Monday, April 25, 2011

And now, some politics

I really need to get in the habit of blogging Facebook threads quickly. These days I'm not posting much here on Kazim's Korner, but I am having the occasional heated discussion on Facebook. Unfortunately, Facebook posts are not searchable in any graceful way, which means that they become effectively impossible to find after a month or two has elapsed. These discussions are exactly the sorts of things I enjoy coming back and reading again a few years later, so I'm synthesizing the discussion from the one I just linked so I can have a record of it.

For starters, I recommend this article.

Good article. Hits many of the points that I like to highlight in my typical political posts. As I've said before, I am often frustrated by the fact that liberals (and, to a lesser extent, many atheists) are so married to the idea that they must be "reasonable" that they tend to try to compromise as quickly as possible. In falling all over themselves to give ground in every argument, they crippling their ability to negotiate effectively.

I often tell this joke about the kids haggling over a cake (see the post linked in the previous paragraph) to highlight a truism: if one side starts out taking at an extreme position, and the other side reasonably starts in the middle, then the extremist will usually be happier in the end. That's because if you start from the middle and then negotiate a "middle ground" between those positions, that ground must be much closer to the extremist's position than it is to the the reasonable person's position. Therefore, I would like people who agree with me to start out saying what they really want, and then fight to reach a compromise which is as close as possible to what they wanted all along.

Here's my party affiliation in a nutshell. I am a liberal because I believe two things. First, people should have the right to do pretty much whatever they want with their private lives that doesn't hurt others. Second, it is a demonstrable historic good to have a social infrastructure that provides education, roads, a social safety net, and pooled resources for scientific research, among other things.

When I look at the Democratic Party Platform, I agree with most of it. When I look at the Republican Party Platform, I disagree with most of it. Hence I am a Democrat. I do not start from the position "I am a Democrat" and then reason out my positions based on asking "What would my party do?" I am a Democrat because with any given issue I care about, I find that the Republican party nearly always lands on the wrong side of my beliefs.

I tend to get into political arguments with three kinds of people:

  1. People who agree with Republicans on social issues (i.e., religious intrusion in government, abortion, gay rights, war on drugs).
  2. People who agree with Republicans on economic issues (often libertarians, generally encompassing shrinking or eliminating social safety net programs, cutting spending on education and national infrastructure, replacing our existing tax structure with something far more punishing to people lower on the income totem pole).
  3. People who do not appear to have any significant political principles, but are opposed in general to supporting any political party, in order to be contrarian.

I very rarely get into arguments with people who agree with Republicans on both social and economic issues, except in artificial situations such as taking calls on The Atheist Experience. This is simply because there is so little common ground between us that there is little to be gained from such a discussion. They are plentiful out there in the world, but they're a very small part of the universe of people I'd typically spend time with.

As a result, when I argue politics with somebody, it's nearly always someone who falls into one of the above three categories. It follows that those people are neither Republicans nor Democrats. Category 3 is, by definition, unaffiliated. Categories 1 and 2 can be shown not to belong to either party, because if they were Democrats they'd likely agree with me on both social and economic issues, and if they were Republicans they'd likely disagree with me on both social and economic issues. QED.

Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.

To my friends who substantially disagree with me on economic or social issues, and cannot find a party to call home, all I can say is: You and I have fundamental disagreements on the best way to run a country, and I will never persuade you to vote for candidates that I would like. As the Republican party doesn't suit your needs either, all I can do is wish you luck in finding a candidate who matches your interests, although when you find such a candidate I will most likely vote against him.

But also, every time I do a political post, I can count on a number of people showing up from
the third category. They seem to agree with me on what policies are desirable, but argue that the party platforms are trivial and irrelevant. Examples from the thread:

So is it worth associating yourself with the right or left? or any political parties in particular? I mean some Democrats have good ideas and not so good ideas. Some Republicans the same way. It really depends on the times you live in. To me it always seemed foolish to tout party lines or vice versa label (project your ideas) on someone who naively associates themselves with a political party.


Both parties are crap. The only difference is that one is a pile of lying crap that wants to take away your right to abort a fetus, while the other doesn't.

The impending demise of reproductive rights

Let me get specific about what prompted that last qualifier. Pro-choice is one of my issues. As I recently discussed on the Non-Prophets, there has been a recent rush of state laws which deliberately violate Roe v Wade. This article by Dahlia Lithwick documents that:

Since the start of this year, 916 measures seeking to regulate reproductive health have been introduced in 49 states. According to the Guttmacher Institute, by the end of March, 15 laws had been enacted in seven states. These laws include an expansion of the waiting period in South Dakota from 24 to 72 hours and a requirement that counseling from "crisis pregnancy centers" include scientifically flawed data on risk factors. There are new regulations in Utah and Virginia governing abortion clinics. Legislation has been introduced in 13 states requiring that women have an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion—and in seven of those states, the woman must view the fetus and listen to a detailed verbal description as well. Measures have been introduced in 17 states copying a Nebraska law banning abortion at 20 weeks, on the theory—again based on questionable medical data—that this is when a fetus can feel pain.

As a result, abortion is rapidly becoming effectively illegal in many parts of the country right now, even though these statutes are deliberately running afoul of established supreme court rulings.

You would think that pro-choice groups like the National Organization for Women would be challenging these laws left and right, and you'd ordinarily be right, except for one tiny little snag:

The risk of challenging these clearly unconstitutional laws and then losing at the Supreme Court is evidently so high, according to Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, that it's not worth taking. As she explained last week to Rachel Maddow, the fear that Justice Samuel Alito would vote to overturn Roe is so deep that reproductive rights groups may be opting to leave the state bans in place. And, as she conceded in that interview, wherever unconstitutional state abortion bans go unchallenged, they become law.

