The Carnival of the Liberals, and Other Links

January 31, 2007

COTL number 31 is up on Pollyticks.

In related links, Kevin Hayden has a tribute to Molly Ivins, who’s just succumbed to breast cancer; Edward at A Fistful of Euros writes about the divergence between the healthy economic growth of Spain with the sluggish one of Germany; and Shelley links to an Ask an Expert feature that explains why people can’t tickle themselves.

Carnival of Mathematics

January 31, 2007

Mark Friday, February the 9th on your calendar, folks. That’s when the Carnival of Mathematics goes up on Abstract Nonsense. If you have any submission, or want to host the carnival at a later date, email me, and preferably include the words “Carnival of Mathematics” somewhere in the subject line, in case I have to rescue your email from the spam filter.

Tentatively, the carnival is supposed to be fortnightly, but if I get too many hosting requests, or there are too many posts per two weeks, it’ll become weekly. Similarly, if there are too few posts or hosting requests, it can become monthly.

Obviously, pure math posts, like my algebraic number theory proofs, are welcome. But so are many other things, including but not limited to the following:

– Debunking bad math and its uses in bad science and bad politics, as in many of Mark Chu-Carroll’s posts (see e.g. illegal immigrants and crime on Good Math, Bad Math).

– Math and computer science.

– Math puzzles, with or without explanations of deeper underlying concepts (see e.g. the Monty Hall problem on EvolutionBlog).

– Math and statistics in social science.

– Math in popular culture: Fermat’s Enigma, Pi, Proof, Numb3rs.

– How to write math, e.g. Polymath’s elementary proof of Morley’s Theorem.

– How to teach math, and general posts about math and education.

Of course, other topics related to math – including theoretical computer science, statistics, and mathematical physics – are still welcome. The above list is just a set of suggestions.

Since this is a first edition, I’m only limiting each blogger to three posts. Hopefully in the future there will be enough participants to enable limiting each blogger to the standard one post.

There Exist Anti-Abortion Terrorists; Therefore, All Christians are Murderers

January 31, 2007

On Winds of Change, Joe Katzman is trying to show that he’s even more extreme than Sam Harris by writing about a bunch of Jihadists in Britain who plotted to behead a Muslim serving in the British Army. Personally I would give kudos to the British security services and rant about British cultural policy, but Katzman has another comment:

Such nice people. Maybe if we treated them better and offed the Jews as a show of good faith, they’d be kind to us….

Katzman’s post’s title is “Religion of Submission Watch,” which takes me back to when I read about Harris’s positively kooky views on torture and the War on Terror.

There exist anti-abortion terrorists, but the only people who conclude that all Christians are murderers are the sort of extremists who complain that PZ Myers is too soft on religion. There exist settlers in the West Bank who abuse and kill Palestinian civilians, but the only people who generalize from them to Jews are recognizably anti-Semitic. And there exist mobs of Hindu extremists who burn Muslim slums in India, but the only people who call Hinduism the religion of live burning are Muslim terrorists in South Asia.


January 31, 2007

Lindsay said that despite Edwards’ warmongering, she still thinks he’s the best candidate in the race. I countered by talking about priorities and how on my most important issues there are hardly any differences among the American Presidential candidates. Quoting myself,

I have a fairly good idea which political issues I care about the most in American elections. For instance, keeping abortion legal is a top priority as long as Stevens lives, universal health care is a high priority, gay marriage is a mid-level priority, the capital gains tax is a low priority, and gun control is off my register.

As it happens, the Democrats are disappointing on the top priority issues, and in some cases are indistinguishable from Republicans. All three Democrats are pro-choice, but I don’t trust any of them to spend a cent of political capital on protecting abortion rights; Giuliani is in the same category as the Democrats, while McCain and Romney are noticeably worse. On Iran, my other top priority, I can’t detect any difference between any of the candidates, regardless of party. The differences only start to materialize on universal health care, on which I trust Edwards somewhat more than I do the others, but that’s only issue number four or five for me.

A good issue breakdown for me in federal American elections is,

Top priorities: abortion (pro-); Iran (don’t attack, don’t sanction); warrantless spying (anti-).

High priorities: Iraq (withdraw); universal health care (pro-); immigration (legalize and increase); free trade (pro-, but anti-CAFTA) and farm subsidies (eliminate).

