Wednesday, August 25, 2004

ABJA: Campaign style

If anyone is criticizing the Kerry campaign for running a "Anyone But Bush" (ABB) campaign, without offering aggressive policies, a charismatic candidate, or interesting leadership - well, I'd probably say they are right. The Senate Democrats decision not to challenge the nomination of Porter Goss as CIA chief because it might seem too partisan, is pretty representative of this desire to avoid strident debate. It's in the belief that he can't run this way that seems flawed. With a base locked up as solidly as his is (and an equally unshakeable base supporting Bush), why not appeal to swing voters in as bland a way as possible, by being just 1 tick mark to the left of Bush in all ways.

But that's just the political strategy. My question is, should he run as just a bland ABB candidate? Is it morally acceptable, or good for the country?

On one hand, there's no reason the country shouldn't have the choice that they would just rather have someone who isn't Bush. Maybe same policies, but just feel certain things are bad (Haliburton, diplomatic attitude, whatever), and would just like to get rid of those. Why should a country have to choose between a far right guy and a far left guy, if their attitude is in the center? Shrug.

And yet there's a great disingenuity here, since a Kerry Administration would enact specific policies, appoint a specific type of person, etc. Not knowing what these policies will be when we go to vote may be good politics for Kerry, but certainly not helpful to accountability in the American system.

The best analogy I came up with is, lets say we aren't electing a President, but rather an Attourney General. It's often said that the biggest thing an administration does is appoint thousands of politically like minded people (especially if facing a hostile Congress). There's no question that John Ashcroft, someone not on the slate at all in 2000, has had a really big effect on US law, and whether or not he sticks around is a pretty important issue. In fact, I'd even say the character of the AG (how they enforce the laws when the media isn't paying constant scrutiny, the various UA Attourneys they appoint, when they're willing to stand up to their political superiors like in Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre)is more important to me than that of the President (who has 24/7 scrutiny anyway).

So who are we electing as AG? Who would Kerry appoint there? A strong civil rights issue based advocate? A future presidential hopeful? A wisened judge? His best friend? Left, centrist, or diplomatically neutral? These are, uh, pretty important considerations. But instead, all we know is that it's not John Ashcroft.

No real answers here. I would just like people to consider this when saying Kerry is just running as a bland ABB. Do you feel as strongly about his various appointments? They'll make most of the decisions, we are placing more trust in them than Kerry really, and yet it's considered inappropriate for them to reveal their teams.


Monday, August 23, 2004

A Proof of Bias

The following is a mathematical formula for generating a popular political blog:

1. Find a scene or comment that shows a media person kowtowing to a liberal or conservative politician or talking point (Bush ordering Cheez Whiz when he actually eats Provolone, etc.).
a) This could be completely out of context,
b) Even if it's not, it's hand-picked out of thousands of news items that happen each day.
c) Do some elementary statistical analysis to find how inevitable said item is each day.

2. Rant about how much this frustrates you. Tie it to cultural war or inside jokes.

3. Reference claim made by other blogger or talk show about how X the media is.
a) X is conservative or liberal, the opposite of what your audience's political leaning is.
b) Opposing website or talk show is able to make claim by taking the formula in Lemma 1.

4. Head explodes in frustration that people say media is X, when item from 1. just happened.

Anyway, it seems this has actually gotten worse in the last month or so. Let me know when it's safe to Read DailyKos, Atrios, or Instapundit again.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Art vs. Reason

I’m going to rant about this article for a while. If you want to skimp the lengthy discussion, the short version of what I’m going to say is: Elites good. Bagge bad. Art good. Libertarians bad. Rousseau smash.

