutting deeper and deeper into my brain and being more and more unhappy being stuck in my head and causing me more and more pain in the process. We sat glaring at each other for awhile, with my brain squarely between us.
Then I had an idea. I very gently, very tentatively, began to pull and wiggle the diamond. Not a hard grab like before. Not a massive full body hug. Just a gentle tug. The diamond was initially resistant. But after awhile it began to actually work with me. Gently rocking the diamond back and forth; the diamond rocking gently back and forth in my hand. After awhile, it hurt a lot less. The diamond seemed to be happier too.
Finally, with an audible pop. The diamond came free. Or freed itself. Either way, it no longer was cutting a giant hole in my brain. I took the diamond back out me ear and grew back to normal size. But this time, the Sun was setting. I held up the diamond and admired it in the sunset. It was, indeed, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Unique among all the other gems of the Earth. Uncounted thousands of facets cast back the dying Sun's rays in rainbows of color, illuminating unexplored depths within the stone. I could spend hours holding it in my hand and admiring the shifts of brilliance every little shift of position or change of light would bring forth.
And as the Sun set and the Moon rose, I saw the stars emerge and understood. It wasn't a diamond. It was a baby star. A baby star had gotten stuck in my brain and, now that it was out beneath the sky, it needed to go back up to the Heavens.
Of course I didn't want it to go. Who would? If you held such a beautiful, perfect thing in your hand would you want to let it go.
But I knew if I held onto it to keep it from flying away, it would cut me again. I knew that I could hold it down for awhile in my fist, but then I wouldn't be able to see it. And trying to hold it back in my fist would be very painful for both me and the diamond. Also, I knew it belonged up there in the sky. I knew it would outshine all the other stars and give lots of light and joy to the rest of the world. I knew I really ought to let it go, and in the end I would have to let it go no matter what. But I still didn't want to let it go.
Then the diamond spoke to me. It thanked me for keeping it safe and showing it how to shine -- even the parts when it was cutting into my brain. It told me I wasn't really
letting go, because I would always be able to see it in the sky. And wherever I went, whenever I looked up, I would see the diamond. It would shine brighter and more beautiful than all the stars in the Heavens. And no matter how bright and how beautiful it shined for everyone else, it would always shine extra bright and beautiful for me.
I opened my hand and watched it rise, slowly but surely, into the sky.
|Saturday, August 27th, 2016|
|Thursday, August 25th, 2016|
|Link Harvest: ABA Proposed Rule Change
The ABA has proposed a change to its ethics rules that is creating a buzz.http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/scepr_report_to_hod_rule_8_4_amendments_05_31_2016_resolution_and_report_posting.authcheckdam.pdf
The actual language of the proposed rule change, which would make it an ethics violation to: "harrass or discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socio-economic status in matters related to the practice of law" is not unreasonable (although I'm not clear on "socio-economic status"). What is troubling is to read the official comments (which are not themselves law, but are "guidance") and the accompanying essay of justification.
Essentially, it is clear that the majority of the committe which voted out the report, and the President of the ABA, would like to use ethics code to police conduct that cannot be policed in other ways. This includes a very broad definition of "related to the practice of law" to situations ranging from networking opportunities through social events sponsored by bar organizations, law schools or other "law related" events, to making work place harassment (including types not covered by state law) an ethics violation.
However much one may like the idea of purging jerks out of the practice of law, that is not the role of the ethics code -- and the intellectual justifications employed are, to be blunt, rather flimsy. When you are citing as precident for an expansive view of "the practice of law" the Clinton/Lewinsky disciplinary action by the AR Bar Association (which was widely regarded in the legal field as a travesty for its violation of precident and clear political motivation), then you are not standing on particularly firm ground (but I will give you points for irony for using Ken Starr to justify your anti-harassment policy).
In law, and in society generally, process really does matter. I grant there is a bunch of fuzziness about law and process. But the notes and report make it clear that this is not fuzzy.
|Monday, August 22nd, 2016|
|Another Tea Leaf In The Egypt/Saudi/Israel relationship.
So the Egyptian foreign Minister defended Israel's security practices to a bunch of Egyptian school children. Televised.http://www.timesofisrael.com/egypt-fm-defends-israel-says-policies-not-terrorism/
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and East Africa continue to drift toward a rapproachment with Israel. That will open the door for more explicit ties between Israel and the North African countries with which it has existing quasi-diplomatic relations.
At this point, the most steadfast anti-Israel countries in Africa are South Africa, whose ruling ANC party will not forgive Israel for maintaining relations with Apartheid SA until 1988, and Sudan. Other African nations (which have functioning governments) either have direct relations with Israel or quasi-recognition status.
The reasons why this change is going on are quite interesting and complicated, so of course no one is noticing. But if the trend continues, it may well be that there will be an Israel/Egypt/Saudi/East Africa national block opposed to an Iran/Iraq/Syria/Lebanon block with Jordan and Turkey acting as neutrals. As for the PA?
I expect that at some point in 3-5 years the Arab League, lead by Egypt and SA, will impose on the PA a peace deal similar to what Olmert offered Abbas back in '08 (which was similar to what Barak offered in '99), and will impose a unification on the PA by helping the PA retake Gaza.
Why? Again, somewhat complicated to explain. I may be getting too far ahead of myself. But the alternative is such a nasty, brutal mess in the Middle East that I'm hopeful.