Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

New York City? Cruz dog whistles Trump

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

On Tuesday, January 12, Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump on a talk show with the line, “Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values.”

[two images screen captured from 1994 Pace Picante Salsa commercial showing a cowboy holding a jar of salsa but Trump's head has been added. Text is added as a caption: 'This candidate has new york values' 'New York City????'

Naturally this led to a bit of a squabble between the two candidates, with Cruz clarifying that “the rest of the country knows exactly what New York values are, and I gotta say, they’re not Iowa values and they’re not New Hampshire values,” leading to Trump bristling with New Yorker pride and invoking 9/11 as a rejoinder.

At the Republican debate on Thursday, January 14, the two came to a head about it. Cruz clarified that “everyone understands that the values of New York City are socially liberal, are pro-abortion, are pro-gay marriage.” Trump again responded with a defense of New York’s courage during the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Per this article, New York City has 3.7 million registered voters, and of those, 13% are registered Republicans. Cruz chosing to alienate close to half a million of your potential supporters (who are likely wealthier than average) seems like a suicidal gambit to begin with.

Additionally, it’s odd that Cruz would call out both gay marriage and New Hampshire, since New Hampshire leads the nation in support of gay marriage, at 75%. New York is 11th at 63%. Iowa is in the middle of the pack at 57%. (Mississippi is lowest, at 32%.) [Source: Wikipedia]

Similarly, New Hampshire residents are a bit more Pro-Choice (67%) than New Yorkers (66%), although Iowa is a lot less supportive of abortion (56%.) [Source: Survey USA]

But I actually think Cruz’s attack is much more insidious and divisive than most of the media coverage has discussed. I agree that a stereotype of New Yorkers is that they tend to be liberal, but generally one thinks of New Yorkers as:

* tough, brash, outspoken
* avant-garde
* Jewish

To me, Cruz comes off as anti-Semitic. He’s blowing a dog whistle and hoping no one calls him out on it.

However, it’s not like Trump is better. In December his racist attack on Cruz (“I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of Evangelicals come out of Cuba, in all fairness”) is disgusting. But it did lead to the best one-liner of Thursday’s debate, Cruz’s callback: “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan, I’m just saying.” (Transcript)

I’m not a New Yorker. But I’m dating one! I like New Yorkers. It’s the biggest city in the U.S. More than 8.4 million people live there (2.6% of the U.S.’s population). If the Republican candidates are at the point where they’re saying we shouldn’t elect anyone from New York, they should bring it up with Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt.

Why fear of taking in Syrian refugees is misplaced

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

1. The existing process takes 18-24 months. Four security agencies vet each applicant. See the infographic for details. (Source)
2. So far no refugee has ever committed an act of terrorism. “In the 14 years since September 11, 2001, the United States has resettled 784,000 refugees from around the world, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute, a D.C. think tank. And within that population, three people have been arrested for activities related to terrorism. None of them were close to executing an attack inside the U.S., and two of the men were caught trying to leave the country to join terrorist groups overseas.” (Source)
3. By refusing to take in Syrian refugees, we are doing EXACTLY what ISIS wants. The PURPOSE of the French attacks is explicitly to make the West fear Muslims, so that we drive them out of our countries, setting up an apocalyptic war. The fear reaction that we’re seeing is SPECIFICALLY what ISIS is trying to create. The reason it’s called “terrorism” is it aims to spread terror. When we live in terror, we have lost to terrorism. (Source)
4. We are limited to a total of 10,000 refugees from Syria this year. The vast majority are women and children. (Source)
I cannot think of a time I have ever been so ashamed to be an American as I have over the past two weeks, after seeing so many governors and mayors and presidential candidates give in to fear, paranoia, racism, xenophobia, and defeat.
Now is the time for us to be brave, to help, to rescue — to open our borders, not shut down in fear. If we do pass the outrageous house bill, we have lost. Lost our hearts, lost our minds, lost our courage, lost our humanity, lost to ISIS.

30 years ago, the murder rate in the U.S. was twice what it is today — thoughts on the Aurora tragedy

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I was deeply disturbed by the recent theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado and have closely followed the story.

As a parent, I’m most affected by the fact that a 4-month-old baby was injured and a 6-year-old girl was killed. I can only imagine the thoughts and emotions of their families.

But I’ve had many other reactions as well.

