The Carnival of Mathematics #2 is Up

February 23, 2007

Two weeks ago, I put up a carnival with posts from slightly more than 10 different people. Now Mark Chu-Carroll has posted his edition of the Carnival of Mathematics, with 27 different posters and a fitting theme.

Next edition will be posted on March 9th on Michi’s blog. Send your submissions to Michi at mikael@johanssons.org, or to me at alon_levy1@yahoo.com, or use the submission form.


Who Do You Believe When You’re Called a Racist?

February 23, 2007

Stentor says that since racism is an objective rather than subjective phenomenon, majority-race people should accept minorities’ judgments in assessing whether they engage in racism.

If you (as a white person, at least) bring out the standard “I’m not a racist” line, that pretty much means you are one. And I don’t mean that just in the sense that everyone in our society is at least a little bit racist. If you think that you have the authority and ability to make a definite statement about your own racism, that implies that you think racism is wholly subjective, making the question about you rather than about the people of other races who are affected by your actions.

Of course, the obvious problem with that is that minorities aren’t always right. Jews, at least those who get heard in the media, scream at everyone who’s even neutral on the I/P conflict that he’s an anti-Semite. Being an oppressed minority doesn’t always make one right. The gentiles I know who think American foreign policy should be less pro-Likud – Amanda and Tyler come to mind – dismiss claims of anti-Semitism, and rightly so. They’d be right to dismiss those claims even if they didn’t have people like me or Lindsay or Ezra to point to, since after all, there exist blacks who support anti-black racism, too.

Usually, the left responds by creating a distinction between oppressed groups – women, black people, Native Americans, Hispanics – and groups that are not oppressed. That conveniently gets rid of radical Christians who believe the entire world hates them, as well as of Jews who totalize the I/P conflict. The problem is that this distinction tends to be based more on soundbites rather than on who really is oppressed, leading to e.g. silence on grave racism practiced in socialist countries. As I noted on Debitage,

Gravatar Stentor, the problem with applying the “racism is objective” standard to things like mascots is that you have to make a determination of which groups are oppressed and which aren’t. You can sometimes do it by consensus, but it gets short-circuited a lot. The Western left took 20 years to get disillusioned about Zionism; in the 1940s and 50s it trumpeted Israel’s socialism and Jewish nationalism, regardless of how many Arabs Israel was oppressing.

At the same time, just asking people makes no sense. For what it’s worth, conservative Christians feel oppressed, too. And Jews themselves tend not to appreciate being written out of the coalition of the oppressed; that’s why you have large numbers of neoconservatives who think anyone who believes Palestinians should have rights is anti-Semitic. Having written things that made people call me self-loathing and that would have made them call me anti-Semitic if my name were Jackson rather than Levy, I can sympathize with the majority-race person who gets trapped by ridiculous demands of solidarity.

On a somewhat related note, please remind me to write about how exactly Zionism got booted out of the coalition of the oppressed. The simplest explanation – the Six Day War turned Israel from a small country in hostile territory to an occupying power – is gravely wrong.

At any rate, another problem with refusing to argue, “I’m not a racist because…” is that people’s judgment varies. One black person might read my posts on race and conclude I’m an arrogant white person who thinks he knows what’s best for black people. Another might read them and conclude I’m friendly to black Americans’ civil rights. Who do I believe, then?

This is especially relevant to the issue Stentor is generalizing from, native American mascots. My own position is that it’s a non-issue. I don’t think my university has one, nor do I care, but if it were put to a vote of all students, I’d oppose a native mascot mostly on tackiness grounds. I reserve the right to choose which issues I care about, and symbolic issues tend to round up the bottom of my list; I care more about wage gaps and educational gaps than about mascots.

It’s entirely possible that in fact most native Americans care about mascots more, though I highly doubt it. But even if I’m wrong, I’m not obliged to think what most native Americans think. Again, use the Jew test: not only do the most visible Jews in the US media tend to think unconditionally supporting Israel is more important than fighting anti-Semitic bigotry in the US, but also 65% of Jews in Connecticut voted for Lieberman in 2006, suggesting his hawkishness appeals to them. And still I’ll defend anyone who says it’s idiotic for conservative American Jews to totalize Israel and ignore domestic Dominionism; I would even if I didn’t have a name that provided a trump card against accusations of anti-Semitism.


Apply for Asylum in the US, Be Thrown to Jail Together with Your Kids

February 23, 2007

The US is the land of freedom and opportunity, as long as you’re not an asylum seeker. Lawmakers who’re more concerned with making sure absolutely no third-worlder gets in unless he really has to than with respecting basic human rights passed legislation to imprison asylum seekers and their families pending trial. Just on the off chance you’re not the type who clicks links,

In fact, nearly half of [Hutto Prison's] 400 or so residents are children, including infants and toddlers.

The inmates are immigrants or children of immigrants who are in deportation proceedings. Many of them are in the process of applying for political asylum, refugees from violence-plagued and impoverished countries like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Somalia and Palestine. (Since there are different procedures for Mexican immigrants, the facility houses no Mexicans.)

In the past, most of them would have been free to work and attend school as their cases moved through immigration courts. “Prior to Hutto, they were releasing people into the community,” says Nicole Porter, director of the Prison and Jail Accountability Project for the ACLU of Texas. “These are non-criminals and nonviolent individuals who have not committed any crime against the U.S. There are viable alternatives to requiring them to live in a prison setting and wear uniforms.”

But as a result of increasingly stringent immigration enforcement policies, today more than 22,000 undocumented immigrants are being detained, up from 6,785 in 1995, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Normally, men and women are detained separately and minors, if they are detained at all, live in residential facilities with social services and schools. But under the auspices of “keeping families together,” children and parents are incarcerated together at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, as it is now called, and at a smaller facility in Berks County, Penn. Attorneys for detainees say the children are only allowed one hour of schooling, in English, and one hour of recreation per day.

“It’s just a concentration camp by another name,” says John Wheat Gibson, a Dallas attorney representing two Palestinian families in the facility.

In addition, there have been reports of inadequate healthcare and nutrition.

If you’re brave enough to venture to the comment thread, which features such gems as “The violence is here because of illegal aliens” (and still the 1990s saw both a massive influx of illegal immigrants into the US and a drastic drop in crime), go help Jenny respond to the xenophobes.

There’s certainly a big chunk of the population everywhere that sees foreigners as less than human. Forget unfounded statements like “Liberals are only about the right of icky people to do icky things”; the real outrage about liberals is that they support the right of people of the wrong nationality to have basic human dignity. Ironically, a US population that by and large believes in offering illegal immigrants legal status – in Texas it’s 59-35 – has no trouble with treating immigrants like subhumans.

Although this attitude isn’t restricted to the US, in the US it’s worse than in most other areas of at least the developed world. People in Germany and France and Norway watch American movies, travel to neighboring countries often, and have friends from more than one country. In the US outside a few big coastal cities like New York or Los Angeles, a person can live his whole life not knowing that there exists a world outside US borders. It’s The Gods Must Have Gone Crazy on a larger scale.

It’s of course not ignorance alone that has produced this. Israelis, who know very well that there exists a world outside their country, abuse foreigners all the time, for example by needlessly strip-searching at the airport. But Israel is somewhat of a special case; evidently, Germany, which is overall a lot less into immigrants’ rights than the US is, doesn’t commit those atrocities, or at least hasn’t in 60 years.


Robert Reich Supports Sanctions on Sweden

February 22, 2007

Via Ezra: Robert Reich suggests not trading with any country without a minimum wage at least twice half as high as the median wage, and manages to come off as a lot less knowledgable than I’d expect of a former Secretary of Labor.

Sweden and Norway have no statutory minimum wages. Neither did Britain until 1998. Minimum wages are the most capitalistic of all social regulations: they say that everyone who already has work needs to be paid a wage that puts him in poverty but not deep poverty. Unions tend to support high minimum wages for solidarity reasons, but their members make far more than the minimum wage. That’s why Sweden and Norway have no minimum wages: they have Soviet levels of unionization, so workers get paid living wages thanks to their unions rather than thanks to a statute.

