A NEW LOW…

If you go to the url for the New Times: http://www.newtimesla.com/, you’ll wind up at the site for the L.A. Weekly.
It appears that the parent corporations of each have pulled a swap; The Voice/Weekly group gets L.A., and the New Times group gets Cleveland. Unbelievably sleazy.
The redirect is a new low, though, even for a left-liberal paper that fights unions among its own staff and also can’t stand competiton.
Matt Welch, Ken Layne, and their L.A. Examiner have a lot more.
More tomorrow.

OH, REALLLLY…

Here’s the key text from today’s N.J. Supreme Court decision regarding replacing Torricelli on the November ballot(emphasis mine):

And the Court having concluded that the central question before it is whether the dual interests of full voter choice and the orderly administration of an election can be effectuated if the relief requested by plaintiffs were to be granted; And the Court being of the view that
[it] is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system and to submit to the electorate a ballot bearing the names of candidates of both major political parties as well as of all other qualifying parties and groups.
Kilmurray v. Gilfert, 10 N.J. 435, 441 (1952);

And the Court remaining of the view that the election statutes should be liberally construed

to allow the greatest scope for public participation in the electoral process, to allow candidates to get on the ballot, to allow parties to put their candidates on the ballot, and most importantly, to allow the voters a choice on Election Day.
Catania v. Haberle, 123 N.J. 438, 448;

Yeah, right. It infuriates me to see the Democrats crowing and the republicans throwing fits, as though the sanctity of the electoral process meant anything to any one of their SkyBox-sitting asses.
If the law of the land is that we should have a choice on Election Day, why do the courts tolerate the outrageous gerrymandering that creates essentially one-party seats?
It’s important to have two parties on the ballot, you see, but it doesn’t really matter whether there’s an election or not.
Here are two great articles on the subject. First, from this Sunday’s L.A. Times (actually, a good damn issue…): In California, Politicians Choose–and Voters Lose. Here’s a quote:

What if the World Series had been played during spring training, the commissioner of baseball having picked the competing teams? Baseball fans would be outraged. Yet something similar has happened to California elections. In the vast majority of legislative and congressional districts, we have no general election contests this fall because the races were decided in the spring primaries. The political stadium is dark.
How many competitive races for the House of Representatives are there in the Southland? None. How many competitive races for the state Senate? None. How many for the Assembly? Two–at most.
…
That’s what a politician likes–the fewer voters, the better, and especially if they are the most partisan ones. Candidates beat their breasts about what hard-core partisans they are, and the tiny number of people who go to the polls respond by electing the most hard-core partisans in both parties.
The result is a largely dysfunctional Legislature. Members chosen in a closed primary, with a minimum of voters participating, come to Sacramento intent on representing the narrow partisan positions that got them there.
Is it any wonder they cannot negotiate a state budget? Passing the budget–it was two months late this year–is the most important and most difficult thing a legislator does because it requires compromise and negotiation. The current system encourages exactly the opposite.
One Republican who might have broken the budget impasse this summer privately told friends, “Look, I can’t afford to cross my primary voters; they demand that I hang tough.” The sentiment was the same on the Democratic side. A look at the shadow Legislature elected in March shows future members will be even more ideologically rigid.
Californians might remember this when they cast their meaningless votes in November for their preordained members of the Legislature–if they bother to vote at all.

And from UPI (via Eugene Volokh), this interview with Dan Polsby:

The 2002 elections for Congressional Representatives will be the first conducted under the new districts drawn following the 2002 Census. Although important issues are at stake in November, most of the districts’ borders have been gerrymandered so skillfully that the typical race’s outcome is predetermined. Time Magazine estimates that 394 House seats are “safe,” 29 are “almost safe,” and eleven are “toss-ups.” That’s eleven toss-ups out of 435 separate elections.
In contrast, 8 of 34 Senate seats are said to be toss-ups. The Senate is more than ten times more competitive than the House, in large part because Senate races are fought over entire states, which can’t be gerrymandered. With districts, however, by carefully redrawing boundaries, parties can ensure that that most of their incumbents enjoy a comfortable majority.
This is the opposite of what the Framers of the Constitution intended for the House of Representatives. They wanted the House to represent the views of the public by allowing voters to make wholesale changes in their Representatives every two years. The Senate, in contrast, with its staggered six-year terms, was supposed to provide a brake on popular passions.