I am disturbed by those who suggest that the movie theater attendees were insufficiently armed and brave enough to prevent the tragedy. As Slate points out, the suspect was heavily armored. Given the speed of the attack, the fact he started with a gas canister, and that the theater was darkened and quickly became a chaotic scene, I feel certain that anyone who tried to shoot back would have been likely to injure or kill innocent bystanders.

Inevitably, we’re now on the topic of guns and gun control. While I personally do not wish to own a firearm, I have many friends who feel strongly on the matter, and over time I’ve become convinced that outright prohibition is no solution, and that any gun control measures should be minimal and extremely well-considered.

As a moderate on this issue, I despise the polarization of the debate. Most on the left seem to feel that the only acceptable solution is to completely ban all firearms. And on the right, the default seems to be the NRA’s apparent position of absolutely zero gun control legislation, no matter how reasonable or effective, under any circumstance.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution exists. Guns aren’t going away. Hunters will hunt, and those who are hobbyists or gun enthusiasts have the right to bear arms. While I feel the data on keeping a gun (or guns) in the home for self-defense has far greater risks than benefits, I don’t deny the right of a person to keep a gun for self-defense (and, in fact, one third of American households do have a gun in the home). So we clearly aren’t going to ban guns.

On the other extreme, despite the Second Amendment, there are going to be laws, and we need them. Every state in the U.S. has some form of limit on the purchase, possession and use of guns. So, just as we agree guns will exist, we also agree gun laws will exist: I don’t think anyone would argue that, say, a criminally-insane 13-year-old should be allowed to purchase a gun whenever desired without any restriction.

So, as with every issue, it’s about where we set the line. The Second Amendment isn’t commonly interpreted to mean that individuals should be allowed to own tanks, or nuclear weapons, or instruments of biological warfare. So clearly there are limits. I believe it’s reasonable to argue that certain types of guns, including the assault rifle with the 100-round magazine used by James Holmes in Aurora, should be prohibited for sale and possession. Perhaps waiting periods need to be beefed up as well. However, none of that seems like it would have prevented the tragedy here.

All of this is actually preamble to my main point: I think it’s rational for there to be a certain amount of fear after an event like this. But it’s also important to keep in mind that, statistically, we in the U.S. are all at less risk of being murdered today than at any point in the last 46 years.

The “intentional homicide rate” (basically, the murder rate) in the U.S. is 4.8 in 2010, per FBI data compiled and displayed at Wikipedia. That means that in 2010, per every 100,000 people living in the United States, 4.8 were murdered.

(Compare that 4.8 rate for the U.S. to the most dangerous country for murder in 2010, the Honduras at 87, or the least dangerous, Japan at 0.35. The worldwide rate is 6.9. The U.S. is about four times more murderous than the U.K. at 1.23, and about three times worse than Canada at 1.62.)

Despite 4.8 being a relatively high number compared to many other Democratic countries, the rate in the U.S. (and for most of the world) is much lower today than it was in the recent past. Looking at the data for the last 110 years, from 1900 to 2010, the 4.8 result for 2010 is lower than 88 of those 110 years. It’s twice as low today as where it stood around 30 years ago. It’s 49% lower than 20 years ago. It’s 13% lower than 10 years ago. Here I’ve charted that data:

[chart showing the U.S. Intentional Homicide Rate, 1900 to 2010. Data from FBI (via Wikipedia)

(click to enlarge)

(I do wonder why the rate was lower in the ’50s and early ’60s.)

It’s easy to let media reports influence our thinking and panic us. Fear-mongering is a big part of mainstream media activity today, and I feel it’s mostly done in order to garner eyeballs. But the fact is, the murder rate is headed down. Events like the one in Aurora are a tragic aberration.

Zeigen’s credo

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Credo is Latin for “I believe.” These are my personal beliefs. Everyone has different perceptions and beliefs, and I do not offer my credo as an insult or to attack anyone else, but only as an exercise of putting my beliefs into words so that I can better understand myself.

[Photo of Sammy Mack at Stanford Mall, November 6, 2009]

I believe in my kids.