Reich manages to peddle the pervasive myth of the social democratic United States. When he says, “For many decades, America’s minimum wage was roughly half the nation’s median wage; only since the late 1970s has it fallen much lower than that,” he ignores the fact that at its most equal, the USA had a more unequal income distribution than Blair’s Britain. The US Gini index bottomed in 1968, when it was .388, higher than this of virtually every developed country in 2007 as well as several key developing countries, most notably India (~.32).

Now, there are reasons other than blind attachment to a mythical golden age why American leftists believe that the US used to be a social democratic heaven. Before 1973, the US economy grew very quickly, so even though its income distribution was very unequal, the lower class’s income rose.

More importantly, the sustained fast growth between 1945 and 1973 was achieved with minimal changes in inequality. Norway has grown very fast in the last 10 years, but its Gini index has skyrocketed; by 2002, it was .37 by the same method the US Census Bureau uses to calculate the US Gini index. What’s likeliest is not that the US in the 1950s and 1960s was a miracle case of growth without increase in inequality, but that the natural increase in inequality was balanced out by a reduction in inequality stemming from civil rights activism. Black poverty crashed in the 1960s, as the civil rights movement gave black people additional opportunities. It wasn’t economic policy that reduced the Gini index; the beginning of the War on Poverty more or less coincided with the end of the precipitous drop in poverty in the US. Rather, it was Martin Luther King.

This is significant enough on its own, because it underscores a point Amartya Sen is making over and over again, only to be ignored by people like Reich who are no more anti-neoliberal than he is. The most important thing in development is democratic governance. Democracies can screw things up, as India did when it took decades to abandon the idea of a planned economy, but more often than not they ensure development goes to the people who need it. Most notably, China managed to have a mega-famine in the late 1950s even though it was better developed than India, which had and still has malnourishment but never since independence a real famine.

I’m not sure why Reich thinks third-worlders need American dragooning to engage in sound economic policy. In practice what he’s promoting is not supposed to benefit anyone living US borders, but that’s not how he thinks about it or justifies it. So it makes sense to ask: why not trust the people of each country to choose the economic policy they think is most beneficial, and forego the opportunity to be sanctimonious and impose sanctions on any excessively capitalist country?

Of course, more often than not it’s not the people who make that choice. Singapore isn’t a corporate fief because its people want it to be one, but because its authoritarian government squashes any political alternative. In contrast, in India and Brazil, where the people do have a choice, they chose moderately leftist governments as the best path to development.

But it’s impossible for economic leftists in the West to tweak their claims to be about democracy without saying things they don’t want to say. First, the idea of imposing sanctions on countries with the wrong political system is too neoconservative. The leftist who has no trouble forcing countries to be more socialistic is far more squeamish about making countries more democratic, even when given a non-violent method that is far more effective than the neoconservative ideal of invasion.

And second, third-world social democrats and first-world social democrats don’t have the same agenda. Third-worlders almost uniformly oppose first-world agricultural subsidies, and so do development economists, such as those who write the UN development reports. Lula is in fact leading the charge against the first world’s dumping of agricultural goods in the third world. In contrast, first-world leftists tend to never meet a non-military government subsidy they don’t like.


Conservapedia

February 22, 2007

I’m not going to skewer the radical right’s attempt to relativize Wikipedia in full; better bloggers than me have already done so. But looking at Conservapedia’s mathematics entries is a good reminder that polemical hacks don’t usually produce any useful knowledge.

The combined knowledge of Wikipedia’s NPOV editors has produced a page about the prime number theorem that explains in length how the theorem relates to the Riemann zeta function and how the Riemann hypothesis implies a better estimate, and derives some explicit bounds. The first section, comprising only a small part of the article, says,

Let π(x) be the prime counting function that gives the number of primes less than or equal to x, for any real number x. For example, π(10) = 4 because there are four prime numbers (2, 3, 5 and 7) less than or equal to 10. The prime number theorem then states that the limit of the quotient of the two functions π(x) and x / ln(x) as x approaches infinity is 1. Using Landau notation this result can be written as

\pi(x)\sim\frac{x}{\ln x}.

This does not mean that the limit of the difference of the two functions as x approaches infinity is zero.

Based on the tables by Anton Felkel and Jurij Vega, the theorem was conjectured by Adrien-Marie Legendre in 1796 and proved independently by Hadamard and de la Vallée Poussin in 1896. Both proofs used methods from complex analysis, specifically the properties of the Riemann zeta function and where the function was non-zero.

Meanwhile, the editors of Conservapedia, constrained by the requirements of a radical ideology that displays every radical pathology in the book (for a really egregious example of symbolism, check out the Conservapedia policy on British vs. American spelling), have produced the following article:

The Prime Number Theorem is one of the most famous theorem in mathematics. It states that the number of primes not exceeding n is asymptotic to \frac{n}{\log n}, where log(n) is the logarithm of (n) to the base e.    The number of primes not exceeding n is commonly written as <span class="texhtml">π(<em>n</em>)</span>, and an asymptotic relationship between a(n) and b(n) is commonly designated as a(n)~b(n). (This does not mean that a(n)-b(n) is small as n increases. It means the ratio of a(n) to b(n) approaches one as n increases.)    The Prime Number Theorem thus states that <span class="texhtml">π(<em>n</em>)</span>~<span class="texhtml"><em>n</em> / log(<em>n</em>)</span> .    In other words, the limit (as n approaches infinity) of the ratio of pi(n) to n/log(n) is one. Put a third way, n/log(n) is a good approximation for <span class="texhtml">π(<em>n</em>)</span>.    <em>Section Break</em>    <a href="http://www.conservapedia.com/index.php?title=Gauus&action=edit" class="new" title="Gauus">Gauus</a> [<em>sic</em>] conjectured the equivalent statement that <span class="texhtml">π(<em>x</em>)</span> was asymptotic to <span class="texhtml">Li(<em>x</em>)</span> defined as:    latex \mbox{Li}(x) = \int_2^x \frac{dt}{\ln t}$.

In fact, for large x this turns out to be a better approximation than π(x).

Now, you might say I’m just picking and choosing, and other articles could be better. In fact, I’m picking and choosing here in Conservapedia’s favor; the prime number theorem is one of the few mathematical entries that even exist on Conservapedia. I could compare the articles on the Langlands program, or local rings, or global fields, or the Riemann hypothesis; on those subjects there is no Conservapedia article. Conservapedia doesn’t even have an article on mathematics.

You might also say that Conservapedia is a young project, so I shouldn’t be comparing it to a 6-year-old encyclopedia. Alright; the news on Conservapedia go back a month, so just compare the math there to the math posts I’ve put up in the month of February. On 2/1, I put up a basic concepts post that could make it to an encyclopedia. That took me maybe an hour net to write; how come the Conservapedia editors can’t come up with something better than a few stubs in a month?

Mark CC’s takedown is a good read; Conservapedia complains that Wikipedia doesn’t use “elementary proofs.” But Mark makes a slight mistake about elementary proofs:

There is currently an entry on “Elementary Proof” on Wikipedia, but to be fair, it was created just two weeks ago, most likely in response to this claim by conservapedia.

But that’s trivial. The important thing here is that the concept of “elementary proof” is actually a relatively trivial one. It’s sometimes used in number theory, when they’re trying to pare down the number of assumptions required to prove a theorem. An elementary proof is a proof which makes use of the minimum assumptions that describe the basic properties of real numbers. And even in the case of number theory, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone seriously argue that an elementary proof is more rigorous than another proof of the same theorem. Elementary proofs might be easier to understand – but that’s not a universal statement: many proofs that make use of things like complex numbers are easier to understand than the elementary equivalent. And I have yet to hear of anything provable about real numbers using number theory with complex numbers which can be proven false using number theory without the complex – proofs about real numbers that use complex are valid, rigorous, and correct.