Long Version:

So this article and several things that people are bringing up, seems to get to a basic complaint that is often made about populists vs the elites. Which is basically that “the elite is in cahoots, we can’t trust them to monitor themselves.” and devolves rather easily into pulling out of context examples, and saying this shows how much that elite lacks basic common sense or fairness. We’ve all seen it. People who don’t trust that science has real discussion and self criticism, and claim evolution is just a theory. That the two parties simply work to hold a monopoly on power and serve special interests. That business leaders are dominating legislation to earn money and organize monopolies in pricing. For all these elites, and the artistic community as well, we have to trust that they compete with and criticize themselves (few ordinary members of the public have the time to really monitor scientific debates, committee assignments in Congress, SEC filings, and art and literary reviews and magazines). This trust is essential to the system, and it’s rather easy for people to make demagogic hay out of claiming “the emperor has no clothes”.

Do people agree with this? I’m sure everyone reading this post has seen examples of people claiming they represent pop culture or greater masses and claiming some elite that we are a part of is some monolithic self-congratulating body that is alien from the public interest. How are the worst and most ignorant screeds against the elites you respect any worse than this particular comic?

So this is the viewpoint I start out from. I believe implicitly that the “art community” (however it is defined, which Bagge certainly hasn’t made specific) has every interest in shooting down crappy and lazy work and promoting merit in its works and rising authors. I’m willing to be proven otherwise, but just like Evangelists complaining about biologists, I’d need to see better examples than provided so out of context as here.

You readers probably know I’m not the biggest fan of many things that would fall under broad categories of “art”. I don’t listen to music, I don’t go to art galleries a lot, etc. My few experiences with “the elite art community” have been due to visiting my aunt or friends involved in their communities. Exhibits in old breweries or creative spaces under the Brooklyn Bridge. And there’s been a lot of pieces I didn’t understand or appreciate, but its pretty obvious the work that went into them, and these aren’t just whatever is easiest for a self-indulged person to make up. Has anyone who agrees with this comic been to many arthouses or avant garde displays themselves, and have you found the modern art community is just that bad?

Besides just his ranting against the artistic elite, the comic has several other contradictions and absurd points.
- There’s too much unaccountable art, but the NEA funds only safe and boring art. Um, what exactly does he think the NEA should do there? Seems to say it fails in swings of both directions.
- He makes fun of advocates that defend all art based on “slipper slope” that Congress wouldn’t know where to stop judging, but shows a perfectly good example of a Congressman lumping in what he considers bad art (piss Christ) and good art (Maplethorpe) and claims this is a horrible failure on behalf of Congress.
- Like any argument in Reason magazine, he eventually comes to the conclusion that we will be saved by: the free market! And says the modern art community completely ignores commercial art, although there’s plenty of crossover between the artistic and commercial communities here. Not to mention that the same political groups that harangue “modern art” are also the most paranoid about Hollywood culture and think it degrades the public (ie, Jesse Helms). Congress is unlikely to cut the NEA if it means ceding moral authority for America’s art to Hollywood.
- Yeah, and what the heck was that with making fun of Shakespeare? Just seemed to come out of nowhere.

Anyway, lastly I ask anyone to feel that commercial art doesn’t get enough respect to check out the American Museum of the Moving Image. Not only do they have many exhibits celebrating the role of movies and television in our culture, but they’ve done several really cool exhibits on videogames and where they brought us. The hypnotic REZ, the creativity of video game engine art like Red vs Blue, and the have collected several 50’s and 60’s era arcade machines and done work on how these have affected our culture. This art is neither inscrutably elitist nor dismissive of pop culture. But Reason definitely has an ax to grind here regarding promoting commericialism.


Everyone Hates the College

Just making sure any readers of this blog were aware of Slate's recent articles about the Electoral College, and why it should be taken out and shot. .

For the sake of principle, every vote should count.
For the sake of legal simplicty, we should have uniform standards about how voting happens and what the electors do with that.
For the sake of pragmatism, we shouldn't let a few hundred or few thousand votes in a couple states be able to determine the president.

Shrug. Oh, and Colorado has been making significant progress in the ballot initiative that would split its electoral votes for the President. Overall obviously a step in the right direction, although in this case of it happening in just one state it's pretty mean and done just for partisan advantage. I ask Democrats to imagine how they'd feel about that happening in California. Of course the respect for state laws of great variance over how to distribute electoral votes, is what makes it possible for this state to have its interest (which is the reason d'eitre for the electoral cllege anyway, the interest of the states), diluted.