  • I believe that people should be treated with respect, no matter what beliefs they hold. I may disagree with certain beliefs, and even try to convince another person to change a belief, but I will always try to respect the individual, no matter how much I disagree with their beliefs. (There is an exception for believers in hatred or violence; I find it very difficult to respect holders of those beliefs.)
  • I believe in following a moral code, based on one’s understanding of right and wrong, and I believe in treating others as I would wish to be treated.
  • I believe in the scientific method, that theories and claims should be tested, and that beliefs should be based on testable and reproducible evidence. I believe there are no immutable truths and that everything should be up for debate.
  • I believe “faith” is defined as having a certain belief despite there being no evidence for that belief. Because of my skeptical world view and my requirement for evidence to support my beliefs, I believe that “faith” has little place in my life.
  • I believe that I am completely open to believing in the existence of God (or gods). If I were to find any proof that God exists, I would believe in God. I believe that the burden of proof of God’s existence should be on those who believe in God, not on those who don’t. By some definitions, this makes me an agnostic, but I don’t really believe in labels.
  • I believe that the more extraordinary the claim, the more rigorous should be the proof. Belief in a benevolent creator as a conscious entity who watches over us and influences events for us is an extraordinary claim, or so I believe.
  • There are several arguments for creator belief that I do not find persuasive.
    1. I am not persuaded by arguments along the lines that all things have a creator, therefore our universe was created. Who, then, created the creator? The same argument that others make to me that our universe must have had some “prime cause” I would return to them, and ask what was the prime cause for that prime cause.
    2. I am not persuaded by the extraordinary unlikelihood of life forming on our planet as proof that there was a creator of that life. Deal out a deck of cards. The odds of that particular hand being dealt were tiny. But it happened, and after it happened, the odds were 100%. Deal enough hands and you increase the likelihood of that hand being dealt to the point where it becomes likely. Well, I believe there are a lot of planets in our universe, and I believe that we happen to live on one where life happened to form.
    3. I am not persuaded by words in a book put down by human hands as any kind of absolute proof of anything in particular, especially when the book in question has had multiple authors and revisions and a long history of mistranslations. (If you are insulted by this, please don’t be. Maybe I’m not talking about YOUR holy book, maybe I’m talking about someone else’s.)
    4. I do not find persuasive any third party descriptions of impossible events or miracles, especially if they happened long ago, unless they have been credibly witnessed or recorded or reproduced.
    5. Because I have never seen a credible study proving that prayer has benefits (and I have seen many that disprove any benefits), I do not believe in the power of prayer. How does God choose which prayers to answer? If one person prays for one event to happen, while another person prays for that same event to not happen, how is that resolved?
  • I tend not to believe in absolutes or extremes, but instead look at life as a full spectrum of possibilities.
  • I believe our brains and perceptions are often deeply flawed, and we have unbelievable power to fool ourselves.
  • I believe that every individual is different, and do not expect my own beliefs to influence others or be persuasive. Other individuals have different beliefs based on their different values and world views, and I believe that that’s what makes life interesting. The world’s religions and varied cultural history hold enormous value and beauty.
  • I believe that a refusal to be tolerant of other people’s different beliefs is problematic. I respect people for strong-held beliefs, but some belief systems are incompatible with my world view, and I may choose to not have such people in my life, and I believe that some people with extreme beliefs should not hold positions of power or authority over others.
  • I fully believe in the separation of church and state.
  • I am by nature suspicious of most organizations, and that applies to organized religious organizations as well. I believe in “live and let live” and therefore do not care for extreme proselytizing, or dogma that dismisses or attacks other groups.
  • I do believe in groups that support each other and their community with acts of charity, whether those groups are religious or not.
  • I believe that I should try hard not to be a hypocrite. But I believe that I am a flawed individual, and that my actions may not always be consistent with my beliefs. But I believe I should always try to be consistent and try to improve myself.
  • I believe in kind actions and kind words. I believe in not taking oneself too seriously. I believe in love. I believe it’s time to eat.

Make-A-PAC — now you too can name your political organization the easy way

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Ever watch those political attack ads on TV, ending with the talking-quickly-voiceover-guy saying that the ad was paid for by the “Citizens for Responsible Democracy” or “Democratic Education Reform Coalition” or some other vague-sounding name?

Furthermore, did you ever wish that you too could one day form a front organization or political action committee of your own, but never got around to coming up with a good name for it?

Well now there’s Make-A-Pac, wherein I use my B.A. in Linguistics combined with my remedial programming and web development skills to come up with another generator for fake political organizations.

Feedback solicited (what works, what doesn’t, what to add, what to take out).

Sample fake political organization from Make-A-PAC: "The Rainbow League to Reform Swift Boat Wind Power"

Sample fake political organization from Make-A-PAC: "The Rainbow League to Reform Swift Boat Wind Power"

Enjoy, or something!