The concept of elementary proof is fairly relative. In number theory, it means no complex analysis, and Mark’s assessment is entirely valid. But in other subjects, it can mean something slightly different. When I took advanced group theory three semesters ago, my professor, an arithmetic geometer/number theorist, told me that to him, “elementary” in a group theoretic context meant no cohomology. There are certainly deeper techniques than just complex analysis; suffice is to say that if someone discovers a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem that utilizes complex analysis but only at the level of the prime number theorem, his proof will likely be considered more elementary than Wiles’, which uses modular forms, Iwasawa theory, and other state of the art gadgets.


In Which I Get Pessimistic About the Blogosphere

February 22, 2007

Bruce has an excellent post about the Democratic blogosphere, the traditional media, and the Plame pseudo-scandal (I can’t bring myself to calling it a scandal). His contention is that Washington insiders have the mentality of an upper class clique that concentrates more on developing a powerful social network rather than on showing off as people do in Beverly Hills.

So of course it’s reasonable to expect that if Vice-President Cheney and Scooter Libby dropped the dime on Valerie Plame to slap and humiliate her and her husband, or lied about hearing it from Russert first, or whatever, the entire Washington culture is likely to take care of this matter as an in-house issue. Not something to be handled by some sawed-off arrogant former mob prosecutor from Chicago. Special U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is not part of their world. Neither are the vulgar, keyboard-punching activists with strange names like “Emptywheel” and “Atrios” and “Majikthise.” The contempt dripping from George Will and Cokie Roberts in their various discussions of the blogosphere as a concept – not for specific things said or done by specific bloggers, but its very existence as a hated, hostile phenomenon – is amazing, and deserves a full post in its own right. They have their culture, and they handle things their way. The U.S. Code and the FBI be damned; if the Washington insiders do it, then it is not illegal.

My pessimism is derived from the fact that the same mentality holds in various sections of the blogosphere. The big Democratic and even liberal bloggers protect their own: this doesn’t apply so much to pundits like Ezra and Matthew Yglesias or outsiders like Amanda, but the Kos-MyDD-Atrios-FDL landmass is nothing if not a clique.

First, its organizational structure isn’t that different from this of a shrunk version of the right-wing political machine. Each blogger has a specific role in the left-wing blogospheric machine – Josh Marshall is the mainstream media contact, Jane Hamsher is the shrill talk radio host, Atrios is the news breaker, the people on Kos decide what issues everyone should care about, and the people on MyDD decide party strategy. The role of Daily Kos is singularly important, because other bloggers really do internalize what Kos declares to be real issues.

The most worrying thing is the blogosphere’s total ineptitude when it comes to taking on the Democratic establishment. The Lamont gambit was understandable; there was a serious chance Lamont could defeat Lieberman, making the Senate more anti-war. But once Lamont’s defeat made it clear that there was no point in spending energies on defeating conservative Democrats, the left-wing blogosphere should have moved on.

Instead, it decided to take on Ellen Tauscher. Beyond the knee-jerk sympathy every non-heartless person should have with anyone Firedoglake attacks with analogies to prostitution, it’s the height of wankery to go after someone whose main crime is being a DLC member and trumpeting bipartisanship. Kos says that since 58% of the people in her district voted for Kerry she could be replaced by a more liberal Representative, but given that Connecticut, where 54% of the voters supported Kerry, reelected Lieberman by a safe margin, Kos is likely dead wrong.

The online communities that prop up the Democratic blogosphere bear a striking resemblence to Washington as Bruce describes it. They feature a lot of at least upper middle class people: lawyers, tech writers, economists, and so on. Even the less well-off people, like Ezra or Lindsay or me, are more young than poor. I may have a $23,000/year income, but anyone who describes me as a working class person is an idiot (for one, I don’t work, as my posting frequency indicates…).

That, and every longlasting forum I’ve posted to has had cliquish tendencies. It’s perfectly fine when it’s a community of 15 people exchanging jokes and bitter articles about Bush’s stupidity, but when it’s a community of A-list bloggers who comprise a significant portion of the Democratic base, something is wrong. In the closest thing the Democratic blogosphere has had to a scandal, it indeed viewed it as an internal matter. Every time feminists criticized Kos for engaging in sexist behavior, he scorned them as outsiders not worthy of his attention; the one female blogger who publicly snubbed those feminists, Jane Hamsher, is the one the A-listers showered with links to make her one of their own.

Finally, as the Commissar notes, the Democratic blogosphere has certain control issues. I appreciate Kos’s sentiments in calling for “50 demerits” for any Democrat who participates in a Fox-organized Democratic Presidential debate, but seriously, he’s only justifying the epithet “nutroots.” In 1976, 1980, and 1984, the Presidential debates were hosted by the liberal League of Women Voters; what’s wrong with letting Fox host a primary debate?

My main fear is that the Democratic blogosphere will eventually evolve into a left-wing noise machine. I appreciate shifting the center to the left in the US, but as with the rise of the right-wing noise machine, a lot of important issues will be ignored or subverted. Cultural issues are already being tossed away, as the Democrats are inviting Dominionists like Jim Wallis into their ranks. Civil liberties and foreign policy will likely follow once the Democrats return to the White House.


So what is exactly McCain’s position on abortion?

February 22, 2007

Hat-tip to Gordo: McCain’s position on abortion turns out to be less consistent than I thought it was. In 1999, he said about abortion,

[Link] But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations.

When called on the liberalness of his position, he issued a clarification that said he believed repealing Roe vs. Wade was an important goal.

McCain’s total flip-flop on abortion brings the number of serious Presidential contenders who can be trusted about anything down to zero.


Don’t Neglect the Northeast

February 22, 2007

Periodically, someone says that the Democratic Party should pay more attention to the South. Amanda has just claimed that it should have “more people with noticeable Southern accents advocating progressive politics, if only to undermine the tribalism that makes white Southerners feel that Republican is an immoveable part of their identity.”

So let me be slightly contrarian and say that the Democratic Party should pay more attention to the North. Gore and Kerry’s sweep of every state north of the Potomac, except for one defeat in New Hampshire, has caused a lot of liberals to think the entire Northeast is like Massachusetts. In fact, Pennsylvania is a swing state, New Jersey’s Congressional delegation moved from 7-6 Republican to 7-6 Democratic in 2006, and Connecticut’s median voter is a Lieberman Democrat.

The sort of rhetoric that will get moderate Northerners to vote for you is the opposite of the rhetoric that will get moderate Southerners behind you. New Jersey and Connecticut are the richest states in the union, and have endless suburbs populated with fairly moderate people who would easily vote for a Giuliani over an Edwards. What plays to the middle class here is general appeals to realism, social liberalism, and promises to do concrete things for the middle class. Edwards’ class warfare rhetoric could just as well come from a memo entitled, “How to redden New Jersey.”

In the South, of course, that doesn’t play. Southern moderates want to hear you tell them about how much you love God, hate gays and atheists and foreigners, and will give poor people jobs. The Deep South has a lot of areas where pro-choicers are less electable than Klansmen. Edwards is appealing to those moderates by talking about poverty and health care to the exclusion of everything else, even though poverty and health care tend to be the issues that a President can do the least about.

Bush gave the Democrats a historic opportunity to lock the Northeast. He lost suburban counties that his father won in 1992 despite losing the general election, such as Fairfield, Connecticut (population 900 thousand); Bergen, New Jersey (900 thousand); and Suffolk, New York (1.5 million). This is both due to a general bluening of the Northeastern suburbs and Bush’s Southernness.

In 2006, the Democrats did in fact sweep the Northeast, which was overrepresented in House seats that switched from Republican to Democratic by a factor of 2. In 2008 they’ll have an opportunity to make the Northeast unassailable. It’ll be somewhat hard if Giuliani wins the nomination, which he probably will, but a Clinton/Giuliani showdown about abortion will probably ensure that no Republican can win an election in the Northeast for another generation. And given that the Republicans have five Northern Senators, this won’t bode well for them.