Medium priorities: gay rights in general and marriage in particular (legalize); the deficit (eliminate); stem cell research (fund); welfare payments (increase); education funding (equalize); global warming (pro-Kyoto and beyond).

Low priorities: progressive taxation including the estate and capital gains taxes (pro-); alternative energy (fund research); scientific research spending (increase); affirmative action (make class-based), military spending (slash), minimum wage (increase).

Off the radar: guns, hate crime laws, small business tax breaks…

Within each category, the issues are listed in roughly descending order of importance. But not all breaks are equal. The three top priorities are nearly equal, while the difference between warrantless spying and Iraq is large; at the same time, the difference between free trade and gay rights is small, and probably smaller than the one between Iraq and health care.

Nor does the list mean my ranking of candidates is lexicographic. A big difference on gay rights can outweigh a small one on health care.

As a corollary to this, issues on which the gamut of normal American political views is narrow play a smaller role in my decisions than you would infer from the list. This most strongly affects spying, immigration, welfare, and education. I can get agitated over medium priorities with ease, when the difference is clear; however, slight increases in Pell grants or food stamp benefits barely register if at all.

In addition, the issue of abortion is almost entirely one of judicial nominations, especially when it comes to Presidents rather than Representatives or even Senators. I only care about a member of Congress’s record on such things as abortions on military bases insofar as they clue me into his judicial nominations.

Addendum: some issues, like the draft and separation of church and state, are in an entirely different category. These are issues that I care deeply about, but that are not ordinarily hot in American elections, or have even narrower political gamuts than domestic spying. But in certain cases they come into play, most prominently with Charlie Rangel.

And finally, there’s an inherent issue of trust involved. It’s not enough for me for a candidate to be pro-choice, anti-Iran war, and pro-civil liberties; I need to see evidence he will not sacrifice these issues to support lower ranked ones. Conversely, evidence that a candidate cares about the issue counts against him when his position is opposed to mine. On abortion, I’d rate McCain a 3 and Brownback a 0 because of that.

If you want, feel free to steal the idea of priorities. I’m going to turn it into a full-blown meme sometime soon. I’m certainly interested to know what people care about the most.

Why I Oppose Conscience Clauses

January 31, 2007

Via Just Dreadful: a rape victim in Florida complained to the police about the rape. The police found out she owed money in restitution for an old theft case, and promptly threw her in jail, where a jail worker refused to give her emergency contraception because he’s morally opposed to it.

Meanwhile, the spin doctors are already trying to control the story.

Tampa attorney Jennifer D’Angelo, who represents the jail worker, said Tuesday that her client is prohibited from giving inmates any medication without specific orders. The worker insists she never discussed religion with the woman who reported being raped.

The victim had already gotten her first pill; the jail worker refused to give her the second dose. The specific orders in question are likely bunk, since all rape victims in the US immediately get EC, unless they go to Catholic hospitals.

Just so you don’t think all Democrats are hawks:

January 31, 2007

Senate Democrats, joined by Arlen Specter, are exploring ways to block Bush’s surge. Feingold went further and introduced a bill to cut off funding to the entire Iraq occupation within six months, except for a few limited counterterrorism and training operations.

Mr. Specter read the results of a survey of service members conducted by The Military Times, which found that only 35 percent of respondents approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war. The senator suggested that in that light, the military might be “appreciative of questions being raised by Congress.”

Mr. Feingold insisted that his resolution would “not hurt our troops in any way” because they would all continue to be paid, supplied, equipped and trained as usual — just not in Iraq.

Of course, the New York Times tries to be a balanced newspaper regardless of the facts, so it quotes someone who says that,

Congress had made itself responsible for the deaths of the 1.7 million Cambodians estimated to have been slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge, by denying funds for President Nixon to wage war inside Cambodia.

What actually happened is that the US helped Prince Lon Nol overthrow the government in 1970 and establish an American puppet regime. The regime was unpopular enough that many people thought the Khmer Rouge would be a positive change; of course it wasn’t, but Pol Pot would’ve never come to power had the US left Norodom Sihanouk in power.

