Distributed Mind

October 31, 2004

Just to Keep You Thinking

by ben

Thanks to an aforementioned blog, here are John Piper's thoughts on voting pro-life as a single issue. Feedback?

14:38:42 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 30, 2004

Important Memo

by ben

To: All Americans
From: Ben Martin
Date: 10/30/2004
Subject: Rumors regarding terrorism

I understand that some of you have been repeating rumors that terrorism is the most important issue facing our nation today. While I can see where this mistaken impression might arise, the data does not support that conclusion. For example, in 2001 roughly six times as many people died in homicides as were killed in terrorist attacks, and several orders of magnitude more people died from disease. The leading cause of death was heart disease (which is in my understanding largely believed to be preventable), resulting in over 700,000 fatalities. (More information can be found at the following address: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/03facts/mortalitytrends.htm.)

I think we can safely conclude that there are many important issues facing our nation. Terrorism may be one but it is certainly not the most important. If I catch any of you repeating the unfounded claim that it is, I will correct you.

09:26:53 - Politics - ben - No comments

Random Thoughts on Abortion as a Political Issue

by ben

I was discussing with my roommate this morning Prohibition. Prohibition is an interesting time in American politics for several reasons: (1) something completely implausible became law, and (2) it was widely ignored, before (3) it was overturned forcefully. I want us to consider for a moment the ramifications of that, specifically in how it relates to the issues in modern American politics identified as moral issues, and especially abortion, the one I care about.

The problem with abortion as an issue is that the majority of Americans support unrestricted abortion, and a much larger majority supports abortion in circumstances that make no sense from a quasi-Kantian/Chrisitan ethical standpoint. This is significant because it suggests the possibility that (1) we will not be able to pass laws in opposition to abortion, and (2) even if we could it might not be observed.

All of this is even more interesting in light of the talk I saw this morning on C-SPAN2 by Morris Fiorina about his book Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. He pointed out with several studies and statistics indicating that the average person in the United States is both moderate on the issue of abortion (i.e. falling in the camp that I said had no ethical justification for their position under traditional ethics) and that they cared very little for them (he cited a poll of issues voters thought was important in this election, and abortion was not even top 10; I have seen similar polls in the past).

The point is we have a problem. I think abortion is an important issue, and we need to convinve people that it is an important issues. That is leadership. However, we do need to consider what can be accomplished, and at what cost. Many people in the pro-life camp have debated this issue over the years, and I don't think it will go away soon. As I see it, the argument for occasionally allowing compromise are basically that (1) stopping some abortions is better than stopping none, and (2) to not allow compromise may be to completely cede any political influence for our side, and - the new one - (3) premature legal changes may be largely ignored and counterproductive (true you can always try to improve enforcement; I am more worried about losing 10 years down the road as the prohibitionists did). The arguments against compromise are (1) we risk plateauing legally where we accomplish some things but fail to accomplish them all. (Some will argue that any compromise is immoral; I agree abortion is wrong, I just disagree that we should never tolerate partial legislation on the issue.)

All of these challenges disappear if we can win people's hearts and minds first, but I think we need to be prepared for the possibility we can't. We need to ask ourselves what we can accomplish when, and then push for slightly more, but not too much more. Change does happen overnight, but not always. Prohibition was an unfortunate example of the latter. Today, the problem of alcohol (and it was and is a problem - look at the numbers!) is no more solved than it was in 1919. I don't want to see abortion become the next Prohibition. What will it take to avoid this? Again, an alternative to rasining this question is to begin by asking, how do we convince people outside of the political arena that we are right? By making this exclusively a legal issue, the pro-life side has largely ceded the issue, since people don't seem to largely want more laws.

It would seem among voters there are enough to accomplish change, but that takes us back to the comparison to Prohibition - most Americans are still opposed to abortion reform at the level the pro-life movement would like to see it occur. And, it won't necessarily motivate people who traditionally don't vote. This is a significant challenge for those opposed to abortion and for any party willing to take on the issue. Some serious thought, and continuous dialogue, needs to be going on on this topic.