Make no mistake about it: locking New Jersey and hopefully Pennsylvania with Giuliani in the race probably entails conceding every ex-Confederate state but Florida and maybe Virginia. That’s perfectly acceptable; the Democrats can similarly lock the Southwest by putting the Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion on immigration, and thence launch incursions into Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.

What this demonstrates is that the perennial advice for the Democrats to ditch social liberalism is not a good idea. The Southwest is home to the only state to have rejected a gay marriage ban; the Northeast is home to the most pro-choice regions of the US. Winning swing Midwestern states like Michigan and Ohio requires economic populism, but the sort of populism that plays in those states involves more traditional emphases on unions and welfare than in the South, making it less likely to piss off moderates in New Jersey.

In 2008, the Republicans are not going to nominate a Texan. Their frontrunner is a New Yorker; their second most popular candidate is an Arizonan. It’s going to be hard enough already to get any political capital from immigration, on which issue Giuliani and McCain are both fairly liberal. In New Jersey and Connecticut (though not so much Pennsylvania) the Democrats win elections due to social issues and a few economic ones on which there’s a liberal consensus; pissing matches about taxes like the one Edwards is gearing toward are entirely counterproductive.


Withdrawal, Finally!

February 21, 2007

Tony Blair has finally gotten off his high horse and announced a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Initially Britain will withdraw 1,600 troops out of 7,100 currently stationed, ostensibly on the grounds that the British area of control, Basra and the surrounding area, is remarkably stable.

Bush is of course calling it a vindication of his policies. That’s not surprising; for Bush, every event in the world is a vindication of every single policy of his.

Earlier, the White House called the British announcement a sign of success.

“We’re pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that [British forces] are able to transition more control to the Iraqis,” said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe in a statement.

Even if Blair’s excuse is correct and the conditions in Basra are good, it doesn’t say good things about the American mission in Iraq. In that case, all the withdrawal shows is that the British government was competent enough to stabilize Iraq while the American one wasn’t. In the unlikely case it’s not just a political capitulation to majority opinion in Britain, it means that as usual, Blair is a better neoconservative than Bush: more domestically progressive, smarter, more competent, and more realistic.


Galois Theory: The Fundamental Theorem

February 21, 2007

After the preliminaries of field automorphisms and the conditions of normality and separability, I can prove the fundamental theorem of Galois theory. The basic idea is to relate intermediate fields of L/K and subgroups of Aut(L/K). Every intermediate field F maps to Aut(L/F), regarded as a subgroup of Aut(L/K), and every subgroup H of Aut(L/K) maps to L^H.

From the previous post, those maps are inverses of each other when L/K is finite and K = L^Aut(L/K); in that case, Aut(L/L^H) = H and L^Aut(L/F) = F. The ideal case in Galois theory is when K is indeed equal to L^Aut(L/K). In particular, the fundamental theorem states that this case holds precisely when L/K is separable and normal.

First, two examples. Let K = Q and L = Q(2^(1/3)). The only root of the minimal polynomial of 2^(1/3), x^3 – 2, that is contained in L is 2^(1/3). Automorphisms fairly obviously preserve minimal polynomials, so any automorphism must be the identity on 2^(1/3). But that generates L over K, so the only automorphism is the identity. This implies that L^Aut(L/K) = L.

For the second example, let K = \mathbb{Z}_{p}(t), L = \mathbb{Z}_{p}(\sqrt[p]{t}). The minimal polynomial of t^(1/p) over K is x^pt = (xt^(1/p))^p, so it’s again the only root lying in L. And again, as it generates L over K, every K-automorphism of L must be the identity, so that L^Aut(L/K) = L.

Before I prove the fundamental theorem, there are two small preliminaries. One, from [L:L^Aut(L/K)] = |Aut(L/K)| it follows that L^Aut(L/K) = K iff |Aut(L/K)| = [L:K]. And two, a not necessarily finite extension is normal and separable iff it is the splitting field of a family of separable polynomials. The latter result follows from the fact that if L/K is normal then it is a splitting field of a family of polynomials, and if it is separable then they all have to be separable; conversely, a splitting field of a family of separable polynomials is normal, and generated by separable elements.

For one direction, suppose that L^Aut(L/K) = K, and let a be any element of L. Let a1 = a, a2, a3, …, a(m) be the distinct images of a under the various elements of Aut(L/K); note that I’m assuming that the field extension is finite. Then under each element g of Aut(L/K), the set of a(i)’s gets mapped to itself, because g(a(i)) = gh(a) for some h in Aut(L/K), and g(a(i)) = g(a(j)) implies that a(i) = a(j) since g is an automorphism.

Consider the polynomial f(x) = (xa1)(xa2)…(xa(m)). The polynomial is invariant under the action of Aut(L/K), since every g in it merely permutes the a(i)’s. Therefore the coefficients of the polynomial are in L^Aut(L/K) = K, and the polynomial is in K[x]. The minimal polynomial of a then divides f, so that it inherits the properties of splitting over L and having distinct roots. As this applies to any a in L, it makes L/K separable and normal.

Conversely, it’s enough to show that Aut(L/K) acts transitively on the roots of each minimal polynomial m_{a}(x), a \in L. In other words, it’s enough to show that if a and b have the same minimal polynomial over K, then there exists a K-automorphism g of L such that g(a) = b. This is because if a is any element of L outside K, then deg(m(a)) > 1. By normality, all roots of m(a) are in L, and by separability they’re distinct, so there exists a b != a such that g(a) = b for some g, so that a is not in L^Aut(L/K).

To see that the action of Aut(L/K) is indeed transitive, let a and b have the same minimal polynomial over K. Then K(a) = K[x]/(m(a)) = K[x]/(m(b)) = K(b), so there exists a K-isomorphism from K(a) to K(b) mapping a to b. In L, m(a) = m(b) splits, so that the isomorphism from K(a) to K(b) can be extended to an automorphism of L fixing K and sending a to b.

If L/K is separable and normal, it’s called a Galois extension, and Aut(L/K) is called the Galois group of L/K and denoted Gal(L/K). Both separability and normality are inherited from L/K to L/F, where F is an intermediate field, so we get a bijection from each intermediate field F to each subgroup of Gal(L/K), denoted Gal(L/F).

If L/K is Galois, then F/K is separable; however, as the case of L = Q(2^(1/3), w), K = Q, F = Q(2^(1/3)) readily shows, F/K need not be normal. This induces the second fundamental theorem of Galois theory, which states that F/K is normal iff Gal(L/F) is a normal subgroup of Gal(L/K), and that in that case, Gal(F/K) is the quotient group Gal(L/K)/Gal(L/F).

For one direction, suppose that F/K is normal. Every automorphism of L sends a to an element with minimal polynomial m(a), so the normality of F implies that if a is in F, then so is g(a) for every g in Gal(L/K). In that case, g can be regarded as a homomorphism from F to itself, i.e. an automorphism of F.

Hence there is a group homomorphism from Gal(L/K) to Gal(F/K) defined by restriction to F. The kernel of the homomorphism is \{g \in textrm{Gal}(L/K): \forall a \in F, g(a) = a\} = \textrm{Gal}(L/F), making Gal(L/F) a normal subgroup since kernels are normal. The homomorphism is surjective by a counting argument, so Gal(F/K) = Gal(L/K)/Gal(L/F).

For the other, if E and F are two intermediate extensions such that Gal(L/E) = H and Gal(L/F) = J, then there exists g in Gal(L/K) with g(E) = F iff there exists g in Gal(L/K) with gHg^(-1) = J. To see why, suppose that g(E) = F; then for every h in H and a in F, ghg^{-1}(a) = g(h(g^{-1}(a))) = g(g^{-1}(a)) = a since g^{-1}(a) \in E, and by a counting argument J = gHg^(-1). Conversely, if gHg^(-1) = J, then for every a in E and h in H, ghg^{-1}(g(a)) = gh(a) = g(a) so J fixes g(E) and g(E) = F.