Explain why we have elections now??
Both parties are guilty as hell in this.
My own Congressional district…once one of the few competitive districts in Los Angeles…was ‘readjusted’ with the conservative areas of Palos Verdes given to the next district south to make it a safe Republican seat, and the more liberal areas of Santa Monica added to make it a safe Democratic seat.
Why not just let the party staff and donors pick the Congressmembers directly? Why do they even bother filling my mailbox with inane crap?
Can you tell I’m more than a little put out by this??
You should be too.

ANDREW!!

The normally eminently sensible Andrew Edwards steps in it with this comment:

(NOTE: I still favour war on Iraq, for what it’s worth. But I’d be willing to put that off for a couple years to see GWB handed his ass on a plate in the next two elections)

C’mon Andrew, you don’t mean that, do you?? If you really believe war in Iraq is in the national interest, screw electoral politics. I’m tired as hell of both sides playing this as a wedge they can use come this November or November 04. I’d like it, just once, if one of them…one public-voiced Senator, one Congressmember…took a position that wasn’t nakedly and obviously clasping for partisan advantage.
Have they no shame? I’d imagine not…

LIGHTNESS

Looking over at Blogcritics, I found this review of Coyote vs. Acme, one of the funniest things ever written, if you think Chuck Jones sits at the Right Hand of God, as I do. That reminded me of a lesser-known but equally brilliant piece by Frazer (who is up there in the People I’d Like To Have Dinner With list), his Lamentations of the Father

On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.

This guy obviously has kids.

ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE TWO ‘N-WORDS’

My Central Valley bud Devra points out Ampersand’s comments about conflating anti-semitism with criticism of Israel.
She tags a few good points…although I think Goodwin’s Law applies, and that the term “Nazi” is most usually used as a meaningful-conversation-stopper; I think there has to be a distinction between some uses of the term…for example, some of my motorcycling and climbing friends have called me ‘the Safety Nazi’ with mixed levels of warmth, which I don’t find terribly insulting because I am inflexible about safety, and the use of the terms feminazi or econazi, which I’ve heard used to apply to folks who are equally inflexible about feminism or ecology. Both have an element of the dismissive about them, and could, in some light be seen as insulting.
But to call Jews ‘Nazis’ is a different level of the game, in no small part because it is a targeted and intentional insult aimed at the heart of their cultural and racial history. It isn’t an indirect or general insult, it is a intentional slap in the face no less than the other “N” word.
And because I usually use anecdote to make my points, here’s a personal one.
As a teenager, my brother went through a phase of his life when he was simply convinced he was black. He dated black girls, hung out with the black kids at school, spoke in that soft middle-class West Los Angeles version of a black drawl with traces of black urban grammar. I never quite figured out where it came from; both of us has been in part raised by strong black men who were close friends to our checked-out parents, but I’d simply acknowledged my status as a mutt and always been comfortable with it. Maybe it connected with him in some deeper way, I really don’t know.
Later in life, he would fall into his ‘wigro’ role among black friends or co-workers.
Until one day, he got fired because in the heat of an argument at work, he’d called a black co-worker by the ‘n-word’. He called me in tears and rage.
He’d used the same word, collegially, a dozen times, he told me. He couldn’t understand why, now, his colleague had called management and management had summarily fired him.
I told him that I understood, and that if he’d worked for me, I’d probably have fired him, too.
The issue is that insult derives from context and intention.
To call me a ‘Nazi’ because I’m obsessed with and rigid about safety, or a women a ‘Nazi’ because she is obsessed with or rigid about feminism, or an ecologist a ‘Nazi’ because they are obsessed with or rigid about ecology is a different thing than to call someone by the name of the enemy who specifically targeted them out and attempted to exterminate them.
And to wave that off is simply as morally indefensible as what my brother did. At least he learned his lesson.
I’ll add a ‘geopolitical’ point as well. The issue in criticizing Israel’s sometimes misguided policies is to distinguish one key fact: do you support Israel’s right to exist? As a Western and predominantly Jewish state? Because while I have been and will continue to be critical of many of their loonier policies, their right to exist trumps a whole range of other issues for me, and their opponents refusal to meaningfully agree to their right to exist and to take concrete steps to back up that agreement devalue their claims almost to zero.