[Update: I fixed the mistaken claim that a majority of Americans oppose abortion reform. It is apparently less than half, but the majority has not expressed support of many of the reasons pro-life activists would like abortion to be illegal. See for example an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll. The exact implication of the complex results is open to debate and discussion.]

09:03:22 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 29, 2004

How to Start a War

by ben

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." [Emphasis mine]

The preceding quote is from Nuremberg Diary. I found the quote floating around, and so I checked Snopes for authenticity. The whole quote is even better than the excerpted one circulating. I wish I could get people to realize what Goering said at the end there. And, no, I don't think Bush was aiming for the same ends or same scale Hitler was; but what is the same is the manipulation of the public will. (Do I think Goering is right? Perhaps he exaggerates, but surely he was onto something.)

[I like the part about Congress declaring wars, too. Too bad we don't even have that protection anymore.]

[Oh, and this proves I have no originality; my apologies.]

12:31:53 - Politics - ben - 1 comment

October 28, 2004

They're Stealing the Election...Again

by Earendil

Brownard county, arguably the most Democratic-leaning county in Florida, has 50,000 absentee ballots lost:

Florida ballot papers go missing

05:11:51 - Politics - Earendil - No comments

October 25, 2004

Vote Swapping? Yikes?

by ben

Oh, and the proposition for vote pairing is intersting. I don't think Justin will bite though, even if he did buy it, which I don't necessarily myself. (It scares me frankly. Though, procedural loopholes may be what it takes to win for smaller parties in a world where it is in part procedure that keeps them down.)

17:31:22 - Politics - ben - No comments

The 2004 Compromise

by ben

How about this?

I think that about says it. I do regret having wasted so much time arguing about the presidential election when clearly I had no choice in the matter (every vote does not count; the curse of living in Indiana). And, yes, I do occasionally make outlandish statements (though I think my last post was fairly lucid, but whatever).

17:25:06 - Politics - ben - 1 comment

The Devil is in the details...

by Earendil

Rather than respond to the notion that Kerry isn't much different than Bush, I post this article by Molly Ivins:

"It's the little things, folks"

12:16:37 - Politics - Earendil - 8 comments

More on Nader

by ben

Did I say no more political posts? Oops.

A lot of people have criticized Nader for supposedly throwing the election to Bush. Well, allow me to explore that (yet again) for a moment.

The War: It is interesting that the only two minor major candidates in the election who are decisively opposed to the war in Iraq or any future actions are Nader and Badnarik. If liberals and libertarians in this country had actually stuck to their guns in this election, we would probably be looking at Nader and Badnarik with as much of a share of the vote as Kerry and Bush. After all, the majority of the country thinks the war was a mistake, while both presidential candidates don't! (I admit it is not clear that Nader has a good clean up strategy - a reason why one opposed to the war might still want to vote for Kerry, but at least give voters the choice!) Nader didn't abandon the left, the left abandoned Nader, to their shame.

Everything else: It is true that Kerry is very different than Bush on some issues, but he is also the same on many issues. Different: the environment. Same: free trade. Different: deficit spending. Same: education (Kerry voted for NCLB, in case you had forgotten). Different: Stem cell research. Same: death penalty [update: oops, I blew that one; Kerry thinks the death penalty should be mich more limited; forgot about that]. The point is that on many issues liberals care a lot about, Kerry isn't different than Bush. No doubt he is closer to their position on "many" issues but he is also quite "conservative" on "many" issues (okay, I really didn't spend a long time looking at it - but I think this would warrant some reasoned discussion and investigation, which no one has been willing to do during all of the ideological and personal wars being conducted). I would suggest they check the issues they care about before deciding.