Thence, if Gal(L/F) is normal, then for every g in Gal(L/K), gGal(L/F)g^(-1) = Gal(L/F). Thus g(F) = F, or else Gal(L/F) is not normal because different intermediate fields have different Galois groups. But if F is not normal, there exists some a in F that shares a minimal polynomial with some b in L but not in F. By the same argument I used to prove separable normal extensions satisfy L^Aut(L/K) = K, there exists some g in Gal(L/K) such that g(a) = b, which is a contradiction.

To summarize, the fundamental theorem of Galois theory states that the following are equivalent for a finite extension L/K:

1. L/K is separable and normal, i.e. Galois;

2. L/K is the splitting field of a separable polynomial;

3. L^Aut(L/K) = K;

4. |Aut(L/K)| = [L:K].

For an intermediate field F of a Galois extension L/K, the following are equivalent:

1. F/K is normal;

2. F/K is Galois;

3. Gal(L/F) is normal in Gal(L/K), in which case the quotient group is Gal(F/K);

4. For every g in Gal(L/K), g(F) = F.

Among other things, if L/K is Galois, then every polynomial over L that is invariant under the action of Gal(L/K) has coefficients in K. In algebraic number theory, that’s the easiest way of proving that the norm and trace of an element do indeed belong to the ground field (i.e. Q, classically).

Next time, I’ll be more concrete and compute a few Galois groups, as well as point out a few general computationsl tricks.


More Fascism

February 20, 2007

Two important pieces of news, one about civil liberties in the US and one about the impending war on Iran, juxtapose nicely with one I said earlier about the two characteristics of fascism.

First, the DC Court of Appeals ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not allowed to challenge their detention, and that in general the right to challenge any detention doesn’t extend to anyone who’s not a US citizen. If I stop posting for a few days straight, you know where to find me.

The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismisses hundreds of cases filed by foreign-born detainees in federal court and also threatens to strip away court access to millions of lawful permanent residents currently in the United States.

It upholds a key provision of the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a Defense Department system to prosecute terrorism suspects. Now, detainees must prove to three-officer military panels that they don’t pose a terror threat.

And second, the US is expanding the circumstances in which it will bomb Iran. In principle, the circumstances are very limited – if Iran is proven to produce a nuclear weapon, or if it is proven to directly cause a massive attack on US troops in Iraq. In practice, the circumstances for the war on Iraq were proof that Saddam had WMD…

[Link] The BBC’s Tehran correspondent France Harrison said the news that there are now two possible triggers for an attack was a concern to Iranians. She added that authorities insisted there was no cause for alarm but ordinary people were now becoming a little worried.

Earlier this month, US officials said they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shia militias. At the time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the accusations were “excuses to prolong the stay” of US forces in Iraq, the BBC reported.


A Reminder About Radicals

February 20, 2007

I keep procrastinating my post about extremism, so in lieu of sitting down and writing about how radicals make an effort to be more extreme than their already off-center peer group, I’ll just quote a practical example of parallels between radicals in from The Politburo Diktat:

The parallels between neoconservative arguments, either in the form The Commissar is rebutting or in the form David is advancing, and annoying left-wing radicalisms, are glaring. Consider the following:

1. Both disdain traditional politics. A realist interested in democracy promotion in the Middle East would focus on building local democratic movements, which would defeat the Islamists politically rather than inflame them militarily. Likewise, a realist interested in civil rights would focus on building a longlasting political movement using legal and political action, and only occasionally nonviolent direct action. In contrast, both neoconservatives and radical leftists prefer the methods that don’t involve dirty politics.

2. Both view blatancy as a good in itself. Radical leftists judge people by how much they piss people off rather than by how much they achieve. Neoconservatives judge leaders by how many people they’re willing to kill rather than by how much positive influence they yield. In both cases, the emphasis is on trashing the Winter Palace rather than on administering Russia.

3. Both use the same old historical analogy even when it fails to work in other circumstances. Radical leftists point to the success of Martin Luther King, failing to mention that he had a huge amount of moderate infrastructure behind him, and that even then he couldn’t expand his tactics to anti-war and anti-poverty activism. Neoconservatives analogize every struggle to World War Two, even when it’s a war of choice against a population that hasn’t undergone German-style discombobulation and even when they don’t offer anything approaching the Marshall Plan.

4. Both tend to draw from the same pool of people. The leading intellectual neoconservatives used to be radical leftists holed in City College. David Horowitz’s politics were once left of Noam Chomsky’s. The focus is not so much on a specific cause as on general platitudes – freedom, democracy, equality, peace – combined with horrific methods of achieving them.

David is a commenter who complained that the Commissar’s “The war only creates more terrorists” argument was not sufficiently neoconservative; David responded to the above comment by denying that he’s a neoconservative, but even if that’s true, the argument he advanced was very pro-neocon.


If a fascist bill passes without anyone making a fuss, is it still in effect?

February 20, 2007

In October, I wasn’t that concerned with Bush’s torture and habeas corpus revocation bills because it only codified existing infractions, which nobody did anything about anyway. But now the New York Times has an editorial that shows why I should’ve been verbally shelling the administration.

A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

I’m usually skeptical of attempts to connect many different ideological components that happen to go together in a current political alliance. I haven’t read The Wimp Factor, but my general impression of it, based on Bora and Amanda‘s reviews, is negative.

Still, the link between the two most obvious characteristics of fascism – domestic disdain for civil rights and foreign belligerence – is unimpeachable. It appears in mainstream political science in the form of the democratic peace theory, and features prominently in mainstream psychology of fascism. This isn’t some crackpot theory that the left likes only because it flatters its anti-fascism. Warmongering isn’t correlated to authoritarianism by accident the way either is to support for capitalism; the two have a longstanding political and ideological link.

The article describes a bipartisan bill to repeal Bush’s law. If it becomes a priority, it could signal that the window of opportunity of totalitarianism in the US is closing. However, I don’t think it will be a high priority for the Senate leadership. After all, the Democrats could have filibustered the bill indefinitely in October on the grounds that the people should get a chance to vote based on it.

Out of the three requirements for totalitarianism – motive, means, and opportunity – opportunity is the easiest to assail. The motive tends to be longlasting; neoconservatives have been around since the 1960s, and Dominionists since the 1970s. If 9/11 had happened ten years earlier, they’d have passed the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Bill under George Bush Sr. The technological means are here to stay and only get stronger.

There really are two ways of making totalitarian politics less likely to succeed. One is to make the ideology behind it less fashionable. Call it the return of pre-9/11 politics, triggered by the catastrophic failure of the United States to pacify Iraq. That route is unlikely, since it requires a clear political alternative, which doesn’t presently exist.

The other is to directly close the window of opportunity, which is based on fighting back. People don’t generally support authoritarianism, unless it can connect to them by capitalizing on the failure of liberalism to deliver or on traditional values, in descending order of importance. Here Democrat-style spinelessness falls under the rubric of failure to deliver.


Galois Theory: Field Automorphisms

February 20, 2007

An automorphism of any mathematical object is a bijective homomorphism from the object to itself. It’s easy to see that the automorphisms of any object form a group: the composition of homomorphisms is itself a homomorphism, function composition is associative, there exists an identity function, and the inverse of a bijective homomorphism is a homomorphism. Recall that a homomorphism of fields is one that satisfies f(a + b) = f(a) + f(b), f(ab) = f(a)f(b).

The automorphism group of a field L is denoted Aut(L). If L/K is a field extension, then the automorphism group of the extension, Aut(L/K), is the subgroup of Aut(L) consisting of all automorphisms of L that fix every element of K, i.e. \textrm{Aut}(L/K) = \{f \in \textrm{Aut}(L): \forall a \in K, f(a) = a\}.