Shouldn’t Newt Gingrich have some proof before he calls Sonia Sotomayor a racist?

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Newt Gingrich’s blog this week had a post that consisted of these five sentences:

Imagine a judicial nominee said “my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman” Wouldn’t they have to withdraw? New racism is no better than old racism.

A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.

First of all, what horrible grammar — missing word, missing comma, missing period, missing capitalization. Newt can’t afford an editor? But that bad grammar calls into some ambiguity (perhaps intentionally) whether or not he’s really making the accusation I think he’s making. Is that last sentence supposed to be hypothetical, and better cast as, “A Latina woman racist should also be forced to withdraw”?

As is, that last sentence uses “woman” (singular) and is missing the indefinite article present in the fourth sentence, so in my view it’s clearly supposed to be concrete rather than hypothetical. Combined with the title of the blog post (“On Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor”) and it’s very clear what he’s saying. Newt believes Sonia is a racist.

Why does he believe so? A lot of publicity has been generated from this excerpt from a 2001 speech Sotomayor gave at Berkeley’s Boalt School published in La Raza Law Journal:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

In opposition to the clumsy language employed by Mr. Gingrich, look at how carefully crafted Ms. Sotomayor’s statement is. I’ve diagrammed a sentence or three in my time, and it’s quite clear she’s NOT saying something nearly as bald as Newt’s construction. I interpret Sotomayor’s statement as: I hope that it is true that f you are wise, and if you have had the richness of your experiences, and if you are a Latina woman, you have a chance of making a better conclusion than a white male who is not wise and has not had rich experiences.

Put that way, who could object to that statement? And who could argue it’s racist?

It’s disappointing that today Obama chose not to defend Sotomayor’s speech as is, and instead suggested that, “I’m sure she would have restated it.”

I’m not sure. Why should she change a word other than to bow to political expedience? She’s simply not saying anything controversial. The only controversy comes from willful misinterpretation of her words.

Obama suggests, accurately, that the thrust of her speech is “simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through — that will make her a good judge.”

Judge for yourself. You can read the entire speech over at the New York Times. (Go ahead, it’ll only take you a few minutes.)

She concludes with this:

I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

Well said! Be vigilant, re-evaluate, aspire to be more than your experiences. That’s exactly what I want to see in a Supreme Court Justice.

What stuns me at the conservative backlash against Sotomayor typified by Newt’s blog post is that ANY kind of pride in one’s heritage is now racism. If someone says, “I’m proud to be Jewish” or “I’m proud to be Native American” or “I’m proud to be a Latina,” is that now objectionable and racist?

If so, then do conservatives believe that publications such as La Raza shouldn’t exist? Should there be no more Columbus day parades or Chinese New Years or St. Patrick’s Days or Kwaanzas or anything else that celebrates racial backgrounds and origins? What a monotonous world that would be.

So, Newt, do you have more to base this accusation on then a few words from a speech that you took out of context? It doesn’t appear so. Nothing in Sotomayor’s work, actions or history supports any kind of view that she is a racist. What a despicable and reprehensible accusation to make without proof.

We can’t pretend that all races and all backgrounds and all sexes and orientations and religions and cultures are identical. The differences are valuable. We should all have equal rights and opportunities, because of and despite the fact that we are all individuals and we are not all the same. Diversity is protection from homogeneous, isolationist, sheltered thinking.

My prediction is that this will blow over and that Sotomayor will be confirmed. I’m not qualified to judge her fitness for the Supreme Court based on her voting record and the quality of her work as a judge. But my limited assessment, based on her words in this speech and a few others, is that she will be an excellent addition to the Court.

What $3 trillion looks like (graph)

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

The AP today breaks with traditional headline-writing style and has an article simply called “$3 trillion!” The first paragraph of that article reads:

On a single day filled with staggering sums, the Obama administration, Federal Reserve and Senate attacked the deepening economic crisis Tuesday with actions that could throw as much as $3 trillion more in government and private funds into the fight against frozen credit markets and rising joblessness.

I have a hard time comprehending the very concept of three trillion dollars. After all, even if you take Bill Gates, the world’s richest man — who is currently worth $14.22 billion — and round his wealth to the nearest trillion, he’d have nothing. And I’m nowhere close to Bill; round my wealth to the nearest billion, and I get zero. (Same for nearest million, actually.) So three trillion of anything feels to me like it far exceeds any ordinary individuals’ ability to comprehend.