The scam: It is clearly in the interests of the non-ideological Democrats to get as much power as they can, and voting for not-Bush (which oddly enough seems to mean only Kerry) is a good way to get another shot at it. But the issues that are being argued will continue to be in dispute until the end of time! Bush may be pretty bad from a liberal perspective, but I would argue he is most definitely not the completely new phenomenon being claimed. "Pro-business" types are always going to support basically the same issues. The only issue different in this election is the use of military power, and Kerry has made it quite clear he doesn't view the situation that much differenty than Bush (okay, I am probably lying; Kerry says that, but he may be saying it for political reasons; you can evaluate for yourself whether he would really be willing to go head to head with the likes of Syria or Iran). Meanwhile, the vast majority of voters have no real choice in this election. Enviro-anarcho-socio liberals will lose, unless they vote for Nader. Religious conservatives of the likes of conservative Catholics lose no matter whom they vote for. Libertarians lose no matter whom they vote for unless they vote for Badnarik. Of course, we all lose anyway, because the fix is in (through our own fault) and Kerry or Bush will win arguing for positions no one believes in using tactics no one agrees with, but after all, they had a chance. Don't throw away your vote. Too bad that is exactly what you are doing. We will only have a choice if we start voting for what we care about. Right now arguably the most crucial issue for getting change is election reform, and neither Kerry nor Bush supports the kind of reform we need. And neither do any representatives or senators from the big two.

Now, having said all of this... There are rational reasons to still believe we should not vote for Nader - just not reasons anyone is using. The most crucial is the idea of rule by concensus. One can postulate that in an election one should vote for a candidate who best bring together the nation rather than that would best represent all of one's own individual beliefs. In that case Kerry may make some sense. Er, ok, that is pretty much the only reason I can think of to vote for Kerry if one is a liberal. Oh, wait, I remembered. Nader is crazy? It is not at all clear Nader really has a good grasp of how to construct useful policy overall or how to lead others to implement it. Also, the issues liberals agree with him on may not always be as close as we think. (I know as a pro-life liberal, Nader appalls me frequently.) So, it is not entirely irrational to oppose Nader, but if we arrive at that position through fear, it is (fear is after all, by definition irrational).

Ultimately, none of this matters. Clearly, Nader has no chance short of Kerry and Bush being replaced by aliens. Even then... But, how did we get here? People sold out Nader before the Democratic primaries were even over. I would argue that someone from the Democrats floated the idea that voting for anyone but the Democratic nominee would be irresponsible, but no one really needed even to say it. Everyone wants to be on the winning side, and no one wants to go the distance (I know I don't!). Second, ultimately these battles need to be fought in Congress. We can't make any real change at the presidential level, I suspect, until Congress changes first. Furthermore, at least there is a chance of running independent, third party, and otherwise unconvential candidates in Congress. That is the real battelfield, and this joke of a presidential election has been a perfect if unintentional smokescreen for business as usual there. There is some, though little, hope of change in this election, though it is certainly possible. But even if nothing happens 2006 is coming very soon. We need to stop the defeatist rhetoric and work for real, non-self-sabotaging change. Let's stop letting the Democrats and the Republicans set the agenda in their foolish, short-sighted, greedy, selfish powerplays and let's get some real statesmen in the government. Don't let them lie to you. Don't do it. You know better.

05:25:44 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 24, 2004

Horowitz and Frustration

by ben

David Horowitz is on C-SPAN right now. He sounds so crazy to me. He says so many ridiculous things. In short: he is completely off base. I have to wonder if he knows something I don't. But, I really strongly suspect he doesn't. (Good evidence he doesn't is that he says the world changed on September 11, 2001. Oh? Based on what? And don't tell me it is self-evident, because it isn't. I have already made the argument against this position before.) On the other hand, there is so much bogus stuff coming from the other side. Our country is crazy. The world is crazy. I hate pundits. I am a pundit. I hate me.

My new party is so winning in 2008. If I can convince myself that founding a long shot political party is worth it, or that I know enough to pull it off in a useful way, rather than descending into some sort of fanaticism like all the other crazy parties fighting for contention right now. And, of course, I need a name.

[Update: fixed missing end of parenthetical remark. Man, was I out of it when I wrote this.]

07:57:07 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 18, 2004

Another Convert

by ben

Okay, I have to admit it. Jon Stewart is now officially my hero too, following his incredible appearance on Crossfire. On the one hand, I think it was a cheap shot, but on the other hand... it was great. He said exactly what needed to be said. Now, if only people start listening...

[Update: the transcript is available. Read it, if you haven't seen it (seeing is better - half of the interest hear lies in Stewart's presentation and the reaction, but, what are you gonna do).]