First, elements of Aut(L) are linearly independent over L. Denoting elements by a, b, c, etc., and automorphisms by f, g, etc., we get that a_{1}f_{1} + a_{2}f_{2} + ... + a_{n}f_{n} = 0 \Leftrightarrow a_{1} = ... = a_{n} = 0 with a_{i} \in L and f_{i} = f_{j} \Leftrightarrow i = j.

To see why, suppose otherwise and let n be the minimal integer for which the equation holds for some nonzero a(i)’s. Clearly, this implies that all a(i)’s are nonzero. As the automorphisms are distinct, let f_{1}(b) \neq f_{n}(b). For every a in L, a_{1}f_{1}(ab) + a_{2}f_{2}(ab) + ... + a_{n}f_{n}(ab) = 0 and f_{n}(b)(a_{1}f_{1}(a) + a_{2}f_{2}(a) + ... + a_{n}f_{n}(a)) = 0; subtracting the two equations, we get (a_{1}(f_{1}(b) - f_{n}(b))f_{1}(a) + ... + a_{n-1}(f_{n-1}(b) - f_{n}(b))f_{n-1}(a) = 0, contradicting the minimality of n. Note that f_{1}(b) - f_{n}(b) is a nonzero constant in L rather than an automorphism.

Every subset of Aut(L) has a fixed field, consisting of all elements of L fixed by every element in the subset. That the fixed field is indeed a field follows trivially from the definition of a homomorphism. The fixed field of the subset S of Aut(L) is denoted L^{S}, but I’ll sometimes ASCIIfy it to L^S. The pair of fields – L and L^S – form an extension, so we can try relating the extension to the subset.

First, if S is finite, then [L:L^S] >= |S|. To see why, let [L:L^S] = n and suppose on the contrary that |S| > n. Let b(i) from i = 1 to n be a basis for L over L^S, and let f(j) from j = 1 to n + 1 be distinct elements of S. The system of equations  f_{1}(b_{i})x_{1} + f_{2}(b_{i})x_{2} + ... + f_{n+1}(b_{i})x_{n+1} = 0 from i = 1 to n in the variables x(j) in L has n + 1 unknowns and n equations, so it has infinitely many solutions. In particular, it has a solution other than x1 = x2 = … = x(n + 1) = 0.

For that solution, x_{1}f_{1}(k_{1}b_{1} + ... + k_{n}b_{n}) + ... + x_{n+1}f_{n+1}(k_{1}b_{1} + ... + k_{n}b_{n}) = 0 for all k(i) in L^S; since every element of L can be written as k_{1}b_{1} + ... + k_{n}b_{n}, this implies that every x(j) = 0 by the linear independence of automorphism. That’s clearly a contradiction, so [L:L^S] >= |S|.

Second, if S is a subgroup rather than just a subset, then in fact [L:L^S] = |S|. To see why, suppose on the contrary that |S| < [L:L^S]. Let |S| = n; then there exist n + 1 elements of L that are linearly independent over L^S, say b(i). The system of equations f_{j}(b_{1})x_{1} + ... + f_{j}(b_{n+1})x_{n+1} = 0 has n equations and n + 1 unknowns, so it has a nonzero solution. Choose a solution with a minimal number of nonzero values of x(i), say m, and relabel the b(i)’s to make these the first m variables.

Now, S is a group, so it contains the identity, say f1. The linear independence of the b(i)’s and the resulting equality b_{1}x_{1} + ... + b_{m}x_{m} = 0 imply that not all x(i)’s are in L^S. So divide throughout to get x(m) = 1, which is in L^S, and suppose x1 is not in L^S and f2(x1) != x1 = f1(x1). For every j, we have f_{2}(f_{j}(b_{1})x_{1} + ... + f_{j}(b_{m})x_{m}) = 0; since S is a group, we can relabel the index gotten from composing f2 and f(j) as j, to get f_{j}(b_{1})f_{2}(x_{1}) + ... + f_{j}(b_{m})f_{2}(x_{m}) = 0. But x(m) is in L^S while x1 isn’t, so by subtraction we get a solution with at least 1 but at most m – 1 nonzero values of x(i), contradicting the minimality of m. Thus [L:L^S] = |S|.

The above results help us relate subgroups of a finite subgroup G of Aut(L) to intermediate fields of L/L^G. To see why, if H is a subgroup of G, then [L:L^H] = |H|, and by the tower law, [L^H:L^G] = [G:H]. Further, Aut(L/L^H) = H, because every element of H clearly fixes L^H, and if Aut(L/L^H) has any additional elements, then [L:L^S] = |S| implies that it has a smaller fixed field than L^H, a contradiction.

Conversely, if E is an intermediate field of L/L^G, then L^Aut(L/E) = E, because by construction L^Aut(L/E) contains E, and if it’s any bigger then we’ll get Aut(L/E) has fewer than [L:E] elements, another contradiction.


Real Oppression

February 20, 2007

Sheelzebub’s post about Christian bigots is a good reminder of how detached from reality a majority that feels dispossessed can be. I’m not making any apologies here: people who rant about how the US (or Europe) oppresses whites, Christians, men, “decent people,” and so on are idiots. Plain and simple.

In Saudi Arabia, Christians are not allowed to build churches. The state tolerates their religious practices as long as they’re confined to their homes, but does not allow them to practice Christianity in public. The same applies to any religion but Islam; Indian migrant workers have no hope of finding a Hindu temple to worship in. That’s oppression.

In the US, Christian children are allowed to pray in school iff they aren’t led or dragooned by teachers and pray during recess. Occasionally, when the Christian majority will abuse its powers and find an opportunity to pray that excludes religious minorities, the ACLU will file suit; if the religious minorities in question are lucky, they won’t be harassed or persecuted by angry Christian mobs. That’s oppression, too, but Christians aren’t the ones who are being oppressed.

Portraying one’s group as oppressed regardless of the facts has a long history, going all the way back to countless ancient populist struggles. Hitler didn’t rise to power by promising to abuse non-Aryans, but by promising to protect Aryans from outside humiliation and inventing a communist repression of Germany that didn’t exist. Just because you don’t get everything done your way doesn’t make you oppressed; it makes you less than an absolute dictator.

If you want to convince me you’re actually oppressed, you have to do better than rant about the evil ACLU/patriarchy/hegemony/Jewish conspiracy. If all you can give me is a heartwrenching anecdote, then all I can give you is an “Oh, that sucks” sympathy. Look, women and minorities are at best severely underrepresented in legislatures and routinely discriminated against in employment, and at worst confined to their homes and ghettos respectively. Gays are legally discriminated against and legally harassed. The religious groups that claim to be oppressed are often the ones that are perpetrating those persecutions.


The G that I don’t talk about

February 20, 2007

Jim Downey begins a discussion on UTI about guns and self-defense, and UTI being what it is, most people come down on the libertarian side of things. I left a very acerbic contrarian comment about today’s first world’s not being the wild west, but there are other issues I’d like to address that don’t quite fall under the morality rubric.

1. Guns increase crime. The US is the only developed country that gives its citizenry licenses to carry handguns; in comparison, Switzerland requires people to keep the weapons they use for military service unloaded and locked to prevent accidents, and Canada only lets civilians purchase rifles. Not coincidentally, the US also has the highest homicide rate in the developed world.

Now, the standard retort is that the US has high crime rates overall. But in fact, the US only has high reporting rates. The USA’s overall violent crime rate as determined by National Crime Victimization Survey is half this of Britain as determined by the British Crime Survey. Undeterred, pro-gun advocates shift their argument to saying Britain’s crime rate is so high only because of gun control; but in fact, since 1997, when Britain instituted its strict gun control measures, survey crime has gone down.