In 2004, Bush beat Kerry and won a second term. As a direct result, Bush was able to replace two liberal-to-moderate Supreme Court justices with Alito and Roberts. They are now the swing votes that could strike down Roe if a case ever came before them that gave them the opportunity to reopen it. Therefore, pro-choice groups are afraid to challenge these state laws. However, if they don't challenge them, then the laws stand, causing abortion to become completely inaccessible to many women.

I draw a clear, direct line between the victory of one political party and the massive curtailing of women's freedom. If you don't think that is a bad thing, if you disagree with me on this issue, that's fine; you are in category 1, and this doesn't apply to you. But if you are not in category 1, if you are bothered by this curtailing of these rights, then you should not see the differences between the parties as trivial on this particular issue.

The ACLU and you

Another example. Most liberals are with the American Civil Liberties Union on most issues that I know of. They're the ones who focus on separation of church and state issues, free speech rights, allowing accused criminals due process of law, and so on.

Every year, the ACLU puts out a position paper indicating which issues they care about. In addition, they examine which politicians voted the way that they would like on key policy proposals, and give a rating.

This is the ratings list for 2008, which I think is fairly typical.

Read that list and you'll see an obvious trend. Among 390 total House members, Senators, Governors, and executives, o
n issues that the ACLU cares about, 105 of them were on record as voting with them 100% of the time.

Those 105 were all Democrats. Every single one. No exceptions.

On those same issues, 160 politicians were shown to vote with the ACLU 33% of the time or less.

All 160 of them are Republicans. No exceptions. Count em.

If you have serious disagreements with my desired political outcomes, I'm not talking to you. You're right, the Democratic party does not represent you. Yes, yes, Obama hates your freedoms, everything Congressional Democrats do is a secret Muslim Communist Satanist plot, etc. Vote for someone else, or protest and don't vote.

But if you want the outcomes that I want, you can't continue claiming that the difference between the parties doesn't exist. It is objectively false.

Do Democrats, as a broad group, suck at politics? Yep, they do. Do they act like pussies when it comes to defeating a bunch of loud, angry bullies?
Repeatedly. Is it desirable, in the long term, to eliminate blue dog Democrats and bring in more liberals with spine like Bernie Sanders and Anthony Weiner? Hells yeah. And are there some Democrats who are genuinely more conservative than some Republicans? On an individual basis, there are a few.

Looking at the big picture as a purely statistical issue, though, party affiliation does provide a good indication of which side of the issues they are on, and it's clearly disingenuous to say they are the same. You can't teach statesmen the lesson that they aren't fighting hard enough for what you want, if your method is to sit by allowing the people to win who are actively fighting against what you want.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The adventures of nerd dad

So I've got an Android Evo 4G from Sprint, which has now replaced my crappy old DumbPhone™, my iPod Nano, the GPS that I might have eventually bought otherwise, and the Palm Pilot of which I haven't owned a working model in probably five years or more.

Since the Nano is now obsolete in my eyes, I gifted it to Ben, who is eight. It is loaded up with pretty much Weird Al's entire discography and not much else. We had a conversation which is fairly typical of us, although probably not typical of many other father/son duos, as Ben pointed out.

Dad: "Here's the charger I forgot to give you the last time you visited. You will have to connect it up to a computer."
Son: "How do I do that?"
Dad: "It's easy, see this thing here? Just plug it into a USB slot."
Son: "Oh, okay."
Dad: "...That stands for Universal Serial Bus, you know."
Son: "What does THAT mean?"
Dad: "Well, serial is like..."
Son: "A serial killer?" (Ben's entertainment tastes, like those of many boys, are diverse.)
Dad: "Um... kind of. Let me see... you know your electronics set?"
Son: "Yeah..."
Dad: "You know how you can make a circuit with two different switches?"
Son: "Yeah..."
Dad: "Okay, if you plug one switch straight into the other one, and put those in a line with a wire back to the battery, how will you turn the circuit on?"
Son: "Both switches have to be on."
Dad: "Right. But what if you put the two switches NEXT TO each other, so that the wire splits and goes through each of them separately before coming back to the battery?"
Son: "I dunno."
Dad: "Will it turn on if one is on but not the other?"
Son: "I don't think so."
Dad: "Actually it will. If either switch is closed, then the electricity can get back to the battery, so either one makes a complete circuit."
Son: "Okay, I guess I see."
Dad: "So when the switches are next to each other, that's called being in 'parallel.' And when they are in a row, they are 'serial', which means they come one after the other."
Son: "Okay." (thinks) "So a serial killer kills people in a row?"
Dad: "Yeah, pretty much. If he kills just one person, he's just a killer, not a serial killer."
Son: "Does it have to be one person every day?"
Dad: "Nah. It's like, if the switches in your serial circuit were separated by ten miles of wires, they'd still make a circuit, and they'd still be serial as long as they follow each other. So someone would probably be a serial killer even if he only killed one person a year."
Son: "I get it." (pause) "Um, why are we talking about this again?"
Dad: "Well uh... oh right! Because your iPod charger works with a universal serial bus connection."
Son: "Okay." (pause) "You're not like a normal dad."
Dad: (laughs) "What? Why?"
Son: "I don't know, I don't think other dads talk about science and stuff. They probably like..."
Dad: "Watching sports and drinking beer?"
Son: "Yeah!"
Dad: "Well, do you wish you had a normal dad?"
Son: "No way!"