11:35:33 - Politics - ben - 1 comment

October 17, 2004

A Pro-Life Type Argues Bush Isn't Best

by ben

(Justin was supposed to blog this, but, he has a life.) There is an article at Sojourners arguing that many of Bush's policies have increased the abortion rate during his tenure, from an all time low before he took office. No commentary at this time from me. Just read it and think about it.

01:58:49 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 16, 2004

Counterarguments That Make You Wonder What They Were Thinking

by ben

I am not rabidly pro-gun control, though if we got rid of all of them I would not feel any less safe, nor would I be drastically disappointed. But, as awbansunset.com's page arguing against the assault weapon ban shows, gun control opponents don't always get it. Now, don't get me wrong, if I was in to firearms, I am certain I would be interested in owning an assault weapon. I am that kind of guy. But, at the same time, I can understand why there would be opposition to allowing them. (And, for the record, the assault weapon law was lousy legislation - for one thing it probably didn't ban enough weapons, but that doesn't mean the idea was bad). Ironically, this argument for these kinds of weapons also makes a great argument against them. I especially like their argument involving competition target shooting. Contests requiring accurate, rapid shots, and lots of ammunition. Which makes it perfect for firing at lots of tagets in a short period of time, which probably explains why such rifles seem to be the weapon of choice for the psychotic killer types (a lot of legal pistols work just as well, it is true). Not that such attacks happen often, but it seems understandable why there might be some opposition to the weapons that show up in them. In the tradeoff between personal liberty and public safety this really wasn't as close a call as I think the gun control opponents would lead us to believe. No, from a libertarian perspective, that doesn't make sense. But, then, the vast majority of people in the United States don't buy strict libertarianism. So, for the rest of us, banning "assault weapons" will probably make sense. Even if it doesn't have a big impact, it may not make much sense to argue against it.

[I have to be careful though. I remember Germany was considering a ban on tropical fishkeeping a few years ago. I wasn't too happy about that. I could see some reasons you might want to do it, but it didn't seem like a good idea (it also supposedly would have resulted in the death of countless currently owned fishes). But then, I was a fish keeper - a special interest. But, because of that, I could see why one might want to own them. We do need to be careful not to legislate ourselves into an empty universe. We don't really want a government that controls everything. But, in the case of firearms... Let it go. Hey, there is always archery. (I am of course being somewhat unfair - there is always the self-defense argument, which I can't really successfully counter.)]

17:53:57 - Politics - ben - No comments

More on Polls and Mobile Phones

by ben

CNN has an article on polling and mobile phones saying again what I've mentioned before. They did claim it was illegal to randomly dial mobile phones, which was a new fact, If I recall correctly. They had their pollster quotes saying they didn't think it would make any difference for this election, though I imagine many people reading the article who don't know much about statistics will be skeptical. I too believe the impact is very small, but I would like to see numbers on that. I know it will be small, but I think the reports that it will not have much impact would be better received if there was something we could point too. Oh, well. I suppose I could try to figure it out myself too, but I would probably get it wrong anyway, so, I think I will skip that exercise in masochism. One of these days I would like to read a news article that actually has a number... There is after all a non-negligible percentage of the population that would have some idea what it meant. Oh, well.

14:49:09 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 13, 2004

Movie Quote for the Day

by ben

"Madness! Madness!"

[In honor of a certain political event...]

21:42:23 - Politics - ben - No comments

October 08, 2004

One Last Political Post?

by ben

I really don't want to talk about politics (at least presidential) here anymore, but, I had to say...

Bush is pulling a complete smoke screen on the Iraq war. The fact (well, a fairly basic opinion, anyway) of the matter was

  1. There was no imminent need for war based on the possibility of weapons
  2. There was certainly not such an imminent need they couldn't take time to come up with some sort of plan for after the war (they even managed that in Afghanistan which they only had two months warning for!)
  3. Some of us knew this going in - even if we did have doubts about the absence of weapons

Don't let Bush rewrite history.

[I know thoughtful people feel otherwise on this issue, but I still don't see it.]

20:22:47 - Politics - ben - No comments