If you took the $3 trillion and used it for eating hot dogs that cost $10 each, and ate them one a minute without stopping, you’d have enough money to keep on eating hot dogs for 570,776 years. Or you could give about $441 to every person on the Earth. Or you could use that three trillion to buy enough ping pong balls to fill more than 1,600 football stadiums.

I’m a visual person, so I took some time to come up with a graph that I think clearly demonstrates what $3 trillion looks like.

NOMinee NOMinee NOMinee

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Hillary Clinton eating (from 2003)

Our Turn

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Yesterday I set my status label as “Our Turn.” I want to expand on that thought a little.

Look, I’m a sickening liberal. A smug, self-satisfied liberal. A liberal who can’t believe anyone else with a working mind is a conservative. (Sorry! <– look, at least I’m apologetic.)

My father would always tell us, “Anyone under 30 who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart. Anyone over 30 who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain.” (This quote is frequently misattributed to Winston Churchill. Wikiquote argues it was François Guizot, who is said to have stated, “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.”)

Well, here I am, 41, still brainless. (WTB brain?) I’m someone who would quote the fictional Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits in The West Wing):

“Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things…every one! So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.”

But even as disgustingly liberal as I am, even as much as I supported Obama and rejoice in his victory, and even though I’m surrounded by people who think like me (California voted 61% for Obama, and my county result was 69% Obama), there’s no way I have blinders on and suddenly believe that all the rest of the country is somehow magically united.

This week I’m full of optimism and hope (despite Prop 8 passing). I cannot wait to see Bush the Junior leave office forever. Some of the immediate changes in policy (accelerated withdrawal from Iraq, and reversal of bans on stem cell research just to name two) have my full support.

But I know that Obama has made lots of promises, and he’s just a human being. He’s got a lot to live up to. I hope he can turn around some of the 48% who didn’t vote for him and turn them into supporters. But I know how much of an open mind I had for Bush in 2000 and 2004: Not very open at all. I remember how disheartened I was. And I know that 48% of U.S. voters are just as disheartened now as I was four years ago. Practically everything Bush said reinforced my already highly negative opinion of him. That’s just the way I spin. There was almost no chance he could convince me that he was a good president. (I still think Reagan was a bad president, even though history disagrees with me on that one.)

So I don’t expect many minds to change. If anything, given the daunting challenges Obama faces in January, many who voted for him will turn on him when there are not overnight positive results.

Conservatives are conservative. Liberals are liberal. Elections are decided by the people in the middle.

Here’s the most telling factoid for me from the election (from CNN’s exit polls — scroll down to Party ID result section):

  • Democrats cast 39% of the votes, and 89% of them voted for Obama.
  • Republicans cast 32% of the votes, and 90% of them voted for McCain.
  • Independents cast 29% of the votes, and 52% of them voted for Obama (vs. 44% for McCain).

Like almost all US Presidential elections, this was a close election.

And yet here we had an election with an unpopular war, an economic disaster, the most unpopular sitting president since Truman in 1952, a vice presidential candidate demonstrably unprepared for office, and a unique candidate at a unique time in history. While you could argue that the electoral results were one-sided (365 to 173), the popular vote certainly was close. Bush took 51% in 2004; Obama took only 52% in 2008.

So, “Our Turn.” I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts — because Obama will doubtless need to work miracles to make his turn last more than four years.

Thing is: I think he can. Yes, he can.

Congrats Obama!

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 calls it for Barrack at 8:04pm PST. I’m very happy with the results so far.

EDIT: The above was written before I learned that Proposition 8 is passing, early Wednesday morning. So, while I’m very happy with the Presidential race results, the election is overall feeling a little bittersweet to me.

However, that Proposition 8 was close shows progress overall. Eight years ago, Californians voted on Proposition 22, which added language to California marriage law to formally define marriage in California as being between a man and a woman. That passed with 61.4% voting in favor.

We wait eight more years, and my bet is Californians will support an initiative that removes this wording. Alternately, in the same way that the courts overturned Proposition 22, it’s possible courts could overturn Proposition 8.

If you voted for Proposition 8, does your marriage really feel any different yesterday vs. today? I’d urge you to watch this video from Lawrence Lessig, or read this essay by Molly Wood.