THIS MUST MEAN SOMETHING

Had lunch today with a youthful colleague from the Netherlands, and we had occasion to discuss our various vehicular indiscretions, and the response of the local constables.
I was ticketed last year on my motorcycle by a local policeman with a laser speed detector; I saw him at a distance, but I assumed he was using radar. Motorcycles have a small cross-section, so we have to be relatively close to the radar gun to register. Sadly, that isn’t the case with a laser.
I slowed down with what I thought was plenty of distance, and was shocked, really just shocked to be pulled over. I was cooperative, the officer was polite, and instead of writing my ticket for the actual speed he’d measured, reduced my speed, raised the noted speed limit, and so meaningfully reduced the severity of the ticket (and fine).
My Dutch friend and I discussed the pros and cons of fighting tickets (I almost never fight them; I have been lucky enough never to have received a ticket I didn’t deserve, and I view it as a kind of tax on speeding). But I have a number of friends who do and have successfully fought tickets in court.
My friend was somewhat shocked. In the Netherlands, tickets are given by teams of police officers, who collect the fines on the spot. There is no appealing to a court. There is no discretion on the part of the officer. If you are pulled over, you are guilty, you pay your fine, and you go on. Unless they impound your car on the spot, which they do for various moving violations.
Somehow, this difference typifies the American attitude toward government. Personal, messy, possibly forgiving (or possibly the opposite, if you are less practiced at dealing with police officers than I may be). My rights equal those of the officer in front of the court (in theory, anyway). In the Netherlands, the officer is the state.
Now there are arguably advantages to that system. Minorities get tickets at the behest of an objective radar gun, not a possibly prejudiced officer. The powerful have a harder time getting off by simply being who they are.
But something is lost, as well. Some call it the difference between being a citizen and a subject; I’m not completely sure how to express it. But it’s an important difference. The imperfections of our system aren’t something to necessarily be rationalized out of existence. In some ways, the imperfections are the system.
I need to think about that some more.

MORE ON DOUBT

The New Republic Online has a great article on angst in the art world. Check out After Disenchantment. A sample:

Disenchantment has itself become a fashionable attitude. The people who cannot get from Experience A to Experience B have based an entire aesthetic on their inability to weave things together. Turn the pages of Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting, an ultra-hip anthology that has just been published by Phaidon, and you encounter a mood that tends to be hands-off, formulaic, and terminally ironic in the work of more than one hundred artists, some of whom are unfamiliar, some of whom are very familiar, such as Luc Tuymans, who specializes in wan, nearly monochromatic vignettes, and Elizabeth Peyton, who paints the youth of today with the manipulative sensitivity of a high school student on the make. The cream-colored cover of Vitamin P is decorated with tablet-shaped details from paintings. The message is that painting is good for you. Vitamin P is meant to be an optimistic book, but the artists and the critics involved carry such a baggage of stylish pessimism and are so determinedly post-everything that their plea for the re-enchantment of painting seems little more than another attitude.

Note how this fits into my discussion of doubt as a philosophical base.

MEAT IS…MEAT, WHICH YOU GET BY KILLING THINGS

Rob Lyman has a great post on PETA, meat, and hunting (I’ve always subscribed to the People for Eating Tasty Animals version, myself). I made a shorter comment:

2) It is moral. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that people who eat meat and have never killed anything are morally suspect. Some creature gave its life for the chicken Andouille sausages in the pasta sauce I made tonight. Pork chops and salmon don’t start out wrapped in plastic on the grocery shelf. I have hunted deer, wild pigs, and birds, and I can say with certainty (and I imagine anyone else who hunts can say) that it fundamentally changed the way I look both at my food and at animals in the world. I respect the death that made my dinner possible in a way I never would have had an animal not died at my own hand.

but his is more thorough and pointed. Check it out.
He also catches the amusing point in the ‘Uppity Negro’ comments:

And why in heaven’s name would you issue death threats against a guy called Armed Liberal?

Is he on my blogroll yet??