And I think Alan Keyes is going to continue to make me happy for the next couple months. Yesterday he said that perhaps state legislatures should be the ones appointing Senators. This is indeed what the Constitution originally enshrined. Fortunately we passed a Constitutional Amendment, and no longer deal with such a laughable end run around democracy. Still, I ask you 1) Why need an amendment of two thirds of the country or so to do this, and 2) What Constitutional provisions do you think future generations will be laughing at us about?


Friday, August 13, 2004

Poor Alan Keyes

I'm sorry, this guy amuses me to no end. Liberal bloggers in general are having a field day with him, from his reverse on running for office out of state, his comparing to abortion votes to beign a slaveholder, etc (links to follow). He happily starts a discussion of jobs boosting programs with natural law. You can't make this stuff up.

And as an overly philosophical person, it occured to me where he's coming from. America is very guilty of claiming to lofty fundamental principles, that have nothing to do with our actual political decision making. Alan Keyes is like this poor little nerd who believes everything the teachers say. He goes to debate club and makes all these wonderful little points - but would never imagine why someone like George Bush is more convincing to the average American.

Yes we act like Thomas Jefferson's ideals in the Declaration of Independence are what drive us, and we our proud of famous documents from the Constitution to the Emancipation. But that's not us. Even most politically active people don't read Locke, let alone Rosseau or Hobbes or Aquinas. They're just lofty window dressing, used to defend points made in the modern world based on economic sectors, special interest groups, and campaign effectiveness.

But Keyes doesn't know this (and having taken the same Political Philosophy classes he did while he was at Harvard, I can see why). He really thinks America should be more swayed in the issue of property taxes by what Locke said regarding God's laws, than by their economic situation. I feel a deep empathy for him, as a geeky kid sitting at some lunch table while trying to make intelligent comments and defend himself from neanderthal insults - completely unaware of the actual social dynamic regarding humor and displays of confidence that is going on.

So if you see Alan Keyes today, hug him.


Monday, August 09, 2004

Been a while...

The lazy political month of August. Between the conventions no one can really make news and hope it to stay relevant by November. But hey, us political junkies have had our appetites whetted for over a year now, and can barely go cold turkey right now.

In the meantime you ask, what interesting constitutional tidbits have come relevant lately?

- Illinois is getting a lot of attention not just for rising Democratic star Barack Obama in the race, but now famed GOP speaker Alan Keyes has joined. Renowned for his quixotic presidential runs, use of Enlightenment era rhetoric, support of neo-conservatives... and oh yeah, being a Maryland resident. Just like Clinton in 2000, his political beliefs matter a lot more than whether he can represent the particular state, to his own party at least. So why are we still electing these powerful positions on local basis?

- Doha round of talks look like they're getting a promise by the developed nations to abandon all export subsidies and other various agriculture subsidies in a gradual phase out. Ha! Let's see if this has any chance of passing our inefficient Senate.

- Kerry and Bush continue to spend all their campaign finance and time in a dozen or so states. And not a few promises, on things from Ethanol to tobacco subsidies to energy policy to foreign policy towards Cuba are being made just to grab these swing areas. Wonderful.

- Abu Gahraib and the Supreme Court's glacial reaction to Guantanamo are highlighting the inability of our Constitution to really hold the military in check from rather disgusting abuses. Heck, even now that the Supreme Court after 2 years ruled that the combatants at Guantanamo deserve judicial action, the Justice Department is cleverly doing every delay action it can and waiting till the final day to submit any paperwork, just so they can get as much time as possible to interrogate their detainees. No end in sight really.

- The 911 Commission has rallied the country around reform of the intelligence agencies. Of course, because of the secretive Congressional committees and a very independent Defense Department, no one expects there to be any meaningful change.

Any other submissions from the past month, say?