“Yukon Barbie” comic

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

[Comic strip about two characters discussing Sarah Palin and sexism, words by Zeigen; generated with Microsoft Chat 2.5, incorporating art from Jim Woodring]

(Click to enlarge to the point where you can, you know, actually read it.)

On Friday, my reaction to McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palin as VP was both surprise and respect. Previous to that, I felt like the McCain campaign really was doing very little right (off-base attack ads, ridiculous press events like this one, poor policy briefings, alienating the media).

To suddenly make an unexpected choice, and to time the announcement so perfectly right after Obama’s keynote — to me, his campaign suddenly seemed to be competitive, and I felt the next ten weeks would be a lot more interesting. I did feel that the choice of so inexperienced a politician would ultimately work against McCain, but as a strategic move it was an attention-grabber, supporting McCain’s image as a maverick.

If you’re a Democrat like me, there’s plenty not to like about Palin’s positions. But the media and blog coverage of her has really sickened me. I’m tired of misogynistic, hateful and inappropriate discussions. I do not care to read about her children or her family at all, and the arguments about exposing her “hypocrisy” through these issues are baseless since the actions of her children are not her actions. Real issues only, please.

The story I’m interested in is her actual work as a corruption-buster versus charges of corruption and pork barrel politics against her. But that’s buried by this nonsense about her daughter. Obama had it right: Family is off-limits.

The Next Barrier

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Either Obama or Clinton will be our Democratic party nominee for President. Given the Bush administration’s unpopularity, chances are good that either an African-American man or a white woman will be our next President.

What, I wonder, will be the next barrier to be broken? Which of these candidates are now possibly electable? (By “electable,” I mean: Able to overcome the biases and prejudices of the electorate on the basis of their character and qualifications.)

  • A homosexual
  • An atheist
  • A disabled person

As far as our country as come, I think it will be many years before any of the above types of people would stand a good chance, no matter how qualified. But I hope I’m wrong. I’m glad I was wrong about 2020 before.

Absentee in Person

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

I did my civic duty this morning, and dropped off my absentee ballot at a polling station (and Kimi’s ballot as well).

We’re permanent absentee voters. One advantage of an absentee ballot is that there’s no chance of electronic voter fraud. (Voting is one case where, as I said before, I like the low-tech approach.)

But one thing really confuses me. I like to think I’m a smart guy, but I really can’t comprehend the included voting instructions (or the similar instructions at the Santa Clara County registrar of voters site). They say that the ballot has to be received by 8pm today but nowhere do they say when it has to be mailed by.

If I mailed it today, with a postmark of election day, would it have been counted? What about tomorrow? What if I’d mailed it in January but it was delayed in the mail and didn’t arrive until next week?

The instructions seem to indicate that it has to be received today, which implies mailing it last week. But nowhere do they say when you should mail it to have a reasonable assurance of it arriving on time.

Kimi says that’s because they don’t want to take any responsibility for mail delay and don’t want to go on record with any recommendation. But I think it’s crazy to omit such an important detail. To me you simply must put big bold letters saying, “IF YOU MAIL THIS, DO SO BY FEBRUARY 1 AT THE LATEST.”

So, to be safe, I dropped off the absentee ballot in person, which saves $0.58 per ballot in postage, but felt a little weird because I wasn’t exactly absent from the polling place.

The horse race

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

As a Linguistics undergrad at U.C. Berkeley in the late ’80s, the best course I took was by George Lakoff, centering on his book, Metaphors We Live By.

In that wide-ranging course, one of Professor Lakoff’s observations was that the horse race metaphor for presidential elections has come to dominate our thinking of politics so much that the media rarely covers anything else.

If a candidate gives a speech proposing, say, a new health plan, the media reaction is not to analyze the health plan or quote experts discussing whether it is a good health plan or a bad health plan. Instead, the media reaction is, invariably, to quote experts who analyze whether or not the proposed health plan would help the candidate in the polls or hurt the candidate in the polls.

(Certainly a good health plan might be expected to help the candidate in the polls, but instead of analyzing the effectiveness of the plan first and the impact on the election second, we do it backwards, and the deeper analysis is often an afterthought or even not included at all.)

I am wearied by the current coverage of the primaries because of just this. I will not link to prime examples on the major news sites, yet. But I assure you that if you watch for this in the newspaper articles you read, or the TV news coverage that you watch, you will rarely see anything else.

I grant that knowing who is in the lead is important. But should it be all that we care about?