2. The standard compromise in the US, state-based laws, doesn’t work. The guns used in New York gang violence come from the South. In a highly mobile, highly integrated economy, any local law banning the sale of an item or commodity can easily be circumvented by moving to another jurisdiction. It’s even spilled over to Canada, whose murder rate is higher than it should be.

3. It’s easy to be romantic about defending oneself from a tyrannical government. It’s harder to have the army it takes to defeat the government. In post-communist Russia, everyone who wanted a gun could get one; predictably, the mafia outgunned everyone else. Ditto China during its civil war, and even interwar Germany (if the SA hadn’t outgunned the Reichswehr 20 to 1, Hindenburg would’ve outlawed the Nazis instead of invited them to form the government). You’re not Malcolm Reynolds.

4. According to the FBI, 75% of solved murders in the US are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. And the plurality circumstance of homicide is argument, covering 40% of murders. You’re likelier to be murdered by someone living together with you than by a stranger stricken by the urge to kill someone on the 2 train. When you’re carrying a concealed gun, you’re not defending yourself; you’re just carrying a murder weapon you won’t need, ever.


The Burden of Perfection

February 19, 2007

Women and minorities have the burden of being perfect. They can get ahead, as long as they make no mistake whatsoever. The issue with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is that black people of Sidney Poitier’s character’s merits are accepted; the problem is that every woman or minority who falls short of that standard is considered defective, while majority-race men who do but are still overall good are accepted.

Ségolène Royal, who up until this point hadn’t played the gender card, is now saying she’s being unfairly attacked for being female. The various gaffes that have eroded her support in the polls wouldn’t hurt her nearly so much if she were male. For example, one of the most nagging problems she faced was insufficient support and dissension in her party’s ranks; but Chirac hates Sarkozy, and yet Sarkozy’s support isn’t eroding the same way Royal’s is.

The same double standard props up a lot of systems based on boundedness: radical groups, racism, sexism, cliques, nationalist circles. Every issue that can distinguish a member of the in-group from a member of the out-group is then blown out of proportion, at times to the point of totalization.

For a concrete example, take a radical group’s treatment of criticism from outside. Let’s say that feminist groups have only two main issues to worry about, abortion and equal pay. Some invariably emphasize one, while others emphasize the other. Within the movement, these differences are perfectly acceptable. But when someone outside the movement ever suggests focusing on one, the people within the movement will immediately totalize the other and declare him an intruder.

This is not to suggest that feminism works like sexism. But some of the pathological characteristics of radicalism are results of its fundamentally egalitarian worldview, which focuses on internal equality and strong boundedness. As such, radicals will share them with those conservatives who, without displaying other radical pathologies, engage in traditional sexism or racism.

To put another spin on it, the people who say that the intra-Socialist dissension reflects negatively on Royal and then support Sarkozy, who can’t get the support of his own party’s incumbent President, are as bad as the people who participate in communist cell activity or Evangelical housegroups.


McCain Tries to Become Older Version of Brownback

February 19, 2007

ABCNews profiles McCain’s religious conservative credentials. Ordinarily I’d call it pandering, but McCain has a long history of being in bed with the religious fundamentalists; in 2000 he promised Gary Bauer pro-life judges, while Bush contented himself with general nonsense about constructionist judges in the mold of Scalia. Still, his style is that of long-term pandering rather than flip-flopping.

The Arizona lawmaker is scheduled to speak Sunday night to about 1,500 middle and high school students about abstaining from premarital sex. Abstinence and abortion loom large as issues in this first-in-the-South primary state in the heart of the Bible Belt.

“Senator McCain has a long legislative record of supporting abstinence-based initiatives in his record in the U.S. Senate,” said Trey Walker, McCain’s South Carolina campaign director. “He thinks that abstinence is healthier and should be promoted in our society for young people.”

McCain obviously has a lot to teach those students about abstinence. As he keeps emphasizing in the canned speech, young people should shut up and listen to their elders. And indeed, McCain’s generation did those things right. In McCain’s teenage years, that is the 1950s, whenever a teenager got pregnant, she either aborted and died due to unsafe conditions, or gave birth and forced the father into marriage. Nobody worried about teen pregnancy then because it was so ubiquitous that acknowledging teens had sex would be too embarrassing. Almost every other American girl had given birth by the time she was 20, and including abortions would likely make it a clear majority. Apparently, walking ten miles to school in five feet of snow uphill both ways makes boys exceptionally horny.

McCain’s antics include supporting the local crisis pregnancy center. I have no data on the particular CPC he’s supporting, but in general they are hornets’ nests of misinformation, intimidation, and outright lies. Furthermore, he’s come out publicly in support of overturning Roe vs. Wade.

On the other hand, the last linked story says,

McCain’s campaign also announced early Sunday that he had been endorsed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who had been considering his own bid for the White House, and former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who failed in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1996.

Keating told the crowd that McCain is the “only candidate who is a true-blue, Ronald Reagan conservative.”

Leaving aside the appropriateness of calling a Republican “true-blue,” Ronald Reagan wasn’t that good to religious conservatives. He took their money for sure and used their politics as an excuse to cut US foreign aid, but his four Supreme Court nominations include two pro-choicers (O’Connor and Kennedy) and two pro-lifers (Scalia and Bork). Bush has a more conservative track record, with two pro-lifers to one wildcard; but, of course, Reagan was insanely popular, whereas Bush is a lame duck with an approval rate that gets leaders in less stable countries assassinated.


Hardball With Reason Magazine

February 19, 2007

Hat-tip to Mr. X’s comment on Crablaw: David Weigel of Reason Magazine complains that Hannity asked Giuliani easy questions for which he could give canned answers, and suggests hardball questions instead. Each of 19 candidates, ranging in seriousness from Giuliani and Clinton to Hunter and Kucinich, gets a different hardball question. Then there’s a 20th question, “You have to abolish one cabinet position. Name it” (my response: homeland security).

The entire post is good, but I’ll only reproduce the best question asked of a serious candidate of each party.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
“When you were mayor of New York, you made two attempts to extend your term in office. You opposed a term limits bill that voters passed; you publicly speculated over staying in office after September 11, and only reluctantly stopped a third party from nominating you for a third term after the state legislature made it clear they wouldn’t allow it. Given that the last six years have seen a vast expansion of presidential power, how can Americans trust you not to abuse the office and seek more and more personal authority?”

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
“You have said you were mistaken to vote for the 2002 Iraq resolution. But you did more than that: You were a co-sponsor of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s war resolution, along with Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Zell Miller. Given the arc of your flip-flop, why should anyone trust your judgment on foreign policy?”


The Right Wing Noise Machine

February 18, 2007

A thread on Majikthise about the American conservative political machine features a few excessive simplifications of the situation, some of which are due to me. Given that, I think it’s useful to explain how it all began, why Bush-style conservatism is different from Goldwater-style conservatism, and how the right-wing political machine doesn’t quite interlock, at least not by design.

In the 1960s, American conservatism was at its nadir. It had defined itself based on opposition to the civil rights movement, which was winning another battle every day. Goldwater lost by a landslide; Nixon was a fairly liberal President on domestic issues. Milton Friedman was a fringe economist, and the political mainstream was very Keynesian.

Some of the trends that allowed American conservatism to resurge since then had nothing to do with a political machine. It’s important to get those out of the way before discussing the actions of people like Scaife, Reagan, and Graham. First, the onset of inflation and then stagflation in the 1970s catapulted Friedman to the mainstream. Even after the US and Britain abandoned monetarism for good, they were never as Keynesian as before, and the unemployment levels that used to get governments booted are now considered very low.

Second, between 1965 and 1980, American liberalism self-destructed. Movements need some positive vision to succeed; 1960s liberals had the civil rights movement and the Great Society, but by the 1970s, both were passé and had given way to race riots and lackluster economic growth. The Vietnam War killed Cold War liberalism, and the only alternatives on the left, McGovern and Carter, produced a spectacular electoral defeat and an unsolved hostage crisis respectively.