UNCLEAR NUCLEAR THOUGHTS

Ken Hirsch paints a ‘rational’ response to nuclear terrorism, in response to a scenario by Eugene Volokh, which is different from and as scary as mine.
When I wrote the scenario below, I had two thoughts in mind: First, that the small ‘chattering classes’ of the left and right keep forgetting hysteresis, the tendency for systems set in motion to overshoot, and the impact when the large, silent center finally takes a position; and second, the complexity of the real world, which resists being reduced to simple if>then formulations.
First, let me say about the scenario, that I think that it, or something like it, will remain a reasonable possibility (not a 1:5 chance, but not a 1:10,000 either) for the foreseeable future. The reality is that we live in a world in which a large number of people dislike us, don’t respect us, and see their interests directly challenged by our efforts to defend ours.
I’m not, as Avedon Carol suggests, painting this as a nightmarish ‘if we don’t invade Iraq’ scenario. On one hand, if we allow folks who hate us to get stronger, it becomes more likely. On the other, as we bring the hostility out into the open, it becomes more likely. The Iraq issue is a separate one that I’ll try and address later (as soon as I figure out where I stand).
Without getting too deeply into what it itself an immense and complex topic, I believe that our interests are, in line with American character, an odd mixture of blind, shortsighted self-interest, noble humanitarianism, and naiveté. We want simultaneously to preserve our cheap oil and cheap Nikes, and to see that everyone else gets some, too.
Right now, we are, along with Europe, an island of prosperity and relative safety in an increasingly impoverished (we’ll talk about that in a minute) and unsafe world.
This represents a massive supply of ‘potential energy’ in the social and political sphere, and this reservoir of energy will drive international and domestic politics for quite some time into the future.
About impoverishment – I am aware of the various studies showing that the objective level of world poverty may be declining. But impovrishment – the ‘feeling’ of being poor – increases, as both the traditional social structures that support people break down, and as they are immersed in the mediaverse that shows them an idealized vision of the prosperous life in the West.
So let’s stipulate that the issues Neal Stephenson raises may be valid, even if his outcomes are outlandish.

When it gets down to it–talking trade balances here–once we’ve brain-drained all our technology to other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here, once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel, once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would call prosperity–y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anybody else: music/movies/microcode (software)/high-speed pizza delivery.

And until that smearing happens, there are a bunch of people out there who will be seriously pissed off at us.
And as the march of technology assures that the handheld iPAQ that I use every day has more processing power than (pick your obsolete mainframe), absent a massive and probably unworkable effort, the technology of warfighting and of mass destruction similarly moves downscale and becomes more and more widely accessible to those pissed-off people.
So one of these days, one of the containers off San Pedro may very well contain someone’s message of destruction and hate.
We’ll survive it. I don’t believe that anyone except possibly the Chinese will be able to threaten the U.S. with massive destruction, and they are as a state, likely to be reasonable and deterrable as were the Soviets.
But how will we react? That’s the $64 million question.
Right now we have two polar positions, occupied by relatively small and vocal groups of people. The larger majority are either confused or inattentive, with some general feelings – they’d rather not be seeing dead people on TV, and they’re kind of pissed off about 9/11. I’ve spent the last six months talking to almost everyone I meet about this stuff…store clerks, cab drivers, hair cutters, kid’s teachers, coworkers, and my decidedly unscientific poll is what has led me this conclusion.
It is my belief that both poles are relatively well-intentioned; they just have very different view of what the world looks like and as a result how best to deal with it. But I don’t think either side has clearly thought their positions through, nor do I think that they have thought through the real consequences of their positions.
For the hawks, the reality is that we are talking about a return to colonialism. There’s a problem: In the old colonial days, colonies paid for themselves through often-brutal extractive practices. I’m not sure how the economics work today, but I’d bet that they are still uneconomical. Ideally, this would be an enlightened colonialism…and to be blunt, given a choice between Idi Amin and a colonial administrator, I’ll bet the average Ugandan would take the administrator every damn day. But it will stretch us financially and morally.
For the doves, the reality is that we are talking about Fortress America, about an autarky. Unless we are willing to hold the world’s biggest potlatch and simply give our wealth away…and maybe even then, given my belief that the roots of the struggle against the West are in the struggle against modernism…we will still face implacable enemies abroad. We will need to withdraw militarily and economically from the rest of the world; maybe not totally, but substantially. Our economy is big enough to do it; our standard of living will fall, but it’s in a slow decline anyway, and attaining a stable sustainable level of economic activity brings other possible benefits.
I detest both ideas. Intellectually, I rebel against a colonial future; and I know in my heart that we will never be able to build walls high enough to keep the rest of the world out.
In my mind, the primary discussion we should be having as a nation is how we will address this issue in the long run.
And as a part of that discussion, we need to openly discuss and firmly establish how we will respond to the kind of scenario I paint, or Eugene Volokh paints. Because if we wait until it happens, we will be driven by the way that the silent middle jumps, and my belief is that that jump will be extreme (in either direction) and virtually impossible to control.
Fear and rage are never good mental states to make life-and-death decisions in.