Then, in 1978, the communist government of Vietnam invaded Cambodia, deposed the Khmer Rouge, and installed a non-genocidal regime in its stead. Meanwhile, the US kept recognizing the Khmer Rouge, which was still terrorizing the country, as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

So blaming Congress for that is positively weird. It’s like blaming Congress for the ills of the Iraq War because it voted to approve it. Those members who voted for the war bear some responsibility, but the people who actually instigated the war and then butchered the occupation are primarily Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, rather than anyone in Congress.

It’s entirely possible that if the US withdraws, the Shi’as will commit genocide against the Sunnis. On the other hand, it’s equally likely that they will if the US doesn’t withdraw. A conclaved group of 150,000 or even 200,000 troops can’t do much in Iraq. At this stage even the 300,000 that the military recommended will probably be unable to stop the inevitable.

Oh Well

January 30, 2007

Amanda has just joined the Edwards bandwagon in the most blatant way possible: by running his campaign blog. I noted in the comments that Edwards supported a military strike against Iran. As Lindsay notes, he’s just rehashing the conventional wisdom about Iraq that was proven so devastatingly wrong after the American invasion.

On Pandagon, I made a comment about Obama’s being possibly the only anti-war candidate in the race. It wasn’t long before Drew set me straight: Obama is in fact only against the Iraq war, like the rest of the field. Back in 2004, he came out in support of attacking Iran:

Obama said the United States must first address Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear capabilities by going before the United Nations Security Council and lobbying the international community to apply more pressure on Iran to cease nuclear activities. That pressure should come in the form of economic sanctions, he said.

But if those measures fall short, the United States should not rule out military strikes to destroy nuclear production sites in Iran, Obama said.

In the comments to my post about Edwards’ pro-war statements, SLC snarked, “There can be no doubt that Edwards is a conscious Zionist conspirator, and a tool of the international Zionist conspiracy.” Actually, what Obama did is worse than what Edwards did. Edwards spoke to a pro-Israeli group, which makes it possible that in fact he’s just lying to it to get its people’s money and votes. Obama has no such excuse.

This, of course, leaves Hillary Clinton as the one serious Democratic contender who hasn’t explicitly backed an attack on Iran that I know of. However, it’s extremely unlikely she’ll be anything but a war hawk; given her vote for the Iraq war and her record on American-Israeli relations, she is to be assumed pro-war until proven otherwise.

Oh well. In a comment on her own top-notch post about Edwards and Iran, Lindsay laments,

It’s the conventional wisdom factor that I’m scared of. In the run-up to the Iraq war, I began to wonder whether I was crazy because no one was asking really basic questions like “Is war the best solution to this problem?” and “Are we sure that there’s a problem?” and “You know there’s a difference between a potential threat and an imminent threat, right?” and “How is deposing Saddam Hussein supposed to reduce terrorism?”

At the time, I didn’t speak out. I mean, I went to anti-war protests and wrote to my elected officials and signed a lot of petitions. But I didn’t publicly voice the basic questions that were reverberating in my head because even so called liberals were playing along with the Saddam Threat script, even if they didn’t want to authorize the president to use force just yet.

The right wing managed to marginalize anyone who spoke out too strongly against the war. “Serious” liberals couldn’t say “This war is just a crazy idea, I don’t understand what this is supposed to accomplish.”

I keep joking with myself that liberal bloggers would do a far better job at governing than the current crop of politicians. It’s really too bad Lindsay’s too young to run (not that she could win if she did – atheists don’t generally win elections in the US – but still). Drafting a more established politician of the same nominal religion as Lindsay and was a possible candidate at one point would have a better chance, but I honestly don’t see such a politician pull an upset victory at this stage.

Amanda says,

Why John Edwards?  Well, look again at that list of political obsessions and you have your answer.  John Edwards is the only Democrat in the field of potential nominees who is interested in pursuing the right policies in all these areas.  Especially important to me is that he is interested in fighting poverty in America and putting that middle class dream in the hands of all Americans.

I don’t want to snark too much at someone who opposes wars of aggression, but Amanda’s focusing on the wrong people. Yes, if you want two or three million Americans to be lifted out of poverty, you should support Edwards. But if you want two or three hundred thousand Iranians not to be bombed to death, and Iranian women to have a decent chance at achieving legal equality, you should do whatever you can to derail his candidacy, as well as these of all other war hawks.