Barely Political comes to TiVoCast

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Just in time for the Iowa Caucus, Barely Political has been added to TiVoCast! Barely Political features political parody videos, and is another show from Next New Networks. You may be familiar with their most popular video, “Obama Girl.”There will be new episodes of Barely Political each Monday and Wednesday.

And while I’m thinking of the Caucus, the gamesmanship and jockeying among the fifty states of our union for earlier and earlier dates is distressing to me. I imagine that in 2012, Iowa’s Caucus will be held on January 1st at 12:01am, while New Jersey’s is held at 12:02am. California’s caucus will at 12:03am Eastern time, which is 9:03pm local time; it’ll be a heck of a new year’s party.

Ruth Rosen on “the Care Crisis”

Monday, March 5th, 2007

Kimi gave me a homework assignment which I’m passing on to you: Read this article, then let me know if you agree or disagree. After a couple of comments I’ll chime in.

What kind of bubble bath should we buy?

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Driving home on late Saturday/early Sunday, listening to NPR’s “Living on Earth” program, I heard a story about the chemical dioxane (or more fully, 1,4-dioxane) being found in children’s shampoos and bubble baths as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. Dioxane is banned in Europe as a carcinogen. The FDA limit is 0.5 parts per million. Several products (including some which the program alleged were being recalled) contained much higher concentrations. The part that made me take notice was the Hello Kitty Bubble Bath, with 12 ppm, the highest of any of the children’s products tested. One guess which bubble bath we buy for Sammy. In the car, I was horrified. The thought of Sammy developing cancer because of a bubble bath.

Reading LOE’s online version of their story, the press release that led to the story, the lab results, and a cancer blog entry that covered the story, my thinking has changed a bit. The story certainly brings up valid points, and it’s important to know the F.D.A. doesn’t test health and beauty products, including children’s shampoos, soaps and bath products. And honestly, it’s terrible that the maker of the shampoo is spending a huge amount on licensing Hello Kitty but wouldn’t spend a relatively small amount to remove dioxane from its product. If they’ve actually recalled it (which I couldn’t prove) then maybe there’s something going on here. But realistically, I suspect that 12 parts per million of this particular chemical are probably not worth worrying about, especially after diluted in the bath. On the other hand, who wants to voluntarily expose their child to a carcinogen?

I’m not a chemist. After a few hours of research, I became frustrated. I didn’t see any balanced web sites that honestly assessed the safety of children’s products without bias from a manufacturer. The test results are very specific: These five products had this much dioxane. But ok, what bubble bath is safe and I should buy instead? Where’s the invisible hand when you need it? Is this the F.D.A.’s job or isn’t it?

Happy Heroes Day

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

It’s Heroes’ Day today in Mozambique.
Who’s your hero? My hero for today is anti-Nazi theologian Pastor Martin Niemöller, best known for writing the following:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

How much does the Iraq war cost?

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

MSNBC says it could approach $1 trillion (and this was last March).

One organization says $363 billion and climbling (a figure backed up by this other site).

Another organization says $151 billion (but as of when?).

This site lists the costs of U.S. wars for comparison (at the bottom of the page). If we go with the $363 billion figure, then the current Iraq war is second only to World War II.

(Of course, the true cost includes an accounting of the dead, wounded, and human misery. In this case, we’re only talking about billions of dollar bills.)


Monday, January 29th, 2007

I grew up in England during Margaret Thatcher’s era as Prime Minister. When I moved to America (I was 12, and entered 8th grade), the idea of a woman as President was something my classmates talked about sometimes. It was usually something a boy would say to a girl, as a taunt: You could never be President, because you’re a girl. I was a bit mystified by that, having seen Ms. Thatcher’s domination of British politics, but the taunt seemed true in 1979 in America. No woman seemed likely to even run for the office, let alone win.

In high school and college (most especially in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was the Dem’s VP nomination), during political discussions we sometimes wondered at what year would America progress to the point where a woman candiate or an African-American candidate would realistically stand a chance of winning. The answer, usually, was it would take a couple more generations for that to be realistic. 2020 or so at the earliest.

Now that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both declared their intentions to run next year, it seems to me that no other Democratic nomination will have either the name recognition or momentum that they bring to the race. And given the Republican performance in 2006’s House and Senate elections, it doesn’t seem too far a stretch for me to predict that America’s next President will either be a woman or a member of a minority. So, the answer to the high school and college speculation should have been 2008.