And third, the Western academia radicalized. In Continental Europe, the entire philosophy department became a postmodern hornet’s nest. In the English-speaking world, continental philosophers took over the English department and spread to most social sciences, including the new disciplines of ____ studies. Later it would provide conservatives with the ability to tar even the natural sciences by association whenever they said something that justified liberal policies.

If Scaife had started aggressively funding thinktanks in the 1950s, he may not have gotten anywhere. In the 1950s and 1960s, he’d have been the rapidly eroding mainstream. But in the 1970s and 80s, he was the fresh face, and his thinktanks could rail against welfare, cultural liberalism, feminism, and antiracism with impunity. Stagflation, the self-destruction of American liberalism, and the radicalization of the academia provided him with a political vacuum to get into.

In the thread on Majikthise, several people mention the importance of preaching to the choir. In the rise of the American conservative movement, this meant literally preaching to large congregations, which eventually became megachurches. But it’s not exactly true that fundamentalist clerics preached to the choir. What they did was tell the choir to donate money and vote Republican, just like the unions tell their members to give money and vote Democratic.

I don’t want to turn this into a treatise about the rise of the religious right, so I’ll just note that the part that’s relevant to the right wing political machine is prosperity theology. That itself had a lot to do with the fact that the US was in a Cold War against an enemy that was both economically left-wing and secular. This was nothing less than a right-wing radical fusion of libertarian economics, whose main proponents were often anti-fundamentalist, and reactionary social policy, whose main proponents were often economically left-wing.

At the same time, Evangelists started mimicking the same organizing tactics of the radical left, based on the assumption that if they’d worked for Martin Luther King, they’d work for conservatives. Consciousness raising groups became housegroups and Bible study groups; civil rights organizations became religious organizations; shrill magazines calling the media capitalist became shrill magazines calling the media liberal. Clerics like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell preached the exact same mix of political activity, personal purity, and general self-righteousness that the left was already infamous for.

By and large, those tactics were failures. They’ve been tried many times in many different struggles; the only time they’ve succeeded was in the Southern civil rights movement of Martin Luther King. Even MLK’s own attempt to expand to anti-poverty activism in Chicago resulted in failure. If all Evangelicals had had was their self-segregating Bible study groups, they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

Fortunately for them, the Rupert Murdoch media empire started aggressively expanding in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Murdoch was conservative enough to use his British media outlets to help orchestrate a coup d’état in Australia against the ruling Labor Party, whose Prime Minister was forced to call for untimely elections, which he lost. In 1973 he made his first American acquisition, and by 1976 he had acquired the New York Post. Each newspaper and television station he acquired became a coordinated conservative machine.

Media ownership was legally limited by a variety of mechanisms. The rapidly growing conservative machine opposed them, presumably due to both ideology and the desire to increase its political capital. The FCC did away with the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and Reagan vetoed a bill that would restore it. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act removed caps on media control, enabling the conservative Clear Channel to control many more stations than before.

In 1970, the mainstream media was all the average citizen could access. There were partisan magazines, but nobody took them seriously, and a conservative who quoted a John Birch Society pamphlet would’ve been ridiculed. But by 2000, there was a parallel conservative media that could reach almost as many people, and that could plausibly convince viewers that the mainstream media was liberal. That alone could shift the center to the right, by pegging what had been the center as the left.

But in fact, that development did not come alone. The conservative media empires used the radical rightist organizations – the aforementioned megachurches and Bible study groups – to convince the mainstream that the radical right was to be taken seriously. That suddenly gave the right additional leverage over the mainstream media, moving it to the right.

The American mainstream media (as well as the BBC) lives by the doctrine of neutrality. As one journalist said, when reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, he’d invariably get hate mail from pro-Israelis who called him a terrorist sympathizer and from pro-Palestinians who called him an occupation apologist; his job, he said, was to make sure the two piles of hate mail were roughly the same size. Whereas previously there wasn’t much of an organized left or an organized right to artificially inflate the size of the hate mail pile, the various conservative outlets that sprang in the 1970s and 80s could mount astroturf campaigns that misled journalists to think the center was to the right of what most people actually believed.

Finally, several rich conservatives started to donate large amounts of money to thinktanks, whose purpose was to produce biased research. A 1969 riot at Cornell frightened John M. Olin enough that he started infusing cash into conservative thinktanks, the idea being to use the money to promote the free market system. There’s hardly a conservative polemicist missing from Wikipedia‘s list of individual grant recipients: Dinesh D’Souza, Samuel Huntington, Charles Murray, John Lott, Harvey Mansfield, William Bennett. Richard Mellon Scaife, the Coors Brewing Company, and the Bradley Foundation later joined Olin in aggressively funding right-wing thinktanks.

The way the machine currently operates is that the thinktanks start by producing shoddy research. Republican lawmakers and the conservative media empire then use that research to rebut serious academic research, with the help of decades of assaults on the academia for its association with ____ studies departments. The use of AEI-produced research in mainstream political discourse then elevates the AEI’s stature, enabling it produce even more shoddy studies. Meanwhile, megachurches preach voting Republican, causing fundamentalists whose ideological ancestors supported Bryan 100 years ago to support prosperity theology.

Although it seems to all fall in place, it wasn’t built that way by design. When Olin started funding his thinktanks, he didn’t expect to have a Murdoch media empire popularize them till they were on a par with academic research in the public’s mind. Conversely, Murdoch didn’t buy the New York Post in order to popularize pseudo-academic studies; he was and remains a tabloid mogul at heart, and his deposition of the Australian Labor government was achieved via innuendo.

Not surprisingly, a lot of modern (i.e. Bush-style) conservative planks are based on political realities rather than a Goldwaterian ideology. The fusion of libertarianism, big business conservatism, fundamentalism, and later neoconservatism, necessitated taking positions that appear contradictory, such as claiming to support the sanctity of the family and then opposing any pro-family welfare policies of the form that has helped France achieve the highest adult fertility rate in the developed world outside Israel (the US has a higher overall fertility rate, but only because of its higher teen pregnancy rate).

Some people, chiefly Lakoff, have tried explaining those discrepancies by constructing overall narratives, in this case the strict father metaphor. But fundamentalists before 1960 had no trouble supporting pro-family welfare policies, and even now American conservatives employ strict father language in few speeches. The thinktanks use pure libertarian, neoconservative, or fundamentalist language; the politicians mix and match based on idiosyncratic needs, whence Bush and Brownback’s use of the nurturant-parent word “compassionate.”

This marriage of convenience provides a partial explanation for why Bush has failed to decrease the size of government, or for why the Republicans have largely abandoned states-rights rhetoric. The only government spending all four constituent groups – libertarians, big business, the religious right, and neoconservatives – agree on reducing is welfare. But welfare costs surprisingly little; guaranteeing every American family an income at at least the poverty level would cost $200 billion a year. The most expensive parts of the social safety net are old age pensions and health insurance, both of which are politically untouchable. The AEI has realized it and begun attacking the “entitlement state,” but it’s realized it too late; the movement I’m describing in this post peaked around 2004 and has been in decline ever since, mostly due to Bush’s wanton incompetence.

Bush’s incompetence also provides another conundrum that viewing American conservatism as a piecemeal movement resolves. In its rush to dismantle government programs, the conservative movement found that passing the requisite bills through Congress was political suicide. The path of least resistance passed through running large deficits, which would necessitate spending cuts, and appointing like-minded individuals to head regulatory agencies so that they wouldn’t provide inconvenient advice.

The former method, starve-the-beast conservatism, failed. Tax cuts tend to correlate with spending increases, because they enshrine a worldview wherein fiscal responsibility is optional and unpopular tax increases or spending cuts are shunned. And as Paul Krugman explains, appointing people who don’t believe in a regulatory agency’s missions to head it is always a disaster. None of the important figures in American conservatism, not even Grover Norquist, intended for Katrina to happen, but their political zeal helped exacerbate it.


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